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.

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.