Archive for June, 2018

Are the Wilpons Hurting the Mets?

June 27, 2018

by John Furgele (The Wondering Aloud 228)

Is it time?  Is it time for the Wilpons to sell the New York Mets? We all know that they certainly don’t have to do this; they own the team, they can keep the Mets as long as they see fit –and the probably will.  Far be it from me to tell a wildly successful family what to do with something they own.  That said…….

Owning a sports team is much different than developing real estate, which is how Fred Wilpon made his billions.  Investing money into IRAs, stocks and mutual funds is different that owning a baseball team.  You can make mistakes in real estate, but the next deal could be the big deal.  We can use Donald Trump as an example.  He supposedly lost it all, but had the capital to keep investing and eventually, it paid off.

The Wilpons made mistakes off the field.  They trusted Bernie Madoff and depending on which reports you believe, the Wilpons lost anywhere from $200 to $700 million dollars.  Are the Mets suffering from a Bernie Madoff Curse?

Wilpon bought one percent of the Mets in 1980 and when Nelson Doubleday tried to sell the team, Wilpon exercised a right to purchase and both he and Doubleday assumed 50 percent ownership.  It was an uneasy relationship, but it came at a time when the Mets were hot.  From 1984-1988, no team had more star power, more drama, and more excitement than the team that played in Queens.  They owned Broadway; probably the only time in history that they were more popular than the Bronx Bombers.  Save the 1969 rhetoric; that was a one-year run that came out of nowhere.  The ’68 Mets were 73-89 and the ’70 Mets were 83-79.

The Mets have played ball since 1962.  They were loved for their ineptitude, adored for the 1969 season of magic and caught America’s fancy in 1973, when the “Ya Gotta Believe Gang,” rallied to win the NL East at 82-79, beat the Mighty Reds in the NLCS and took the on-their-way-to-a-dynasty A’s to seven games in the World Series.

From 1974-1983, they were bad and the ‘77-‘83 editions were beyond that. That’s not all on Wilpon, but some of it is of course.  Think about this—the Mets are in their 57th season and have won two titles; the maligned daily Marlins are in their 26th season and like the Mets, have two titles.

The recent Mets have been hampered by the Wilpon ownership.  They assemble great pitchers, but they all get hurt and worse, they can’t heal.  They trade for Yoenis Cespesdes; he leads them to the 2015 World Series and he hasn’t played a full-season since.  David Wright, their heart and soul will end up retiring because of a career ending injury.

Is this Wilpon’s fault; of course not, but the buck has to stop with both he and son, Jeff.  As fortunate and successful as they have been in business, they have been equally unfortunate and unsuccessful as Met owners.  The 1986 championship is still revered by Mets fans and that happened 32 years ago.  32!  Meanwhile, the Yankee fan can’t remember if Derek Jeter’s backhand shuffle play came in 1999, 2000 or 2001 and they struggle to remember if Robinson Cano played on the 2009 title team.  Met fans can tell you the complete rosters of both the ’69 and the ’86 teams because that’s all they have.  Sure, that’s more than Cleveland, Seattle, the Chicago White Sox, the Cubs and the Nationals, who haven’t even played in a Fall Classic, but this is big-market New York.  And, speaking of that, it is Wilpon who complains of the costs associated with running a baseball team.  Fred doesn’t like the high salaries, gets mad when the Yankees trade for guys like A-Rod and Giancarlo Stanton and really doesn’t like opening up the checkbook.  He’s the guy that let Darryl Strawberry go in 1990, but the same guy who resigned the oft-injured Cespesdes.  Is he a guy that buys the kids dinner and when he sees the bill wishes he had cooked spaghetti at home?

We know Wilpon won’t sell the team.  In fact, he recently bought the Syracuse Triple A team and next year will have his Double A affiliate in Binghamton and the Triple A team in Syracuse, easy flights for call-ups and of course, rehab assignments.

What do the Mets fans think?  Are they sick of the Wilpons?  Before Yankee fans laugh, remember, you wanted George Steinbrenner out, but by the end of his time on earth, you loved him.  Could that happen with Fred Wilpon?  It doesn’t look like it will, but maybe they can catch lightning in a bottle one more time like they did in 1969, so the now 81-year old chairman can ride off into the sunset and eventually Heaven.

Sometimes, the game can you pass you by.  Art Modell had to sell the Ravens because he just didn’t have the billions required to stay as an owner.  The Davis family continues to hunt for revenues by moving from Oakland to LA back to Oakland and eventually to Las Vegas.  Eventually, they, too, will have to clear out.

