Wilpon and Katz fire back. Which provides an opportunity for perspective.

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Sticking with the legal beat, Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and the Mets fired back at the bankruptcy trustee in the Madoff case yesterday, filing a 94-page brief  (a copy of which is available at their website if you’re curious) accusing Irving Picard of — and there’s really no other way to put this — of being a liar:

“After months of leaks, false accusations and withholding of evidence, we can finally legally respond to the work of fiction created by the trustee. Let us be very clear: we did not know that Madoff was engaged in a fraud. There were no red flags and we received no warnings.”

That wasn’t in the brief actually. That was an official statement which came in a lengthy email which contained an outline of the “false allegations” from Picard rebutted with “the facts” as seen by Wilpon, Katz and the Mets, set out in clear and plain terms for media consumption by someone at the Abernathy MacGregor Group, Inc., who are handling the Wilpons’ “strategic communications.”  Someone spent a lot of time on it.

I mentioned in Friday’s post that I got Wilpon’s last statement from his P.R. people too. I’m quite tickled, actually, that the obviously sophisticated P.R. machine of the Wilpons saw fit to include me in their propaganda efforts.  It’s likewise amusing to me that the relatively primitive P.R. operation of the bankruptcy trustee — who relies on more austere press releases and not mini-legal briefs like Wilpon’s P.R. firm cranks out — is still winning the P.R. battle as far as I can tell. Most people, rightly or wrongly, are assuming that Wilpon and the Mets are screwed. It has me wondering exactly why that is this morning.

This is a highly complex case involving some very technical and rather esoteric areas of law and a lot of financial data to which we’re either not privy or, even if we are, isn’t easily understood or interpreted. At trial it will require tons of expert testimony for a jury to figure out if Picard is right or if Wilpon and Katz are. I have a legal degree and 11 years of experience, but in this kind of case I and most lawyers who lack bankruptcy law experience would be malpractice on wheels. Yet so many — even those who couldn’t define the terms “hedge fund,” “fraudulent transfer” or who have never encountered the term “bankruptcy” outside of a game of Monopoly — are sure that they have a handle on it.

And on some level I get that. Assuming the worse about things involving the Mets is almost hard-wired in people these days.  Anyone who was friendly with a criminal like Madoff tends to become the subject of suspicion among most people. And while we like to pretend that we live in a classless society, ignoring the distrust and disdain between rich and poor (and poor and rich) is rather silly.  You put the Mets, the Wilpon-Madoff relationship and some good old fashioned class resentment in a pot and you’re bound to have something like the environment which currently exists begin to simmer.

But it doesn’t get us any closer to the truth, and anyone who isn’t neck-deep in this case — which includes everyone but the lawyers for the parties at this point — doesn’t know enough to say highly intelligent things about where the case is headed. We can (as I have) say that it’s much better to not have this suit pending against you if you’re Wilpon than to have it pending against you. We can make some general assumptions about what it could all mean if the case goes bad for them.  We can voice skepticism about one claim or defense or another in a manner that stops short of certainty.  Beyond that, however, we’re just guessing. Or else we’re being taken for a ride by the people who issue those press releases and who send those emails.

My interest in covering this is because it has implications for the Mets, so I’m going to continue to cover it.  But I’m not going to get into the business of regurgitating the details of the press releases of the trustee or the emails from the Wilpons’ P.R. firm.  Some overview and a juicy quote or two is where I’m going to draw the line.  I’d urge you as readers to not get too hung up on these details yourselves. Partially because it’s pretty depressing business. But mostly because there isn’t much out there at the moment that isn’t being pushed by someone with a public relations agenda. Give me a judge’s ruling over bullet-pointed and spoon-fed talking points.

Besides. Baseball games that count start in just over a week, and that’s a way better pursuit on which to spend one’s energies.

Astros sweep as Twins lose 18th straight in playoffs

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Shaken up by a scandal before the virus outbreak shrunk the season, the Houston Astros barely played well enough to reach the playoffs – with the rest of baseball actively rooting against them.

Well, they’re not ready to leave yet.

Carlos Correa hit a two-out, tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning for the Astros, who produced another stifling pitching performance and swept Minnesota over two games with a 3-1 victory Wednesday that sent the Twins to a record 18th straight postseason loss.

“I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here,” Correa said. “But what are they going to say now?”

Nine months after Houston’s rules-breaking, sign-stealing system was revealed, the Astros advanced to the Division Series in Los Angeles. As the sixth seed, they’ll face the Oakland Athletics or Chicago White Sox in a best-of-five matchup starting Monday at Dodger Stadium.

