He almost killed the Mets

Citi Field

Met fans at Citi Field earlier this month. Bernie Madoff, the man whose grand ripoff made Charles Ponzi resemble a piker and nearly destroyed the Mets, has died.

There’s a 34-story building in Manhattan known as the Lipstick Building. Not because it ever housed a particular cosmetics company but because of its look. It resembles a glass-and-girder lipstick tube. The co-designers were John Burgee Architects and Philip Johnson, the latter a once-fabled disciple of modern architecture’s “White God No. 2” (Tom Wolfe’s phrase) Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The Lipstick Building seems an appropriate place to have housed the working offices of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. That firm’s founding father only thought he’d applied enough lipstick to the $65 billion pig exposed as the single greatest ripoff in Wall Street history in 2009, a ripoff that made Charles Ponzi resemble a piker.

As one Tweeter phrased it Wednesday morning, “RIP Bernie Madoff, the man who made Bobby Bonilla day possible.” For openers.

Madoff’s death at 82 was reported earlier Wednesday, the federal Bureau of Prisons saying nothing more other than to confirm the financier’s death. The bureau wouldn’t disclose the actual cause “for safety, security and privacy reasons,” though it was known that Madoff suffered end-stage kidney disease and other maladies.

He was an equal opportunity defrauder, nicking and draining the rich and the modest alike. The reputed 37,000 victims around the world include Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel, film legend Steven Spielberg, Yeshiva University, a Syracuse local of the plumbers’ union, the charity for Jewish leukemia and lymphoma patients despite his younger son’s fight against lymphoma, and an Afghanistan war veteran.

They also included Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax and a few other sports figures such as former Mets middle infielder Tim Teufel and New York Islanders hockey dynasty wingman Bob Nystrom. And, especially, former Mets owners Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon, and Saul Katz.

The elder Wilpon invested with Madoff beginning in the mid-1980s, not long after he became the Mets’ co-owner and, in time, very likely unaware that promised massive returns were illusory at best. Those promised returns enabled the Mets in 2000 to agree to a buyout of veteran but fading Bobby Bonilla’s remaining contract.

The actual remaining value was $5.9 million. The Mets instead agreed to pay him $1,193,248.20 a year for the coming 25 years at eight percent interest. Bonilla gets that check every 1 July. Wilpon believed that double-digit returns on his Madoff investments would cover the Bonilla buyout and deliver glandular profits above and beyond whatever they’d be paying their former player. Not quite.

The Mets will be on the hook for the Bonilla buyout until 2035. The Wilpons found themselves on the hook for $65 million in loans to meet the Mets’ payroll after Madoff admitted to prosecutors that he’d ripped off billions of his investors’ monies while financing a lavish lifestyle for his wife and family.

Were the Wilpons plain victims like most of Madoff’s clients? Did they know more about Madoff’s bloated ripoff than they let on? One bankruptcy trustee named Irving Picard thought so.

Tasked with recovering monies lost in the Madoff scheme, Picard sued the Wilpons to compel them, as Crain’s New York Business described, to “return $300 million in ‘fictitious profits,’ paid out to their family, their associates, and businesses by Mr. Madoff ’s firm over many years.”

The New York Times called that a “novel claim,” noting Picard “was initially seeking an extra $700 million because he says, the Mets’ owners looked the other way while they benefited from Madoff’s fraud.”

It wasn’t that simple to determine whether the Wilpons and Katz were victims like the others or whether they looked the other way because their investments with Madoff became more of a part of the Mets’ business model than once intended.

“Clearly, Wilpon ignored the warnings because it benefitted him to do so,” argued Sports Are From Venus writer Zachary Diamond in September 2019. “He did not go against Madoff and his fraud at any point because of how financially important it was to his business. Had it not benefited him, Wilpon most likely would have stopped investing with Madoff, as one should do after learning something was fraudulent.”

“Madoff promised and delivered consistent, high, and ultimately false returns of as much as 12%-18% of their investments, which is why the Wilpons and Katz had such an extensive relationship with him,” writes AMNY‘s Joe Pantorno.

