A Mets jacket that belonged to Bernie Madoff was seized and auctioned by the US Marshals Service for $ 14,500 in 2009.
Photo credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images
Bernie Madoff, who died in federal prison at 82 on Wednesday, was a monster, Ponzi schemer, full-scale thief – and also the reason for a dark era in Mets history. The friendship between former Mets owner Fred Wilpon and Madoff goes back decades – their sons had been friends in Long Island High School – and by the time Madoff was arrested in 2008, the Wilpons had invested $ 500 million in Madoff.
Former Mets employees Told New York Time in 2011, that “substantial aspects of the club’s financial operations seemed to pass through or end up with Mr. Madoff.” This money, according to these employees, included things like annuities put in place for players and money from sponsorship deals. Probably the most famous example: the team negotiated a buyout in 2000 of former slugger Bobby Bonilla that included deferred payments that were supposed to come from Madoff’s profits. (Bonilla still receives $ 1.2 million from the Mets every July 1 – and will remain so until 2035.)
When Madoff’s plan fell apart, the Mets owed millions to the trustee, seeking to recover money for Madoff’s victims, and got out million loans to meet the wage bill. Suddenly, the Big Market club started operating on a considerably tighter budget: in 2009, the team pay was approximately $ 149 million. By 2012, it had fallen to $ 94.5 million. Two years later, it was $ 85 million.
To learn more about Madoff’s effect on the franchise and its tortured fans, Curbed spoke to Devin Gordon, author of So many ways to lose: the real story of the New York Mets – the best sports team.
After the Madoff scandal, the Mets stopped behaving like a big club for a while. How much has this shaped the last decade of Mets baseball?
From about 2009 to 2012, they could hardly keep the lights on. There was a stretch in 2011 when the highest-paid outfielder on the list was Bobby Bonilla, who had been retired for a decade and only received $ 1.2 million a year in deferred payment. Somewhere around 2015 I think Mets fans started to feel like the lights were finally on again and the business was running, if not full blast, at least they could operate as a team again. baseball.
Mets fans have long had issues with Fred Wilpon, but how much has that sealed his reputation?
Mets fans were apoplectic about the Wilpons [Fred and his son, Jeff, the team’s former COO] long before Madoff. In many ways, Madoff was sort of the apotheosis of the Wilpon era, wasn’t he? It was the wildest moment of their reign. Since people can’t be surprised when someone famous gets caught up in a Ponzi scheme, I don’t think it particularly surprised Mets fans to find out that not only were the Wilpons one of the rubes, but that they were one of the biggest. In fact, when this happened, the Wilpons were so embroiled in Madoff and their finances that Irving Picard, the prosecutor whose job it was to get all that money back, genuinely believed the Wilpons had to be involved. Like, it just didn’t seem possible that they couldn’t find out. And I remember back then thinking, Well, he doesn’t have to be a Mets fan. This makes perfect sense. In fact, every Mets fan I know was sure the Wilpons were not I’m getting down to it. It was much more plausible that they were the biggest dupes of all.
It’s shocking because no one expects their franchise to really fall apart this way, especially when we come out of one of the best teams in franchise history. This 2006 team was as busy and talented as any Mets team. And then immediately they were stripped for parts – it was all gone.
They were going high, at least for a team that essentially had two back-to-back regular season meltdowns in 2007 and 2008. But they were in a good length and, oh my gosh, in 2012 and 2013, even me, a Mets de a lifetime. fan, somehow started to check. Because it was simply unassailable. It wasn’t funny-bad, it was just boring-bad.
What role did Madoff play in the team’s business operations?
According to reports at the time, the Wilpons were essentially funding the Mets operation – including the team’s payroll – based on their alleged Madoff profits. So when all that money was gone, the only money the Wilpon family was making was from things like tickets, hot dogs, and beer. And the team weren’t very good, so they weren’t selling a lot of tickets, and they weren’t selling a lot of beer. And so that was pretty much it. This is how they funded the team.
Sandy Alderson said he didn’t even ask about Madoff when he was hired as general manager in 2010, shortly before the Mets were sued by Madoff’s trustee. [Editor’s note: Alderson was charged with rebuilding the team and abruptly discovered that he’d have much less to spend than he’d expected to.] How much does it impact a fan base – when you can suddenly see how bad things are going to turn out?
It was one of those things where you could kind of connect the dots, right? Between what you read in the newspapers, what you could see on the ground, right? We can all see who you are paying for. We can all see what the Miami Marlins are doing versus what you are doing. And so, at some point, you can’t really fake the financial health of the team.
I think we can debate whether Alderson is telling the truth about whether he asked questions. I mean, as far as I believe, it’s only in the sense that he was sort of behaving like Winston Wolf in pulp Fiction. You know what I mean? As if he had been hired to do a job. He was given an assignment – it was not his job to ask how this corpse ended up in the backseat of the car. It was just his job to sort it out with the resources given to him by the commissioner’s office and, you know, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, to torture that metaphor.
So it wasn’t really his job to worry about Madoff and what the Wilpons had and didn’t have; it was his job to fix this problem. And he did! Really, really good! I think this is the amazing thing. In some ways, that’s the most Metsiest part of the story: This team was… saying that hanging on to a thread isn’t even enough. These guys are under serious threat of prison. And four years later, you know, from a time in 2011 where they’re basically chased for a billion dollars to where they’re in the World Series – it’s pretty remarkable.
When you see Bobby Bonilla’s name trending on Twitter on a day like this, as a Mets fan, do you laugh or cry?
I’m still laughing because that’s, like, my professional requirement at this point. But you know, it starts with a scream, right? There are certain phrases in the Mets vernacular that when you see them straining your heart sinks and you’re like, Oh, what now? So, you know, if that’s a long way to ask, did I find out that Bernie Madoff was dead because of Bobby Bonilla’s tendency – Yeah, I did.
The Mets now have a new owner, but a decade later, are there any lingering effects of the Madoff scandal?
Bobby Bonilla Day is indeed a statutory holiday that exists because of Bernie Madoff. And because he’s the kind of dynamite that makes him such a cartoonish irony – you know, Bobby Bonilla sucked, yeah, but a lot of free agents turn out sucks. And there are a lot of New York Mets free agents that we don’t like. And even the outlines of the deal, to pay Bobby Bonilla that annual installment, the degree to which that was so unusual is well overdone.
And yet it is remembered with humiliation because of Bernie Madoff, because by the time Bonilla started receiving her $ 1.2 million checks in 2011, the Mets were broke. The whole thing took on a grifter-and-rube dynamic at the worst possible time. What if it hadn’t been for that, well, who cares what multimillionaire Wilpons gives him? It’s just rich men exchanging checks. But Madoff made it into something only the Mets could pull off.