When I heard that a group including Magic Johnson ponied up $2 billion to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, my first thoughts veered to Fred Wilpon.
I didn't mull over the Wilpons' finances nor their stability following the $240 million raised in minority shares. I didn't wonder if the Wilpons used some back of the envelope calucations to prorate the Mets' value as compared to the Flatbush Refugees, which may be as high as $1.5 billion according to some reports. I didn't even explore the possibility of the Wilpons replacing Frank McCourt as the worst owners in baseball (which isn't fair as long as Jeffrey Loria still gets invitied to the MLB owners' meetings every winter.)
Instead, I only pondered whether Fred Wilpon, a self-proclaimed Brooklyn Bum booster through and through, cracked a smile at seeing that his childhood team will now stand on firmer ground for the foreseeable future.
And then, I thought -- That old Wilpon Dodger-bashing is dead and gone, right?
Joan Whitney Payson continues to hold a place in the hearts and minds of Metsopotamia for her role as a co-founder and inaugural owner of the Mets. Payson, who was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1981, made her mark as MLB's first female owner who didn't inherit the honor as well as the only owner Mets fans would ever know from the club's inception to Payson's passing in 1975. She also left a lasting impression as an eccentric thinker and avid storyteller about the club's formative years.
Payson was also an avid New York Baseball Giants fan. She revered Mel Ott and Bill Terry and enjoyed Willie Mays's days at the Polo Grounds so much that she brought the Hall of Fame center fielder back to Queens for a victory lap with the Mets in 1972 and later kept him on the payroll to speak at events after his retirement one year later. She used to hang out with fellow Giants fans Jackie Gleason and Jack White at the raucous 18 Club, where they would hang a line score of that day's game on the bandstand if the Giants won and a sign reading "No Game Today" if they lost.
Fred Wilpon was born 36 years after Payson, but his affiliation with the Dodgers spins a similar tale. Born in Brooklyn. Grew up with Sandy Koufax. He was 18 when the Dodgers finally slayed the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series and turned 21 just 59 days after Ebbets Field would host the Bums for the final time. It's also no secret that the inspiration for the Mets' new home at Citi Field came from the Dodgers' old one on Sullivan Place. The recipe for a True Blue baseball fan is there.
And yet, only one of those owners continues to bear the stigma of having their heart rest with another team. It's probably a device to help needle Mets fans seeking excuses to take up their pitchforks and torches when the Wilpons exhibit another bout of the increasingly-common "Foot in Mouth" disease. But is it fair?
There's a lot not to like about the Wilpons these days. The financial foibles, the misguided loyalties, the lack of foresight on when to approve spending Carl Crawford money... No one would fault you for seeing Fred and Jeff Wilpon as bumbling real estate businessmen desperately trying to prop up their place in the billionaire boys' club that are the MLB owners. There's plenty of reasons to question their worthiness of owning the Mets -- that's not at stake here.
I'm just struggling to see if it still counts as a knock that Fred Wilpon's baseball pedigree may bleed a little Dodger blue mixed in with the Mets' blue and orange duo. He's fighting tooth and nail to keep the Mets, hired Sandy Alderson to right the ship (even if it came at Bud Selig's directive, he complied), and can't be considered by any reasonable Mets fan as an absent owner. That's at least trying to succeed, no?
My gut says Fred Wilpon only shrugged when he heard the news. A cornerstone MLB franchise's well being is good for the league, which in turn is good for the Mets. The goodwill from the announcement unfortunately points the magnifying glass at the Mets' precarious finances now, and that, in turn, points the spotlight at the Wilpons' wallets. The Mets owners may be trying to shore up the financial leaks or reshuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic, but the one thing they didn't need was any more attention.
If he cared, however... if he really cared as a baseball fan... methinks a brief smile snuck out from Fred Wilpon on Tuesday night regarding his childhood team's new lease on life. And for all the problems facing the Mets these days, I think I'm OK with that.