Of course, they didn’t know that; relying on Madoff for quick, extra cash as needed to help bolster the Mets’ roster in the late 90s and early 2000s, for example.

But the Wilpons used money made from Madoff as collateral on other loans, so when Madoff went bust, Mets ownership had to borrow $430 million against the team and an additional $450 million against their regional television network, SNY.

It created massive debts that forced the Wilpons to pay over $100 million per year alone, created alongside the annual $43 million payment on Citi Field.

That was why Mets fans’ wishes of their favorite team going out and signing that big-name free agent didn’t happen often enough. That was why a club that plays in the largest sports market on the planet was being run like it played its games in Kalamazoo instead of New York City.

“The fallout shrunk the [Mets’] payroll, from $140 million in 2011 to $95 million in 2012 to $85 million in 2014 as salaries rose across the game,” writes ESPN’s Joon Lee. “Subsequently, the Wilpons slowly lost power and financial stake in the team.”

In 2012, federal judge Jed Rakoff ruled that Picard overshot his target by a glandular distance. “After careful consideration,” Rakoff proclaimed, “the court concludes that the trustee has entirely failed to demonstrate the kind of extraordinary circumstances that would warrant this court in granting his motion,” saying Picard hadn’t proven the Wilpons and Katz “willfully blinded themselves” to Madoff’s chicanery. The Wilpons and Picard settled in due course for $162 million.

When the depth of Madoff’s ripoff was exposed, hedge fund titan Steve Cohen bought a $20 million stake in the Mets. Today Cohen is the Mets’ owner, after buying the Wilpons and Katz’s majority stakes last September. The Mets have since begun behaving like the large market team the Madoff ripoff throttled them from being in its wake.

As of today, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, victims of the Madoff ripoff have recovered roughly eighty percent of the estimated total $65 billion out of which they were swindled in the first place. The Wilpons and Katz made off with $2.4 billion when selling the Mets.

“Bull or bear market, recession or recovery, Madoff’s clients were always guaranteed a great year,” writes New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro.” At the very least [Fred] Wilpon — a man who was his own self-made success story in business — was grossly and almost irresponsibly naive.”

Signing shortstop Francisco Lindor to a ten-year, $341 million contract extension just before the current major league season began would have been unthinkable, so long as the Wilpons and Katz remained the Mets’ majority owners while still having to pay over $143 million to retire the loans compelled by the Madoff ripoff.

Madoff’s investment victims weren’t his sole victims, of course. His oldest son Mark committed suicide two years after Madoff’s arrest; his younger son Andrew died of lymphoma in 2014. Mark and Andrew Madoff had listened to their father confess to the racket in December 2008, with the father promising to get things straightened out within the next 24 hours. They didn’t give him the chance, going to their lawyers and then to the authorities.

Ruth Madoff broke off all contact with her husband after the suicide; their grandchildren are said to have changed their names hoping to escape what Town & Country called “the family shame.” Mrs. Madoff was allowed to keep $2.5 million in return for forfeiting all her other assets, the magazine said, and must report any spending over $100 to a bankruptcy trustee.

New York City mayor Bill deBlasio, a man who normally shows wisdom by standing athwart it, says Madoff’s death doesn’t mean it’s time to dance on a grave. “[B]ut let’s just be honest: Many, many people were hurt by his actions,” deBlasio told the press. “It’s time to hopefully turn the page and move forward.”

The victims may first turn to the page on which they’ll see Clarence Darrow saying, “I have never wished a man dead, but I have read a great many obituaries with a great deal of pleasure.”

Pending end of the Mets’ reign of error

Citi Field at dusk last week. Met fans hope Steve Cohen’s ownership means no more nightmares.

“In truth,” writes The Athletic‘s Marc Carig this morning, “there’s no way to know what kind of steward [Steve] Cohen will be. There’s no guarantee that his love for [the New York Mets] translates into success. There’s no promise that he uses his billions to boost payroll to a level appropriate for a team that plays its home games in New York.

