MLB Ownership and the Mets: It Can't Happen Here

"Could you please turn around, Frank? I need to kick your ass out." (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

In the wake of the news that MLB has taken over day-to-day operations of the Dodgers, the immediate local concern was that this was a harbinger of things to come for the Mets. This is totally understandable, given the team's shaky financial status. I broached the subject of MLB ownership of the Mets earlier this year on these very pages and suggested it was possibly but unlikely.

Speculation, however, is not news, though you'd never know that if you listened to the radio or read a newspaper Thursday morning. The possibility that the Wilpons might get the Frank McCourt Treatment was treated as a breaking story rather than a What If? scenario. Bill Madden, taking a break from George Steinbrenn fanfic, wrote a lengthy article on the subject that more or less said, "Will MLB take over the Mets? *shrug* Beats me." Here's a choice excerpt:

It probably didn't help that, at the same time Selig was saying he was taking action "to ensure that this club is operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future" the Mets announced Bobby Parnell had possible blood clotting on his middle pitching finger but would not be immediately replaced on the roster. Only a cynic would suggest the reason the Mets chose to play the Houston Astros shorthanded Wednesday night was because they couldn't afford to pay a major league salary for one day to a recalled minor leaguer.

Only a cynic would argue your verbal gymnastics mask a not-so-deep-seated hatred of Mets ownership, Bill.

For anyone who mistook this discussion as an imminent threat, I think it will be instructive to examine the reasons why the Mets' situation is nothing like the Dodgers', and why I would be shocked--SHOCKED, I tell you--to see the Mets taken over by MLB (barring any sudden and/or severe change in the team's financial outlook, which I certainly don't rule out because it's the Mets and I rule out no catastrophe when it comes to them).

1. Bud Selig + Fred Wilpon = BFFs. The Mets' owner has been in Selig's corner since the early 1990s, when he backed the Brewers' owner in his bid to oust commissioner Faye Vincent. (Mets co-owner Nelson Doubleday was on Vincent's side, one of many reasons he is now an ex-co-owner.) Under Wilpon's ownership, the Mets have been one of the very few big-market teams (if not the only one) to adhere to Selig's slot rules for paying draft picks. By all accounts, the two men are very close. Selig will give Wilpon every opportunity to right his ship. If it comes to selling the team outright rather than just a minority stake, that's fine, but I can't imagine Selig dealing to Wilpon the indignity of taking the Mets away from him. Contrast this with Frank McCourt, who Selig reportedly wouldn't cross the street to piss on if the Dodgers owner was on fire.

2. The Mets still function reasonably well. Maybe not so well on the field, but as a business, nobody's checks have bounced and nobody's forcing the team to stay in Motel 6's on the road. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have been held in limbo by the acrimonious divorce proceedings between the McCourts, which have revealed one embarrassing, larcenous item after another (more on that in a sec). Manager Don Mattingly has admitted he hasn't spoken to Frank McCourt all year. While ownership is not directly at fault for the horrible beating of a Giants fan at Dodger Stadium, the ugly incident underscored that the team was a rudderless ship, since violence at Chavez Ravine has long been an issue that McCourt dismissed or skirted.

3. The Wilpons did not do this to themselves. Or at least they didn't if you believe their protestations that they knew nothing of Bernie Madoff's machinations. They paint themselves as victims, Irving Picard's accusations notwithstanding. How true this is, I can't say. But I do know that, thanks to reason #1, Selig is inclined to believe the Wilpons. At the very least, he'll give them more chances than he did Frank McCourt, who reportedly raided the Dodgers' coffers to fund his own lavish lifestyle. He also paid his children six-figure salaries for what appear to be no-show jobs, and dished out $4 million for "consulting services" that had no discernible benefit to the club. The Wilpons may have misspent on free agents, but as far as I know, they never hired a faith healer to send their team positive vibes.

I would expect this story to fade in the coming weeks (if not days), as the McCourt story itself fades in the rearview mirror. Again, I understand the speculation, both because of the Mets' financial situation and because it dovetails with the team's current haplessness on the field. Could the Mets wind up taken over by MLB? Anything's possible, and as I wrote earlier this year, there are a few parallels between their situation and that of previous teams commandeered by Bud Selig (the Expos and Rangers). But even a cursory examination of the differences between the Dodgers and Mets shows why these two teams are light years apart.

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