The Wilpons: The Men I Hate to Hate

With the trading deadline approaching Met fans are wondering what the team is going to do, and the changing fortunes of Duda, Niese, Gee, and Tejada -- just to name four -- haven't brought much clarity. It's hard to imagine upsetting the relative stability with the team playing okay, unless maybe to get a slugging shortstop. But at the cost of one of your outstanding pitchers?

It can't be much fun to be on the block. However much giant salaries have changed professional sports, this is still true: it sucks to be traded. You’re leaving your team -- no matter how much opportunity there might be somewhere else.

For a manager, too -- it can’t be easy to part with a key player; especially if he’s a good, well-liked guy, you’re apt to contend with a little resentment, even if it’s unspoken. At the same time, from a organizational standpoint, culling the herd can be useful -- not so much to bring the team to heel (though this might be a part of it), rather to change the team’s identity, its self-image.

This is the sort of thing the Mets have actually done fairly well the last few years. And even when circumstances have practically forced them to make a move (Marlon Byrd, Ike Davis) they’ve handled it professionally and openly and minimized the disruption -- one sign of a solid organization. There are other indicators of a healthy, stable franchise, too, like a thriving minor-league system which has produced a reliable stream of prospects.

In all, the Mets are an easy team to root for, even if the Wilpons seem to make it hard. When they make an effort to rally fans, they only make it worse (sending out an email pleading for fan support, for instance).

Why do Met fans hate these owners? All spring long, I found myself defending them. Yes, they are greedy and foolish, I would say, and the kid really seems to be not very bright at all (seriously, how do you lose Buffalo as your minor league franchise and then end up in Vegas?) but hasn’t he found the right GM (even if he hasn’t given him any money to work with)? Look at the good they’ve done, like building a gem of a minor league ballpark in Coney Island, or Citi (even if the team is starting to look like a writeoff in a scheme to turn the old junkyards into a real estate scheme).

Even given the “evens”, compared to your typical pro franchise owner, they are boy scouts. Next to Donald Sterling -- angelic. Beside James Dolan? Organizational geniuses. I hate to say better the devil you know, but remember how many Met fans were eager to rush into Steven Cohen’s arms? We’d be owned by the US District Court at this point.

It’s a thankless enterprise, team ownership. Unless you extort tax breaks and other favors from your city, you really aren’t doing your job -- and unless they fork over, the city isn’t doing its citizens any good. (If you don’t agree, consider what Walter O’Malley’s options were when Robert Moses steamrolled his plans to build a ballpark where Barclay’s now stands, and what happened to Brooklyn when the Dodgers bolted.) You treat your athletes like cattle, which causes untold resentment from every quarter -- even though you pay for them, they expect you to feed them, and if you’re not careful they’ll wander off or get shot. And at the end of the season, only one owner out of thirty is considered a genius, and that’s if he hasn’t pissed off the hometown media. When you or I complain about Carlos Beltran or slight David Wright we’re just being fans -- when Fred Wilpon does it to a New Yorker writer, he sounds mean and bitter.

Which for Fred Wilpon means, avoid interviews. And here’s more advice: trust the competent reliable people you have hired to run your operations, and don’t get involved.

And fellow Met fans: remember who we are. We’re not the Masters of the Universe franchise in this city -- our fans don’t ride limos or show up to the ballpark in $5000 suits: we’re Doris from Rego Park, the chubby unshaven guy who hasn’t combed his hair in a month wearing three blue and orange windbreakers in limping towards Citi Field in 90-degree heat carrying two dozen scorecards. It only makes sense our owners are creepy but reasonable Nassau County real estate shysters.