“Of course, the bar he must clear to be an improvement over his predecessors isn’t very high.”

Indeed. Carig himself isolates the bar right after that observation. Promptly enough, he reminds Met fans who need no reminder, and fans elsewhere who think the Mets remain figments of someone’s warped tragicomic imagination, that the legacy of Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff since taking full ownership in 2003 has been reduced to the hash tag #LOLMets.

On Monday, there came the news that Cohen and the Wilpons finally came to a deal allowing Cohen to buy the Mets for $2.4 billion. The last doorway through which Cohen must pass is the approval of 23 of the remaining 29 major league owners. Donald Trump and Joe Biden have smaller chances of winning the coming presidential election than Cohen has of losing approval as the Mets’ new owner.

Cohen resembles more the genial neighbour ready to throw a few steaks on the grill for the whole block than a filthy rich financier. All he has to do to clear the Wilpons’ bar, really, is take even one baby step off the ground.

Since Nelson Doubleday sold his share of the Mets to the Wilpons in 2002, the Wilpons  have accomplished what many in New York once thought impossible. They made the worst of George Steinbrenner’s Yankee reign resemble Camelot. (The Arthurian, not the Kennedy.) “A one-man error machine,” George F. Will called Steinbrenner when the 1980s ended. With extremely few exceptions, the Wilpons have been a two-man forfeit.

“The GMs change. The managers change. The players change. But until now, what has remained the same are the owners, and their aversion to accountability, and their refusal to level with their fans,” Carig writes. Those very words could describe the 1980s Steinbrenner, except that even The Boss found ways to hold himself accountable, however long after the facts.

The stories from those who have lived through it sound the same. They describe a cover-your-ass culture, in which getting the job done often took a back seat to simply avoiding the wrath of Jeff Wilpon. They recount looking over their shoulders and trying to manage up — with varying degrees of success. It’s a dance that requires bandwidth that should be devoted to making the team better. After a while, it’s too exhausting. So many through the years have simply lost their ability to stomach that reality.

Carig knows not every last Mets problem since 2003 can be laid at the Wilpons’ feet, but it has seemed often enough as though every positive met ten negatives. “Upon buying out nemesis Nelson Doubleday,” the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman wrote after the buyout, “Fred Wilpon made bringing a sense of ‘family’ to the organization a priority. Little did we know he meant the Corleone family.”

Doubleday himself tried to warn anyone who’d listen, right after he sold out and when Jeff Wilpon was made the Mets’ chief operating officer: “Jeff Wilpon said he’s going to learn how to run a baseball team and take over at the end of the year. Run for the hills, boys. I think probably all those baseball people will bail.” Some learning.

A few years later, there came a move not even Steinbrenner thought of when he spent much of the 1980s throwing out the first manager of the season for reasons running the gamut from specious to capricious. Even Steinbrenner’s execution of Yogi Berra sixteen games into 1985 didn’t quite equal the Second Mets Midnight Massacre for disgrace because, as the New York Daily News‘s Bill Madden observed, at least Yogi got the guillotine in broad daylight.

Officially, then-Mets general manager Omar Minaya fired manager Willie Randolph—after he and the Mets flew from New York to southern California to open a series with the Angels, after the Mets won the series opener, and about three hours after midnight. All Minaya was was the caporegime carrying out the orders of underboss Jeff Wilpon and his father’s co-consigliere Tony Bernazard. (Beware, Mr. Cohen. That’s Bernazard now manning the first base coaching line for your Mets.)

Minaya and, really, all his successors holding the GM title found themselves, most of the time, doing just that, holding the title while Wilpon fils held and exercised the power while leaving them on (pardon the expression) the firing line. Cohen will do well and right to engage real baseball people with hearts and minds, the wills to exercise both, and no requirement for rear-view mirrors attached to their sunglasses.

