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A Bridge Loan Too Far

I don't believe the news that the Mets have sought--and received--another loan from MLB should be all that shocking. But this, combined with the recent loss of Jose Reyes to the free spending Marlins (another team with dubious finances), set off many fans' You Gotta Be Effin' Kidding Me Alarms.

This morning, I even heard a WFAN caller say he would root for the Nationals over the Mets this coming season. While I suspect this caller is either hyperbolizing or not much of a fan (while also sounding like the kind of guy who proposes a Mike Nickeas for Justin Verlander trade), his words were indicative of the kind of anger and fear inspired by this news. It's one thing for the Mets to take a pass on a high priced free agent, home grown or not. It's another entirely to need a $40 million get-me-over from Bud Selig's Money Store.

The line thus far has been that this piddling eight-figure loan is just to tide the Mets over until their wonderful minority shares scheme takes off. That plan is going swimmingly thus far, because the Wilpons have told us it is, and anything else is none of our business, apparently. That's why it's never been explained exactly why anyone would buy shares in an institution with steadily mounting debt, whose owners will probably be forced to sell majority stake before long. Or why the Mets' best hope for a viable, well financed minority owner, David Einhorn, mysteriously dropped out this summer, never to be heard from again.

I've defended the Wilpons on this site before. Around this time last year, I still believed they weren't so much dishonest as gobsmacked, so stunned by the Madoff mess they were slow to realize the true depths of their financial situation. But at this point, I feel there is more evidence that they're simply not telling the truth about the status of their coffers. Or even worse, are possessed of a god-like level of self delusion or crippling amount of stupidity to not realize they don't have enough money to own a baseball team anymore.

So the Wilpons are either liars or morons with blinders. In either case, I'd rather they not have anything to do with my favorite team. And yet, I can't blame them entirely for this mess. In the face of financial ruin, they're simply trying to hang on to their biggest, most valued asset. Wouldn't you?

It takes two to tango in this situation: One to hold out his hand, and the other to fork over the cash. For the latter, we have to blame Bud Selig, MLB commissioner and Wilpon BFF. Fred Wilpon, after all, was instrumental in ousting Faye Vincent and installing Selig as Commissioner For Life, and for that Selig is eternally grateful. It's the main reason why Wilpon, and not his former co-owner Nelson Doubleday, is now the sole owner of the Mets.

If Wilpon was anybody else, would he be toast by now? It's impossible to say, but if the Frank McCourt affair proved anything, it's that if Selig wants someone gone, he can make them disappear with Mafia speed. Granted, McCourt did Selig a huge favor by doing colossally idiotic and unethical things like putting his family on the payroll with no-show jobs and spending lavish amounts of money on ridiculous expenses. But it was clear from day one that the main reason Selig tossed McCourt to the curb when times got tight is that he was not part of Selig's "inner circle." More than anything else, Selig simply did not want that man to own a baseball team anymore.

If the Wilpons' situation isn't exactly analogous to McCourt's--they haven't, as far as I know, attempted to hire a faith healer on the Mets' dime--it is disturbingly familiar to that of another embattled former owner, Tom Hicks. As owner of the Texas Rangers, Hicks was a comparatively good citizen, but he stretched himself too thin and took out far too many loans to cover expenses. He too sought to sell minority shares in his team, until the enormity of his cash problems became painfully obvious.

A planned sale of the team was squashed when Hicks' creditors realized the proceeds wouldn't cover his enormous debts. Selig threatened an MLB takeover of the Rangers, much in the way he'd done with the Expos. Hicks was forced to declare bankruptcy and the team was finally sold at auction to the current Peter Greenberg-Nolan Ryan ownership.

In other words, when Selig even threatens severe action, things get done. The differences between Hicks' situation and that of the Wilpons' is becoming increasingly academic. And yet, Selig has not so much as had a harsh word for the Wilpons. He continues to play along with their Potemkin village version of reality, and it does no one a bit of good, least of all the Wilpons themselves. If Bud Selig and Fred Wilpon really are good friends, the best thing Selig can do is to gently guide his friend out MLB's backdoor.