The New York sports world was set on its ear earlier today by the online posting of this article, written by Jeffrey Toobin, appearing in the May 30, 2011 issue of The New Yorker. The article brings to light the frustrations of New York Mets owner, Fred Wilpon, with the current state of his team, along with his vast financial woes brought on by that Ponzi master, Bernard Madoff.
Rather than re-hash the details of Madoff's legendary swindle, I want to talk about what it is that leads men like Fred Wilpon to bite the poison apple of sports team-ownership. There isn't one franchise in creation that could be considered a smooth sailing ship; well, maybe two or three exceptions: the New York Yankees, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens and the Dallas Cowboys. OK, I gave you four examples. My knowledge of European football clubs is such that I do not feel qualified to weigh in on Man. U., Real Madrid, or the other biggies.
The more I think about it, the latest incarnation of the New York Mets is nothing more than the culmination of Fred Wilpon's dream to reincarnate the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team that was wrested from him and millions of other devastated fans, only to be relocated to Los Angeles. Dodger fans never got over the betrayal of their team picking up and moving clear across the continent. When Wilpon was approached, in 1979, by one-time New York Islanders owner, John Pickett, to rescue the Mets from the Payson family, I think it was all he could do to stop himself from becoming the saviour of Brooklyn. And he was, for a while, but things went sour a long time ago. Now he is on the brink of having to sell the team as a repercussion of his decades-long relationship with Madoff. In my opinion, he's getting off easy.
There's a certain amount of hubris that goes along with being a sports team owner, especially now when franchises are estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In order to pull off the success that eludes so many teams, you have to maintain a focus that can only be described as tunnel vision. In order to keep your eye on the prize (a championship), you have to not give a shit about anyone or anything else but yourself and your team. And, yes, that includes not giving a shit about the fans. For these guys, the fans are a given; they are the whipped masses whom they think will show up to cheer on their teams no matter what - in the face of prohibitively expensive ticket prices, $30 parking, $10 beers, $8 hot dogs and, gasp! seat licensing fees that don't even include the price of admission. Owners of sports teams have done more to piss on their fans than any other group I can think of. And yet, we respond with a heartfelt, "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" like we'd be deprived of oxygen if we were incapable of rooting for our teams of choice.
The thing is, Fred Wilpon is the "Richie Cunningham" of sports owners. On the despicable scale, he doesn't even register. He's behind a long line of screwballs who think they know best, and they will bankrupt themselves trying to get their point across. The number one scoundrel on the list is New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, who, along with a rather large supporting crew, holds the title of Captain Clueless on the Good Ship Nassau County. It would take years to regale those who are not in the know about this convoluted saga, so I am asking for a little trust on this one. Many Mets fans are also Islanders fans, so they surely know what I am talking about.
As for the rest of you, I feel your pain; believe me, I do. I am not defending Fred Wilpon, nor do I envy the position he finds himself in. I'm sure the incendiary comments he made to Toobin about his team were said in frustration, because every billionaire approaches the prospect of sports team ownership with the best of intentions. Why wouldn't they? If they've been so successful in their current field, why wouldn't they be on the field of play? That's where they get themselves into trouble.
There is no easy solution to this dilemma. Being a sports fan is a wondrous blight on any individual who chooses to expose him or herself to the adulation and heartbreak. Of course, there is always much more heartbreak than adulation. Yet, we stick with it. Myself included.