Just promise Met fans, Mr. Cohen, that you’ll resist the temptation to mortgage the Mets’ future on behalf of the old Steinbrennerian tack, exercised too liberally too often by the Wilpons, of bringing in “name guys who can put fannies in the seats,” even if the name guys are on the threshold of the end of the line.

Or, demeaning the guys who still have miles to go before they sleep but discover the hard way that they could hit for the home run cycle (solo, two-run, three-run, salami) at the plate or throw a 27-pitch perfect game and still get a Wilpon boot heel in the backside, while wearing Met uniforms or when leaving for other, less capricious pastures. The trashing of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey upon his almost immediate departure was only the lowest of such lows.

The Wilpons’ monkey business management even impacted the Mets’ number one farm team. Why on earth did the Tidewater/Norfolk Tides move clean across the country to Las Vegas, to play in pleasant-stands/rickety field/hotter than hell Cashman Field? (They’ve since moved to Syracuse.) Wilpon fils soured the relationship with Norfolk, according to a Tides executive who spoke to Wall Street Journal reporter Brian Costa in 2013:

[C]ommunication with team officials became ‘virtually nonexistent’ . . . When he became involved in everything was when things changed. I dealt with him on some things and somebody always had to go to him if you wanted to do anything. He had his nose and hands in everything.

Don’t get anyone started on the Mets’ medical disasters of the past several years, either. The Wilpons, Jeff in particular, were seen micromanaging those, too, particularly the clumsy public relations side of them. You’d have been very tempted to think that Wilpon pere and fils alike believed to their souls that numerous avoidable Met injury complications, usually when players were back on the field sooner than reasonable, were either God’s will or the players’ faults.

Anyone else taking over a storied if troubled franchise would merely have his work cut out for him. Cohen may have to reach into a miracle bag right away. This year’s Mets—with a more solid core of younger talent than credited—might be in better postseason position if they hadn’t had a hiccuping bullpen much of the way or catchers who don’t seem allergic to hitting or to pitch calling and framing when working with arms not belonging to Jacob deGrom.

Small wonder that when the social media universe exploded with glee at the finality of Cohen meeting the Wilpons’ price the glee was mixed with a considerable majority of opinion that Cohen’s first order of Met business ought to be targeting and signing J.T. Realmuto, currently the Phillies’ catcher who becomes a free agent after the postseason.

(Codicil: If you must, get him for no more than three years. At 30, Realmuto isn’t likely to be serviceable behind the plate for too much longer, and the Mets already have a few DH types aboard. The starting pitching not named deGrom, Seth Lugo, or pending return Noah Syndergaard needs work. And keep an eye out for available young competent catching.)

How about a front office overhaul? Met fans drooling over Cohen’s advent probably have wet dreams about incumbent GM Brodie Van Wagenen’s departure. The team’s medical staff may or may not need yet another frame-up overhaul. If the Show repairs its relationship with the minor leagues, assuming the minors have a 2021 season to play at all, it wouldn’t hurt Cohen to deliver some badly needed damage control.

Like yours truly, Cohen is a Met fan since the day they were born. On such behalf could he also use his formidable resources as Carig suggests powerfully enough, “spend[ing] on areas not seen by fans. That goes beyond a heavier investment in analytics. It extends to scouting and player development. The Yankees and others have poured resources into those areas. There’s no reason for the Mets to lag behind. Cohen could make that change relatively easily, and almost instantly.”

The new owner doesn’t lack for his own baggage, of course. He’s tangled with the Feds over insider trading, though his old company SAC Capital was forced to yield $1.8 billion to pay a record fine while Cohen himself wasn’t accused of wrongdoing. All he had to do was not involve himself in managing outside investors’ money for two years, and he obeyed the order dutifully enough.

The Wilpons did dodge a howitzer shell by preferring Cohen over a group led by former All-Star Alex Rodriguez and his paramour Jennifer Lopez, who didn’t have enough to out-bid Cohen as it was, after all. A-Rod probably cooked their chances when it became known he sought the unofficial counsel of disgraced former Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. Taking sound baseball counsel from Luhnow compares to studying human relations with Kim Jong-un.

