SBD/February 18, 2011/Franchises

Fred Wilpon Says Family "Will Be Vindicated," Plans To Keep Control Of Mets

Fred and Jeff Wilpon both vowed their family will not relinquish control of Mets
Mets Owner Fred Wilpon Thursday said his family "has nothing to hide" and "will be vindicated" despite allegations by trustee Irving Picard that the Wilpons knew or should have known about Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, according to David Lennon of NEWSDAY. Wilpon spoke with reporters for roughly 20 minutes, his "first public comments since Jan. 28, when he announced plans to sell a partial share of the Mets." He said, "We did not know one iota, one thing about Madoff's fraud. We didn't do anything wrong. If anything, we trusted a friend for a very long time." Asked later what he meant by vindication, Wilpon said that he was "not necessarily talking about the financial side," which he noted "will be determined by the law." He is "more concerned now with repairing his family's reputation." Wilpon also supported comments from his son, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, that the family "will not sell 'controlling interest' in the Mets." They remain "adamant that they are looking for only a limited partner to buy" up to 25% of the franchise (NEWSDAY, 2/18). Fred Wilpon Thursday also "pledged the resources would continue to support a New York-level payroll 'for years to come'" (ESPNNY.com, 2/17). But in N.Y., Harvey Araton notes in responding to Picard's lawsuit, Wilpon "never uttered the three magic words -- 'we won’t settle' -- that would establish an all-or-nothing gambit to bring the full-blown vindication that he vowed" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/18). Wilpon indicated that the Mets will answer Picard's lawsuit "in about six weeks." Sources contend that the Wilpons are "intent on proving their innocence and retaining control of the team." Rather than "feeling defeated by the accusations, and potential financial issues, they feel emboldened to challenge them" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/18).

SILENCE IS GOLDEN? In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes there is "something a little desperate and disingenuous to the defiance that both Jeff and Fred Wilpon have deemed their default position now." Vaccaro: "I do think it's fair to wonder how a man with 50 years of almost ceaseless success in business ... could allow himself to be taken in so completely" (N.Y. POST, 2/18). On Long Island, Ken Davidoff writes, "I'm not sure how much Wilpon's outreach and access helped his family's cause, which prompts this question: Are the Wilpons, so often private when they should have been public, now making themselves visible when they should be hiding?" It is "fully understandable that Wilpon wants to fight," but the Wilpons' standing "seems to drop every time they open their mouths" (NEWSDAY, 2/18). In N.Y., Bob Raissman notes Wilpon's decision to address the Madoff litigation "has led various commentators to suggest Mets ownership should shut up and go into exile." But if he "stayed locked in a closet, those calling for his self-imposed exile would accuse him of stonewalling." Raissman: "When the rhythm of the baseball season kicks in, Fred and Jeff Wilpon will be in the background, working behind the scenes, as they normally do" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/18).

READY TO LEND A HAND: On Long Island, Davidoff & Baumbach note while MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is "waiting for more information, he could help the Wilpons by trying to find a buyer for the 25 percent of the Mets they want to sell." If the Mets are "struggling to cover expenses, he also could help by giving the Wilpons a line of credit" from MLB, or Selig could "simply help by meeting with the Wilpons and listening to them, as he already has done." Selig will "do what he can to protect Wilpon in a way that the commissioner wouldn't" for Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt. Former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent said, "Of all the people I knew in baseball, it's hard for me to think of another owner as close to Selig as Fred is, with the exception of (White Sox owner Jerry) Reinsdorf" (NEWSDAY, 2/18). SI.com's Jon Heyman reported Selig is going to give Wilpon "substantial time to sort through the Madoff mess." The commissioner "surely hopes that Wilpon will hold onto the team," but neither Selig nor "anyone else knows whether Wilpon will be able to do that" (SI.com, 2/17).
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