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.

The Yankees stopped playing Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America”

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The Yankees have played “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch since 9/11. The version they play is the most famous version, recorded in 1939 by Kate Smith. As of today they will no longer be playing the Kate Smith version, however.

Why? The New York Daily News reports that it’s because “the Yankees were made aware of Smith’s history of potential racism.” Which is a rather interesting way of putting it, because there’s not much “potential” to this:

Smith was a famous singer before and during WWII who recorded the offensive jingle, “Pickaninny Heaven,” which she directed at “colored children” who should fantasize about an amazing place with “great big watermelons,” among other treats. She shot a video for that song that takes place in an orphanage for black children, and much of the imagery is startlingly racist. She also recorded, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which included the lyrics, “Someone had to pick the cotton. … That’s why darkies were born.”

I’m guessing this information was available in some Kate Smith biography or is in the memory of some of her big fans who may still be alive, but it was news to the Yankees until recently and once they learned it they decided that going with a version of the song NOT sung by Kate Smith was better. Good call!

Oh, and this was not the first time that the Yankees had to make this kind of call. Ten years ago they fired Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, who used to sing the song at the ballpark during the postseason, after he made anti-Semitic remarks. Precedent, baby.

Anyway, I’m sure someone will complain about this, but I feel like there are better hills to die on than “the Yankees should continue to play the racist lady’s version of the show tune that, despite what we think of it now, was never meant as an actual patriotic anthem.”

If you feel like dying on that hill, be my guest. But please, show your work.