But selling to J-Rod would also have meant not being rid of Wilpon fils entirely. From Daily News writer Deesha Thosar: “Jeff Wilpon desperately wanted the group led by [J-Rod] to take over because the couple, unlike Cohen, would have let him have an active role in the team. Right up until Monday evening, when Sterling Partners announced Cohen would purchase the Mets, Jeff Wilpon was the one propping up A-Rod in exchange for keeping a hand in operations.”

Perhaps in spite of themselves, the Wilpons leave that solid young Met core to Cohen’s stewardship. They also leave a crown jewel in Citi Field, which they built, but which they had to remake after discovering their original little palace played (and looked) more like Ebbets Field surrounding the Grand Canyon. The remake/remodel has done wonders, for the team on the field and the fans in the stands who love the current ambience and the culinary offerings alike, and can’t wait to come back when pandemic relief allows.

“[W]ith how the Mets are currently constructed,” writes Daily News reporter Bradford William Davis, “all the team needs to be turbocharged into a contender is above-replacement level ownership.”

Cohen merely has to do what the Wilpons mostly couldn’t, wouldn’t, or both: Fortify, deliver, and sustain a team as digestible as its ballpark without causing organisational or fan base indigestion. A man whose from-boyhood passion was merely born with Who the Hell’s on First, What the Hell’s on Second, You Don’t Want to Know’s on third, and You Don’t Even Want To Think About It’s at shortstop can’t do any worse. Can he?

Tempered joy in Metsville

Amed Rosario (arms up) gets a hero’s welcome after his walkoff bomb finishes a doubleheader sweep of the Yankees Friday night. Crowning a pair of surreal days for these surreal Mets.

When hedge fund titan Steve Cohen first emerged as a potential buyer of the New York Mets, I had a little mad fun with that news because we have a couple of things in common. Not financially, of course; Cohen can hand out in tips about a million times what I’ll ever be required to pay in taxes. But we have our mutual grounds regardless.

We’re both Long Island boys who’ve been Met fans since the day they were born. We both made our baseball bones on the original troupe about which it’s fair to say they were baseball’s anticipation of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. We both grew up or (in my case) finished growing up (har har) in Long Island towns with pronounced Mob connections.

Cohen grew up in Great Neck, where there lives the opulent wedding/bar-mitzvah factory emporium (Leonard’s) at which Johnny Sack asked Tony Soprano to perform a hit, a request made just before Sack was carted back to prison from his daughter’s wedding. Bronx native though I am, I finished growing up (snort) in Long Beach, also the home of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

Sorry, Mr. Cohen. My mob family’s Oscars can blow up your mob family’s Emmys.

But it looks at last as though Cohen will graduate from an eight percent stake to controlling ownership of the Mets, more or less as the last man standing. So that gives him more than one up, since the only piece of the Mets I own and can afford is a game hat.

Celebrity would-be buyers Alex Rodriguez, a former Yankee who actually grew up loving and hoping to play for the Mets one day (he actually had his chance, which either he or his then-agent blew like a ninth-inning Met lead), and his paramour Jennifer Lopez, pulled out of the bidding Friday. That may have been the first heavy sigh of relief from Met fans on the day.

Apparently, not even J-Rod could come up with quite the money needed to buy the Mets, whose incumbent Wilpon ownership has long enough been a two-man implosion machine. The J-Rod group would also have included one NFL owner (the Florida Panthers’ Vincent Viola), a BodyArmour founder (Michael Repole), and a WalMart e-Commerce U.S. wheel. (Chief executive officer Marc Lore.)

J-Rod said farwell to the bidding by observing they “submitted a fully funded offer at a record price for the team which was supported by binding debt commitments from JP Morgan and equity commitment letters from creditworthy partners.” The Athletic‘s Daniel Kaplan observes red flags:

[N]otable in the statement is a reference to debt and equity commitment letters from creditworthy partners. On the latter, equity commitment letters are different from money in the bank, and adding a lot of debt to a team that loses around $50 million per year, pre-COVID-19, is not a recipe upon which MLB may have looked fondly.

