By Jason Keidel
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One of the more agonizing mantras we here from players, coaches and managers is they don’t dwell on the past, even if the past was 10 minutes ago. Particularly if something calamitous just occurred.
This feigned amnesia is very convenient — and clever. We can’t ask why the hitter struck out, why the pitcher gave up the game-winning homer or why the quarterback threw the game-losing interception. You can’t ever ask about what just happened because they’re forever focused on what has yet to happen.
Unless you’re the Mets. On Wednesday, Boomer Esiason and his WFAN morning crew were dissecting statements from Steve Phillips. During a Twitter rant, the former Mets general manager said the onslaught of bad press and public opinion was unfair to the Wilpon family. Philips said that the biblical swindle they suffered at the hands of Bernie Madoff affords them a mulligan. Most important, says Phillips, the Mets aren’t cheap, despite their paltry payroll. On Thursday, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported that the Mets hope to slash $20 million from what they spent on salaries in 2017.
So if the Mets are particularly penurious this season, we must understand. Let’s save you the keystrokes and provide you Phillips’ frothing defense of his former employer.
“Mets fans have such little empathy for ownership,” Philips declared in a succession of Twitter missives Wednesday. “The Madoff situation crippled them financially less than 10 years ago. It was a betrayal to the Nth degree. It crushed them spiritually, emotionally and financially. They never complain about it. They don’t use it as an excuse.”
So you’re supposed to feel empathy for a billionaire who got conned by a millionaire, who built his business on fraud, a pyramid that collapsed. Phillips feels the Wilpons’ pain. But does he feel equally awful for the 80-year-old grandmother who lost her pension, 401(k) and entire retirement? She doesn’t have a major league franchise in her back pocket. According to Forbes, the average MLB club is worth $1.54 billion, 19 percent more than just one year ago. The Mets are worth a cool $2 billion, up 21 percent from last year, No. 6 in baseball.
“What if it was you who lost millions? Wouldn’t you try to keep your business afloat? Wouldn’t you still be passionate about the things you love? The Wilpons are good people,” Phillips wrote. “They care about the fans and the team. Don’t you think they wish they could do it differently?”
Most folks, Mr. Phillips, don’t have millions to lose. And last we checked the Mets are more than solvent. Not only did the club reach the World Series two short years ago, but they also have one of the more gorgeous, brand-new ballparks in America.
“They aren’t cheap!” continued Phillips. “They do care! As much or more than the fans who criticize them. Put yourself in their shoes for just a minute. Give them some credit for surviving what might have broken a different owner. For what might have broken me or even you.”
Yessir, give them credit for that 70-92 season that mercifully ended two months ago.
Again, Steve, it’s hard to relate to a man or men who own a billion-dollar franchise, who can pay their employees countless millions of dollars. While it’s wrong to steal from anyone, it’s hard to feel sorry for men who lost $400 million of the $900 million in their savings account. (Those aren’t the exact numbers, but simply an illustration that poverty is quite relative among the wealthy.)
Philips also tweeted that he doesn’t “believe for one second the Wilpons knew what Madoff was doing,” noting that “The Mets had $155 million payroll in 2017. That’s not cheap! The indians Astros, DBacks, Twins, and Rockies all spent less and made the playoffs.”
Then what are we talking about, Steve? If the Mets can spend $155 million in 2017, then how poor are they? How truly broken are they by Madoff scandal? And how does any of that explain the fact that they only have committed half that money in 2018?
Many of my friends are Mets fans — I was about to say disgruntled Mets fans, but that would be redundant — who still pay top coin to watch this baseball club plunge down the rungs of relevance. Yet despite all these missives, monologues and solemn assertions of dwindling funds, why do my friends tell me the Mets have raised ticket prices? You ask us to commiserate, yet jam your fist into fans’ wallets?
None of this is meant to trivialize the money the Mets, or anyone, lost. But loss, like status, wealth and financial well-being, are relative. Forgive us, Steve Phillips, if we don’t feel sorry for the Wilpon family. While they hit a monetary speed bump with Madoff, others lost their pensions, homes and lives. There are two worlds in America: those who fly in Learjets around the world, and those of us who live in it.
If this is the worst the Wilpons will ever look, feel or live, they still finish in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent. Even if they’re too cheap to finish in first place in the NL East.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel