In October 2010, Fred Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets, and his son Jeff sat at a dais explaining, for 40 minutes (a shockingly long amount of time for a professional sports owner to take questions from the media; James Dolan, for example, hasn’t given an interview about the Knicks in five years), why they had just fired general manager Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel. It was an impressively, almost uncomfortably forthright press conference, with Jeff saying, flat-out, “We failed.” The firings were less personnel moves than they were public cleansings, an acceptance, at last, that the Mets needed to start over. At one point, Fred, a septuagenarian who has owned part of the Mets since before David Wright was born, nearly broke down. “The last four years have been the most painful and disappointing of my 30 years with this team,” he said. “We thought we were on the right track.” The Mets were about to reboot, and the Wilpons were out in public to show Mets fans just how serious they were about starting over. Just bear with us, they said. We get it now. It won’t get worse than this.
Early last week, Fred showed up at Mets spring training in Port St. Lucie to chat with the media, wearing the hangdog visage of a man who is far from convinced his ordeal, and that of his team, is over. Sixteen months ago he assured reporters and fans that he would be ushering in a new Mets era. Now, he was merely assuring them he won’t be thrown out of the building, insisting he will own the Mets “as long as I can.” The sad thing for many fans is that he’s right: It has become obvious that you’ll have to pry the Mets out of the Wilpon family’s cold, dead hands, no matter what happens with the impending Madoff trial later this month (the Madoff victims are seeking to recoup more than $300 million from the owners).