MLB isn’t “too keen on another [Derek] Jeter/Marlins where they had to scrape their last nickel to pay the purchase price,” a source close to MLB told The Athletic earlier this month, referring to the debt-heavy Marlins. “Especially for a major-market club that already has such large operating losses. Cohen’s checkbook is even more valuable in a COVID and post-COVID environment.”

Not that Kaplan missed red flags flying around Cohen himself, of course. Cohen’s former SAC Capital outfit copped to insider-trading charges and coughed up a record fine of $1.8 billion. Cohen himself wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, but in 2016 he had to agree to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s demand that he not manage the monies of outside investors for 24 months.

Just as problematic may be sex discrimination claims filed in Connecticut against Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management, which I noted myself during the week. Those don’t charge Cohen personally, but one filed in 2018 does, Kaplan writes, though he adds that later in 2018 “the parties voluntarily agreed to terminate the case and submit the case to arbitration, according to court filings.”

Buying an eight percent take in a major league franchise won’t place you under the proverbial microscope, but looking to become the controlling partner will. Baseball’s 23 other major league ownerships have to be edgy about welcoming to their often-dubious ranks a man whose history includes battles over financial crime and sex discrimination charges.

Fred Wilpon and his son, Jeff, haven’t been anywhere near such suspicions so far as anyone knows. They’ve been seen mostly as having been more dumb than dishonest regarding the Bernie Madoff scandal, in which they invested and took an extremely expensive bath. The same could be said for most of Madoff’s investors. But the fallout eventually amplified the Wilpons’ wounding flaws.

Their naivete about Madoff helped them leverage to make the notorious Bobby Bonilla deferred-compensation contract, compel them to pay a reported $29 million into the fund marked for compensating other Madoff victims, and force them “to borrow hundreds of millions more to cover debts they had made against their Madoff assets, [having] almost a major-league payroll’s worth of money due every year just in interest on those debts.”

In baseball terms, the Wilpons weren’t exactly geniuses, either. Before they bought out their original co-owner Nelson Doubleday, they tried to thwart a deal Doubleday wanted to make in the worst way possible. Lucky for them that wiser minds prevailed. That’s two wild cards, one pennant, and one World Series appearance—not to mention the post-9/11 shot heard ’round the world and a Mets hat atop his head—underwriting Mike Piazza’s Cooperstown plaque.

For every Piazza, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana, and Billy Wagner deal, the Wilpons blocked exponential other solid signings and tradings their baseball brain trusts recommended or signed off on deals and trades about which “dubious” could be considered a compliment.

When Cohen first stepped into the Mets’ controlling partnership picture last winter, I remembered the Wilpons also doing once what some thought could never be done. They made George Steinbrenner himself, the man who threw out the first manager of the year during the 1980s, resemble the epitome of benevolence, with their despicable 2008 execution of manager Willie Randolph, his pitching coach Rick Peterson, and his first base coach Tom Nieto.

The guillotines dropped on the trio after the struggling Mets traveled all the way west from New York to play the Los Angeles Angels in an interleague set and won the first of the set. At three in the morning. It must have been enough to make Randolph, a longtime Yankee fixture at second base, nostalgic for The Boss’s Malice in Wonderland fun house.

Red flags or no red flags, the news that J-Rod dropped out of the Mets’ bidding does indicate the Mets dodging at least one bullet, if what I noted during the week is true and Rodriguez was taking informal counsel from disgraced former Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. Taking baseball administration counsel from Luhnow is like seeking family counseling from Ma Barker.

The news may also have had an effect on the Mets otherwise.

On Thursday, the night before J-Rod pulled out of the Mets’ running, the Mets’ front office botched almost completely a stirring protest gesture against rogue police and racism, when the Mets and the Marlins observed a moment of silence on field before walking off the field postponing their game.

