The Real Fred Wilpon Can't Shut Up

On Sunday, the Wilpons issued a spirited defense in response to the amended lawsuit filed against them by Irving Picard. There was nothing particularly controversial or earth-shattering in the Mets' owners' statement, apart from calling the charges "a work of fiction." Harsh words, perhaps, but no harsher than the accusations lodged against them.

And yet, the statement attracted an immediate and critical response from many in the press. David Lennon of Newsday seemed suspicious of the announcement's timing:

So release Castillo on day of Picard's $1 B announcement, and delay axing Perez until own defense comes out. Coincidence, I guess.

ESPN's Buster Olney took a similarly cynical view of the timing, and also wondered why the Wilpons bothered saying anything:

Not sure why the Mets insist on fighting Madoff PR war;they can't win, and even if they gain some favor, it really won't make a difference.

Every single time the Wilpons have spoken about the ongoing case, they've been criticized--not so much for what they've said, but for saying anything. Many writers and fans were critical of them for merely showing up at Port St. Lucie when spring training began. The tenor of these criticisms seems to be, Just be quiet and lay low until the Madoff mess is resolved.

To such criticisms, I'd say, "What universe are you from and how do I make sure I never go there?"

The Wilpons own the Mets, which is still a major league franchise in the baseball-obsessed media capital of the country. (Despite what those hilarious wags at Manhattan Mini Storage say about it. Way to pick big targets, guys.) They're not some privately held company whose transactions only appear deep in the tiny print of the Wall Street Journal. They're a baseball team.There is no way on earth that the owners of the Mets could keep quiet about anything involving their team. Not in this town.

If Mets ownership did what people seem to think they want--say nothing--the media would be hounding them night and day. WHAT ARE YOU HIDING? WHY WON'T YOU ISSUE A STATEMENT? WHY AM I SHOUTING? People would presume their guilt, even more so than they do now, I think. Because the family's reputation is being attacked. How on earth could they not respond to this in some way? Of all people, Olney--a former reporter on the Mets' and Yankees' beat--should know this.

As for the charge raised by Lennon and others that the Mets are timing announcements like Castillo's release and the now-officially-official release of Oliver Perez strategically for PR purposes, to that I'd say: Who cares? There isn't a business in the world that doesn't hold off on releasing news or making decisions official for PR reasons. At least not ones that want to stay in business. Why should the Mets be any different?

Journalists do something similar all the time. If something or someone becomes a hot item in the news, a paper will all of a sudden have a thorough investigative piece on it/him/her, writing that had been completed for weeks or months, waiting for the most advantageous moment to publish it. Is this unethical? No, it's just good business. It sells more papers and gets more page hits. Should the Mets operate differently than the papers that cover them?

Ultimately, what bothers me most about this kind of criticism--other than its complete lack of constructiveness--is that it contains within it the tacit belief that the Wilpons are guilty to some degree. The media is not a court of law, so the "innocent until proven guilty" principle does not apply here. But I find it curious that the media regards everything the Wilpons say with skepticism and derision, while not extending the same attitude, even slightly, toward Irving Picard.

The only person I can recall who's dared do so is, ironically, Jon Heyman. Normally extremely critical of the Mets, he tweeted on Sunday night:

if madoff trustee has recovered $10B and needs only $10B more to make victims whole, why is he suing for $90B?

I think the reason more reporters haven't tried asking such questions is because the Wilpons are the heels in this scenario. In part, that's because they're the ones being sued for allegedly knowing about the Madoff fraud and benefiting from it. But more importantly, to the media anyway, they're the overseers of the financial and competitive collapse of a franchise. Much of the scrutiny and criticism they've received is really a proxy for the criticism they should have received over the years for how they ran the Mets.

The Wilpons don't have a lot of public equity when it comes to any issue, which I understand. I even get why you would think a lack of judgment in running the Mets would cause you to question the truthfulness of any statements they make, regardless of the subject. But I wish people wouldn't conflate justified skepticism of their baseball acumen with a presumption of guilt in the Madoff case.

Guilty or not, the Wilpons can't remain silent. Insisting otherwise is little more than an excuse to dump on Mets ownership and, by extension, the team itself. Why bother, when they've given us a wealth of other material to work with?

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