“I don’t think they necessarily thought that they had anything to prove. They just had to play ball,” said manager Dusty Baker, who took his fifth different team to the playoffs and advanced for the first time in seven rounds since winning the 2003 NL Division Series with the Chicago Cubs.

The Twins are 0-18 in the playoffs since winning Game 1 of their Division Series at the New York Yankees on Oct. 5, 2004, a total of seven rounds lost. Since that date, the Astros are 43-35 in postseason play, winning 10 of 15 rounds with three trips to the World Series.

Kyle Tucker hit two RBI singles for the Astros and made a key throw from left field for the inning-ending out in the fifth.

Rookie Cristian Javier worked three hitless innings in relief for the victory in his postseason debut and Ryan Pressly pitched a perfect ninth against his former team, giving the Houston bullpen a total of 9 2/3 scoreless innings in this wild card series with three hits allowed.

“From the very beginning, we envisioned ourselves back in the playoffs and playing real well,” Tucker said. “So we never counted ourselves out at any point.”

Nobody on this Twins team has had a hand in more than six of the playoffs losses, but for the second straight year one of baseball’s most potent lineups limped through a brief postseason cameo. In a three-game division series sweep by the Yankees last year, the Twins totaled seven runs and 22 hits. Against the Astros, they mustered only two runs and seven hits.

“We put a lot of balls in play, it seemed like, but they were up in the air and, yeah, it seemed like we played into their trap,” said Max Kepler, one of four starters who went hitless in the series. “At the end of the day, we didn’t get the job done.”

Nelson Cruz gave the Twins an RBI double for a second straight game, this time in the fourth inning against starter Jose Urquidy. Luis Arraez aggressively tried to score from first base, but Correa took the throw from Tucker and fired home to beat Arraez to the plate to preserve the tie after third base coach Tony Diaz waved him in.

“I don’t know why he sent him,” Correa said.

Then in the seventh against losing pitcher Cody Stashak, Correa drove a 1-0 slider into the tarp-covered seats above right-center field for his 12th home run in 52 playoff games.

After winning 101, 103 and 107 games in the last three regular seasons, winning the 2017 World Series and losing the championship in seven games to the Washington Nationals last year, the Astros stumbled through the 2020 season at 29-31 under Baker and new general manager James Click with a slew of injuries after the COVID-19 pandemic cut the schedule to 60 games.

They had the third-worst road record in the major leagues, too, but none of that mattered this week against the third-seeded Twins, who were out of sorts in their two biggest games this year.

Jose Berrios was one of the few who were locked in with five strong innings to start, with just two hits allowed. His two walks were costly, though, issued right before Tucker’s single in the fourth.

“I don’t think anyone was ready to leave, to end this way,” Cruz said. “That’s life.”

KIRILLOFF FOR BUXTON

Already missing third baseman Josh Donaldson, the Twins held another one of their most valuable players out: center fielder Byron Buxton. Baldelli declined to confirm whether Buxton was experiencing a recurrence of concussion symptoms that kept him out of the last two regular season games. Buxton was picked off first base after pinch running for Cruz in the eighth.

Kepler moved to center, and Alex Kirilloff – the 2016 first-round draft pick – played right field to become the first Twins player in history to make his major league debut in a postseason game. Kirilloff singled in the fourth. With the bases loaded in the first, he flied out to end the inning.

FEELING BLUE

Both teams took issue with plate umpire Manny Gonzalez’s strike zone, with Astros slugger George Springer the first to visibly complain. After being called out on strikes in the fourth, Springer barked, “No way, man!” multiple times on his way back to the dugout.

Then in the sixth, the Twins lost left fielder Eddie Rosario to ejection after he argued a called strike two that would’ve given him a walk if it were called a ball. After swinging and missing at strike three, Rosario yelled again and was quickly tossed.

First base umpire Tim Timmons missed consecutive calls in the eighth inning on grounders by the Astros when he called the runners safe. Both were reversed to outs after replay review.

UP NEXT

The Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series in each of the last three years, will play Monday against either the A’s or the White Sox. RHP Lance McCullers Jr. is the only member of their regular season rotation who did not pitch in Minnesota.

The Twins enter the offseason with 10 players set to become free agents, including the 40-year-old Cruz who led the team in home runs and batting average (among players with a qualifying amount of at-bats) for a second straight season. Their 2021 opener is scheduled for April 1 at Milwaukee.