But come Friday, as MLB commemorated its pandemic-delayed Jackie Robinson Day, and—tragically—the actor (Chadwick Boseman) who played Robinson so powerfully in 42 lost his battle against colon cancer the same day, the Mets swept a doubleheader from the Yankees in the Bronx.

The sweep finished when Amed Rosario, pinch hitting for starting Mets shortstop Luis Guillorme, caught hold of a hanging slider from Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman with pinch-runner Billy Hamilton aboard and sent it into the left field seats. A Mets team who entered the twin bill as the Show’s worst for hitting with men in scoring position (.199) went 5-for-12 in that situation Friday.

Come Monday is the reported deadline for new Mets ownership bids. Joy in Metsville about the end of the Wilpon era is probably tempered by their wish that a saviour with cleaner hands might enter at the eleventh hour. Such a saviour will need five king’s ransoms to out-bid the Long Island boy who once paid for a single painting what the Mets will have paid stud pitcher Jacob deGrom for the entire length of his current contract.

The Mets have been many things in their 58-year life. Dull isn’t necessarily one of them.

The Mets, under new ownership?

2019-12-05 JacobDeGrom

The Mets may soon be owned by a man who paid more for one sculpture than they’re paying Jacob deGrom for the next five years.

Lose a pitcher, gain an owner? As it looked as though the Phillies would sign Zack Wheeler for five years and $118 million, less than he was offered by the White Sox, his now-former Mets looked as though they were about to sell an 80 percent stake in the team to a Long Island boy who, like me, has been a Met fan since the day they were born.

Steve Cohen has in common with me having seen our first Mets games courtesy of the original troupe who played in the ancient Polo Grounds while awaiting Shea Stadium’s completion. That’s almost the full extent of our common ground. For openers, at present he owns a four percent stake in the team, while I own nothing of the team but an alternate game hat and several books.

Cohen played baseball as a boy until a shoulder injury put paid, apparently, to any thoughts he had of growing up to pitch professionally, presumably in a Met uniform. His career ended with slightly more honour than mine did: I discovered 1) I couldn’t hit a fair ball unless the foul lines were moved to a single line crossing the rear point of home plate; and, 2) I couldn’t throw a strike unless the strike zone sat on the batter’s derriere.

So each of us ended our baseball careers and settled for pursuits less likely to provide even that one in a billion shot at immortality.

Mine was becoming an Air Force intelligence analyst and, following, a professional journalist at the regional level with a career described as fitful at best. Cohen’s was going to Wall Street and building a fortune that would, if he intends to buy that 80 percent stake in the Mets, make him baseball’s wealthiest owner almost overnight.

I say “almost” because the reporting holds that the incumbent Wilpons will stay in command for five more years. But the transition of power could happen sooner, as often it does. “According to my sources, Cohen, who is currently a minority owner of the Mets, would immediately own at least a tad over 50% should the deal be approved,” writes Mike Ozanian in Forbes. “Why would anybody buying a majority stake in a dysfunctional business allow the folks who ran it dysfunctionally for years keep running it? Time is of the essence.”

To see the reaction of Met fans who’ve despaired over what The Athletic calls the Wilpons’ “tight fisted and ham handed stewardship of the Mets” is to think the Messiah has come at long enough last. Met fans salivate over the prospect of the tight fists turning into open hands.

Cohen is known for a previous bid to buy the Dodgers (he lost out) and as an art lover and collector who once paid for one sculpture (Pointing Man, by Alberto Giocametti) $3.8 million more than the Mets agreed to pay their back-to-back Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Jacob deGrom for five years beginning in 2020.

The Wilpons’ fists tightened when they turned up among the wounded (victims and partial culprits alike) in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Cohen’s SAC Capital Investors, which he built, copped to five counts of insider trading in 2013 and ponied up a $1.2 billion fine. Though Cohen himself wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, SAC Capital was barred from outside investments from there forward.

