Last week we talked about The New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin on New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon and how his involvement with the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme has led him into extreme distress. Today we’re going to examine the Sports Illustrated article by Tom Verducci. You may be familiar with Mr. Verducci who appears on MLB Network’s MLB Tonight and on TBS during the post-season.
Mr. Verducci obviously knows Mr. Wilpon well personally as he has encountered him over the years covering any number of baseball stories, the Winter Meetings, etc. Like Mr. Toobin, Mr. Verducci writes sympathetically about the plight Fred Wilpon now finds himself in.
Some things Mr. Verducci details are absolutely fascinating in retrospect. You may recall that the Mets “bought off” the fallen star Bobby Bonilla with a multi-year “pension”, and did that with other over-the-hill players such as Tom Glavine when they needed them to get out of the way. Many Mets fans still grumble about the millions due Mr. Bonilla for decades. What they didn’t know until now was that these arrangements, seemingly bone-headed, were actually quite “savvy” from the Mets’ ownership perspective.
Basically, they were going to stretch out what they owed Bobby Bo over twenty or so years and pay him eight percent interest on the money. Sounds like a steal for Bobby Bo! Of course, only the Mets knew that money was stashed in one of the 400+ accounts Sterling Equities had with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. They were going to be making 10 to 12 percent on the money! So in reality, they were making out like bandits.
Unfortunate choice of words as was to be seen. Now those commitments are further dead weight on the Mets’ finances.
As both writers detail, the relationship between Mr. Madoff and Mr. Wilpon began when their sons met in high school. Jeff Wilpon, now the Mets’ Chief Operating Officer, met Mark Madoff, who was a year and a half younger. The two young men played sports together and as fate would have it brought their fathers together.
Of particular interest in the article is the accompanying photo montage, detailing Fred Wilpon’s 30+ years with the Mets, photos of him with players past and present, New York Mayors, celebrities and one out-of-focus photograph of himself and Mr. Madoff from 1995. None of the other photos are out-of-focus. I don’t know if this was editorial photoshopping to make a point, but the point was made.
Without question the most human and moving moment Mr. Verducci describes is when Fred Wilpon learned of the suicide of Mark Madoff last December. In a briefing room in the gloaming at Citi Field on a dark day, unable to turn on the lights fully, Mr. Wilpon breaks down and weeps at the tragic death of a young man who was clearly unaware of the enormity of his father’s crime. It is brilliantly described in the article, almost operatic in its intensity.
Fred Wilpon’s ownership of the Mets opened up a gateway into the upper echelons of Manhattan real estate for his firm, Sterling Equities. He owns the SNY cable network. He is a philanthropist and benefactor to many of the unfortunate and downtrodden. He is, in short, a rich guy you can feel sorry for.