Tell It Like It Is, If That’s What It’ll Be

If there’s one article that everyone in sports read today (or at least tried to get through), it’s Jeffrey Toobin’s story on Fred Wilpon the Mets’ owner, the Ponzi scheme victim (we think) and, evidently, player evaluator hater. Watching the game from his box in Citi Field, Wilpon takes a hammer at the cornerstone of the franchise – the triad of David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran:

In the game against the Astros, Jose Reyes, leading off for the Mets, singled sharply up the middle, then stole second. “He’s a racehorse,” Wilpon said. When Reyes started with the Mets, in 2003, just before his twentieth birthday, he was pegged as a future star. Injuries have limited him to a more pedestrian career, though he’s off to a good start this season. “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,” Wilpon said, referring to the Red Sox’ signing of the former Tampa Bay player to a seven-year, $142-million contract. “He’s had everything wrong with him,” Wilpon said of Reyes. “He won’t get it.”

After the catcher, Josh Thole, struck out, David Wright came to the plate. Wright, the team’s marquee attraction, has started the season dreadfully at the plate. “He’s pressing,” Wilpon said. “A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.”

Wright walked.

When Carlos Beltran came up, I mentioned his prodigious post-season with the Astros in 2004, when he hit eight home runs, just before he went to the Mets as a free agent. Wilpon laughed, not happily. “We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series,” he said, referring to himself. In the course of playing out his seven-year, $119-million contract with the Mets, Beltran, too, has been hobbled by injuries. “He’s sixty-five to seventy per cent of what he was.” Beltran singled, loading the bases with one out.

A number of Mets fans are up in arms, or so it seems, with the fact that the actual owner of the ball club would actually besmirch the names of his own players. Amazin’ Avenue, one of the sharper blogs devoted to the team out there, has two insightful posts on the the mistakes that Fred Wilpon made. According to Matthew Callan’s analysis, Wilpon is going rogue because of a lack of willingness to care anymore:

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.

James Kannengieser isn’t so friendly in another worthwhile analysis, calling Wilpon a “disgrace.”

This is undoubtedly difficult for an organization. As a full-time employee of a team whose sales goals are challenging and important, the idea that my boss would call us “shitty” is brutal. In a New York media environment, an owner shouldn’t be more critical than the back page of the Post or  Daily News. It’s called a PR disaster by pretty much everybody. That “shitty team” ranges form the General Manager (who probably gets a pass considering the brief time he’s been in Flushing) all the way to the scouts and bat boys, and every last one of them will feel the pang of embarrassment for those comments.

I’m not sure it matters, though. Not many people would disagree with Fred Wilpon’s analysis, and, if he’s committed to rebuilding the team from the ground up and starting over, then good for him for offering a dose of real talk. I concur with Craig Calcaterra’s write-up for HardballTalk:

Moreover, if you’re a fan of a “shitty team,” don’t you like it that the owner acknowledges it rather than play the Baghdad Bob routine and pretend that everything is sunshine and daisies? I want my team’s owner to acknowledge my frustration, even if I may take issues with his specific critiques and agree that he shouldn’t be the guy saying this stuff publicly. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if Wilpon said that Carlos Beltran’s contract was a bargain, Jose Reyes and David Wright were megastars and if he said that the Mets are fantastic and positioned for greatness?

Mets fans know that ownership doesn’t approve of the recent team failures. Fred Wilpon himself has personally apologized to fans in emails before, and GM Sandy Alderson was brought in for a complete rebuilding. The Wilpons need to renew credibility in the organization. Clearly, calling the players you signed isn’t a short-term solution, but a clear-eyed approach to the problems of the present and the solutions of the future is critical. The Mets aren’t going to get better as they are today, and the Madoff money isn’t going to come back. It’s time to set expectations both within the organization and among fans, and build from the ground up.

The days of “Captain Red Ass” and the happy-go-lucky veterans in their near-prime and young kids with unlimited potential are over. We’ve all known it, fans and foes alike, and I’m glad that Wilpon does too. If Reyes, Wright and Beltran are wearing different uniforms this season or next, then this moment will be looked on as nothing more than foreshadowing and a possible bogeyman for an unbalanced trade.

If any of these players are expected to help the team over the long haul, then that’s a very different problem.

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