Cohen merely picked himself up, dusted off, and created Point72 Ventures three years ago and Cohen Private Ventures, which he says will manage his majority Mets stake if the deal is done. The Wilpons are still trying to get out from under the Madoff mess, which only began for them when they thought investing with Madoff would help them with things like the botched Bobby Bonilla deal. (Which the Mets must pay through 2035 at $1 million a year, for a player who’s been retired almost two decades.)

“Madoff ‘made’ them boatloads of money that never existed and they invested it in places they’re still trying to pay back (like their team *cough Bonilla* and television station),” writes Sarah Valenzuela of the New York Daily News. “By 2015, they were paying off about $100M/year to get to the principal amount of their debts, plus the cost of the recently built Citi Field.”

Fred and son Jeff Wilpon have been known as Steinbrennerian meddlers (George, not Hal) without much of anything resembling Steinbrennerian results after they wrested the team’s full ownership from co-owner Nelson Doubleday in 2002. And as often as not the meddlings were destructive enough to be considered human neglect.

The elder Wilpon once forced Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez to pitch a meaningless game for the box office in 2006 despite a toe injury; it may have aggravated shoulder issues, invited 2007 season-losing surgery, and limited Martinez in 2008, to the point where he returned to the Red Sox after his deal expired to retire as a Red Sox.

When Doubleday wanted in the worst way possible to bring Hall of Famer Mike Piazza to the Mets in 1998, Wilpon actually tried to thwart the deal. Today Piazza’s Hall of Fame plaque shows his head under a Mets cap. Way to call ’em, Fred. Meanwhile, for every Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana acquisition there were Bonilla’s second Mets deal and acquisitions of aging, past-prime, or completely lost players almost too numerous to mention.

Wilpon pere and Wilpon fils have also been renowned for blocking signings and deals their baseball brain trusts have recommended strongly enough to them while signing off on signings and deals described as dubious most charitably.

And no managerial firing in the Steinbrenner Yankees’ history was half as despicable as the manner in which Wilpon ordered the executions of Willie Randolph, his pitching coach Rick Peterson, and his first base coach Tom Nieto in 2008—after the team traveled to Anaheim and won the first game of the road trip. And after midnight while they were at it.

But before my fellow Met fans drink too deep in celebrating the advent of the Cohen era, they may do wise to ponder the Wednesday evening caution from MLB Trade Rumours‘s Steve Adams:

Any ownership-level shakeup, of course, can have payroll implications for a team, but there’s no immediate indication that the Mets will increase spending in the near future. To the contrary, multiple reports this week have indicated that the Mets may need to move some undesirable contracts before spending further this winter — a reality that has long since been apparent to any who’ve closely examined the team’s payroll outlook. As for what would happen with regard to team payroll down the line, that can’t be known at this time, but it’s worth highlighting that the Bloomberg Billionaire Index lists Cohen’s net worth at a staggering $9.2 billion.

Today’s announcement seemingly puts a finite window on the Wilpons’ rein atop the organization and, as ESPN’s Buster Olney points out (Twitter link), perhaps explains why the club has been so focused on winning as soon as possible and making splashy moves toward that end.

That’s a somewhat extensive way of reminding Met fans—since the day they were born and otherwise—how wise it is to cut the cards no matter how deep you trust Mom.

Cohen grew up on Long Island in Great Neck, a well-to-do place in Nassau County familiar to me mostly as the home of a classic opulent wedding-and-bar-mitzvah semi-factory. Leonard’s of Great Neck, now Leonard’s Palazzo, is known to television fans as the joint where Johnny Sack asked Tony Soprano to perform a hit before Sack was hauled from his daughter’s wedding back to prison, in season six, episode five.

Take that, Mr. Cohen: After my parents moved us from the north Bronx, I finished growing up (har, har) in Long Beach, an island strip across a channel in southern Nassau which had a little bit of every economic strata, a lot of beach and boardwalk, and a home for Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, from which son and heir Michael plotted and delivered the execution of the heads of the Five Families.

My mob’s better than your mob. #LFGM.