Just when you think things couldn’t get worse for the New York Mets, they actually do get worse.
Whatever positive vibes the Mets may have had with the start of spring training baseball and the return of Johan Santana to the pitcher’s mound have been completely wiped out by the crushing news that a federal judge has ruled that Fred Wilpon & Co must pay as much as $83.3 million to the trustee overseeing the recovery from Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
The ruling is not a fatal blow for the Mets owners, but it is pretty damn close. Not only do they have to give back the fictitious profits they received, they will have to endure a trial to determine if they should have to pay the more than $300 million principal they invested. The only thing the Mets owners have going for them right now is that the judge expressed skepticism about the trustee’s ability to prove the owners were willfully blind to the scheme. But since he left room to be convinced that that is exactly what happened, the Mets are in real trouble.
The owners insist that they will prevail at trial, but they have mishandled this entire situation, namely by playing the victim card. Their arguments that they were just as much Madoff’s victims as the rest of the bunch didn’t hold water when you considered that they were net winners in the scheme, meaning they received more money than they invested. The actual victims were those individuals who invested their life savings or retirement funds with Madoff and lost it all. If I had been in the Mets inner circle, I would have pushed for a settlement right after the judge’s previous ruling went mostly in their favor rather than defiantly prolonging the court battle. They may ultimately win the trial, but the damage has already been done.
I feel very sorry for the Mets players right now. They are being forced to answer questions about a situation they know very little about when they would much rather be completely focused on getting into game shape. When all eyes should be on Santana, who pitched pretty well this afternoon in a major step in his rehabilitation, people are whispering, sometimes loudly talking, about this latest blow and what it means for the future of the Mets organization.
It looks like Fred Wilpon and his family are going to have to pay, in some way or the other.