An in-depth profile of Fred Wilpon, with bonus Reyes, Beltran and Wright-ripping

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If you have the time — and if you don’t, I suggest you make the time — go read this profile of Fred Wilpon in The New Yorker. It’s easily the most in-depth thing I’ve ever read about him, his life, his ownership of the Mets and — of course — his dealings with Bernie Madoff.

My biggest overall takeaway: Wilpon seems like a very nice and thoughtful man who truly loves baseball, and the story of his journey form Bensonhurst to the top of the real estate and sports world is impressive.  You can see why Bud Selig — who also fits that description, minus the Bensonhurst — is far more willing to work with Wilpon and help see him through his ownership issues than, say, Frank McCourt who is off-putting in just about every way imaginable. You can also see that, if it ever comes to that, Wilpon will probably do very well with a jury, even if he certainly has to hope it never comes to that and if the author of the story, Jeffrey Toobin, believes that a settlement of the case is inevitable.

None of this really changes the basic situation with Madoff and the lawsuit — that’s a story about numbers and risk-management, and what someone in Wilpon’s shoes should have known and when, not a story about personalities — but the story certainly does put a human face on a situation that is so complex that it is often rendered in the most cartoonish terms.

On the baseball side, the biggest takeaway is probably going to be what he said about Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran.  Of Reyes: “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money … he won’t get it.” Wright: “A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.” Also, when a supposed “Mets curse” was mentioned, Wilpon pantomimed Carlos Beltran not swinging at the famous Adam Wainwright curveball that ended the 2006 NLCS and he called himself a “schmuck” for giving Beltran his $119 million deal.

Of the Mets overall, Wilpon said “we’re snakebitten, baby” and referred to them as “a shitty team.”  You can understand where the “let’s kill our best players” mentality and the self-loathing that surrounds the Mets comes from.

Oh, and this paragraph, which has little to do with Wilpon’s overall story, is nonetheless a key insight into the baseball ownership business:

He and his partners bought the Mets just before the real-estate market began a sustained boom. And he didn’t anticipate that owning the Mets would boost his seemingly unrelated business interests. “No one had heard of us before we bought the Mets, and afterward the change was dramatic,” Wilpon told me. “I don’t think someone has not returned one of my telephone calls in thirty years. It’s a small club, owning a baseball team, and people want to be near it.” As Katz told me, “You take the chairman of the board of a bank, with his grandson, on the field to meet David Wright, and make that grandfather a hero, and you do business the way we do business, it opens up everything.”

The business of baseball ain’t all about tickets sold.

Anyway: clip and save this story and read the whole thing when you get the time.

Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.

MLB umpires will wear white wristbands to protest “escalating verbal attacks”

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The World Umpires Association is dissatisfied with the punishment meted out to Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler following his lengthy criticism of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday. Kinsler’s comments were sparked by a confrontation on Monday night, when the infielder was ejected after arguing balls and strikes with Hernandez in the fifth inning.

“It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does,” Kinsler told reporters. “Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore. No one in this game wants you behind the plate any more, none of the players.”

Kinsler was fined an undisclosed amount for the remarks, but did not receive a suspension. Hernandez, meanwhile, returned to cover second base the next day and appeared to resolve the conflict with a brief conversation and a handshake.

Whether or not the comments speak to underlying truths about Major League Baseball’s flawed umpiring system, they clearly got under the skin of the World Umpires Association. The union released a statement Saturday condemning Major League Baseball for choosing to overlook the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue:

This week, a player publicly and harshly impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez – a veteran umpire who has dedicated his career to baseball and the community. The verbal attack on Angel denigrated the entire MLB umpiring staff and is unacceptable.

The Office of the Commissioner has failed to address this and other escalating attacks on umpires. The player who denigrated Hernandez publicly said he thought he would be suspended. Instead got far more lenient treatment – a fine. He shrugged that off and told reporters he has ‘no regrets’ about his offensive statements calling for an end to Hernandez’s career.

The Office of the Commissioner’s lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It’s ‘open season’ on umpires, and that’s bad for the game.

We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day. But the Office of the Commissioner must protect our integrity when we are unfairly attacked simply for doing our jobs.

Starting Saturday, umpires will don white wristbands in protest of the Commissioner’s lack of support, and will continue to do so until their concerns are addressed.

Kinsler’s comments may have been in poor taste, but given the established in-game ramifications for challenging an umpire’s decisions, it’s difficult to tell where the union wants MLB to start drawing the line. If players already face ejections for questioning the parameters of a strike zone (often immediate ones, without any room for a productive or non-confrontational discussion), it seems unfair to hit them with suspensions for venting their frustrations after the game. Until Major League Baseball finds a way to start automating calls, however, the “human element” of the game will continue to pose problems for players and umpires alike.