Let's Do the Wilpon Time Warp Again

On my way to work this morning, I read the Fred Wilpon profile in the New Yorker, or as much of it as I could until I went underground. (Those of you without several hours on your hands can get Matthew Artus' summary here.) By the time I got to the subway, I had already breezed through the most incendiary part of the piece, Wilpon's remarks about David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and the general state of the team. Sitting in the seat in front of me on the L train was a man poring over the Daily News sports pages. The headline: METS DROP TWINBILL. It was an article about the disastrous doubleheader in which the Mets were swept by the Rockies, which happened almost two weeks ago. I looked overhead, and saw Christmas holiday-themed ads.

For a moment, I felt that I'd stepped into a space/time warp where everything was occurring all at once. I couldn't convince myself that I hadn't based on the breaking Wilpon news, because that too seemed to stand out of time. At any given moment, the Mets are making bad situations worse, shooting themselves in the foot, snatching bad PR from the mouths of good, and taking focus away from the field.

In this specific case, it was an article written by a self-admitted Met fan (Jeffrey Toobin), seemingly intended as a sympathetic portrait. In the main, it comes off as one: A self-made man who lives and dies with the team he owns, betrayed by someone he considered a close friend, fighting for his reputation and his life.

And yet, those remarks. A very small part of a larger article that now loom immense.

This isn't Wilpon's first time around the block. Yes, when people get chummy with reporters, they tend to let their guards down. But I have to believe that at least on some level, Wilpon wanted to broadcast the Wright/Reyes/Beltran comments. I found his comments about Beltran the most telling. He clearly regrets giving the center fielder a seven-year contract back in 2005, and also harbors resentment against him for taking a called third strike to end the 2006 NLCS. It makes the attacks Beltran received after the idiotic Walter Reed Hospital debacle last year seem even more calculated than they did at the time.

The words on Reyes are more surprising and disappointing, as they signify the first concrete sign that the Mets will not resign him. Everything else up to this point was total speculation, based on finances and assumptions about GM Sandy Alderson's preferences. I honestly believed Reyes would be inclined to stay in New York. This news makes such thoughts seem, at best, cockeyed optimism.

As for the comments on Wright, those are just baffling, and calling him "not a superstar" is easily contradicted by looking at any given offensive stat he possesses--not to mention, all the charity work and appearances he does on the team's behalf. Damning him with faint praise ("a very good kid") is as unwise as it is untrue. Calling his own team "snakebitten" is similarly strange, albeit an understandable feeling, given all that has befallen the Mets in recent memory.

An owner should be above saying such things in a public forum, and whatever problem he has with his players should be hashed out in private, an ability the Mets have seldom demonstrated in recent years. I'd been inclined to pin such leaks in the past on the whisper-happy Omar Minaya administration. Clearly, Wilpon is not above badmouthing his own organization, openly and otherwise. The fact that he'd do it so nakedly, so undeniably out of his own mouth seems the act of a condemned man who knows his time is short and no longer cares about the consequences of his actions.

As many people have pointed out already, his words don't seem all that different from the kind you can hear on WFAN at any given hour. Or, for that matter, what most of this town's opinion writers have penned about the Mets. While they might not use such salty language in print, it's not hard to imagine the Bill Maddens, Mike Lupicas, and Jon Heymans of the world calling the Mets, as Wilpon did, "a shitty team" and wondering if they might be cursed. It will be interesting to read their takes on it in the coming days. It seems unfair for them to condemn remarks they've basically echoed for the past few years. It also seems unfair for them to blast Wilpon for blasting his own team when such behavior by George Steinbrenner rarely engendered similar condemnation.

None of this makes what Wilpon said right; the pious hypocrisy of certain writers excuses no one else's idiocy. If his remarks did resemble those heard on sports talk radio, surely an owner can and should rise above such a level. Fans of all teams have the tendency, when times get tough, to blame the best players, the ones who are the least at fault. Wilpon, who has to do business with Wright, Reyes, and Beltran, should know better and act better.

In the New Yorker article, Wilpon seems genuinely pained by what the team has become, and knowing that he is in large part responsible for it. But his regrets are placed solely on signings and in-game failures. What he should also recognize is that the Mets' woes under his stewardship have never been confined to the field. It is dumb stuff like this article, and Walter Reed, and punching grampas, and a million other idiotic distractions that have defined the Mets for the past few seasons, every bit as much as Beltran's called strike three.

Another day, another needless crisis for the Mets. This could be 2002, Grant Roberts and his bong hits. This could be 2007, Billy Wagner and his "effin' shocker" sneers. This could be 2004 and Rick Peterson offering to fix Victor Zambrano in 15 minutes. This could be any time. Every day is the same day, it seems, in the world of the Mets, and will probably remain so until the man who loves them so much—to no good effect—is gone.

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