I’m not sure to what to think with Fred/Jeff Wilpon.  They probably have a few billion, but one of the reasons they get and stay rich is by minimizing expenses.  Some guys can write the checks and not worry about it.  Others cringe when they buy new desks for the office.  It seems like Wilpon is of the latter variety.  One thing is for sure—his beloved Mets seemed jinxed and appear to be going nowhere fast.  If this was Kansas City, few would care; they would simply be happy to have an owner keeping a team in their city.  But this is New York and simply put, the Mets, under the Wilpons are not getting it done.







Another Ho-Hum Ending For The NBA

June 9, 2018

NHL more exciting, but not as loved

by John Furgele (The Puzzled 228)

The NBA suffered once again while the NHL flourished.  Look, we all know that the NBA is a league where dynasties—or semi-dynasties—exist. It’s no surprise to see one team win the finals more often than not.  For the fourth straight year, we saw Golden State play Cleveland and for the third time, Golden State won.

There is a pattern.  The Cavs remind me of the Philadelphia 76ers of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The Sixers reached the finals in 1977, 1980 and 1982, losing all three times, before ringing the bell in 1983; a team led by Moses Malone and Julius Erving.  The Cavs have one title in four tries.

In the 80s, the Lakers won titles in ’80, ’82, ’85, ’87, and ’88, while the Celtics won titles in ’81, ’84, ’86, leaving room for the Sixers in ’83 and Pistons in ’89.

We all know what Jordan’s Bulls did in the 1990s. The Utah Jazz sort of played the role of the modern day Cavs.  When Jordan was struggling to hit breaking pitches in the minors, the Rockets came in and won two in a row.

Basketball is much different than the five major sports (I’m including MLS Soccer, now).  You can win with two great players.  The Lakers has Kobe and Shaq, the Bulls had Jordan and Pippen and the lone Cavalier team to win had James and Kyrie Irving.  That’s the NBA.  The aberration may be the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, but they had Dirk Nowitzki, an underrated superstar and a very good supporting cast that included Jason Kidd and Jason Terry.

There are many people that tell me that they “don’t watch the NBA.”  Most of these are white guys in their mid-50s or older and it is not because of race.  Most find the games too boring, too predictable and too bogged down.  Baseball gets banged around for pace of play and start times, but NBA games start after 9 pm and drag out until midnight.  It has nothing to do with race; NBA players—99 percent of them—are good guys who do things in the community and stay out of trouble.  But, in an 82-game season that is followed by very predictable playoffs, it is has to capture and keep one’s attention; something that usually doesn’t happen.

Everybody says that the dynasties are good for sports and perhaps that is so.  Look at the Warriors.  For years, they stunk; they couldn’t make the playoffs and when they won it all in 1975, many fans weren’t even born.  When they reached the finals in 2015, they were liked, in part because they were new and exciting.

Now, they are the enemy.  They went out and got Kevin Durant and look like US Steel in the early 1900s.  An ESPN host called them the most hated team in sports.  Yes, that’s a bit harsh and really not true, but that’s what happens when a team wins time after time.  Only Yankee fans liked the 1996-2001 teams; the rest hated them.  Even the Buffalo Bills, a franchise that went 0-4 in Super Bowls were hated because most of America was “sick” of seeing them in that game.

In the NBA, it probably won’t change.  As mentioned, in a five-man game, two guys can make the difference.  As long as the Warriors have Curry and Durant along with supporting members like Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, they can certainly win another title or two.

The NHL is much different.  It’s more of a team game because of its set-up.  Alexander Ovechkin is the star of the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, but he plays less than half the game.  In hockey, teams roll out four lines (12 players) and six defenseman (6 players) and a goalie—19 guys seeing playing time   In a tight game, the fourth line might get skipped as might two defenseman, but with player changes going on every 45 to 60 seconds, the game can’t be dominated, even by an Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby.

For this reason, the NHL playoffs are much more captivating.  There is more drama, more tension, because, like soccer, it is hard for one team to “boatrace,” the other.  That doesn’t mean the NHL will soar in the television ratings.  Many call hockey a niche sport.  I think that’s unfair for a variety of reasons.  Hockey has been around forever, it has a national TV deal and games can be found on weeknights during the winter.  Don’t believe the “once they left ESPN, they lost their audience,” theory for even one second.  NBCSN and NBC do a more than adequate job of promoting, showing and discussing the games.

The problem with hockey is simple.  Most Americans have never played it, many have never ice skated and states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana and Oklahoma have never embraced it.  That’s a simple truth.  Basketball is played in these states, but hockey is not.  That said, we have seen how hockey can take off in “sun-belt” cities.  Nashville is now a hockey city and Las Vegas, in its first season, is already a hockey season.   Of course, there is resistance to this.  Many in the North and in Canada think that Gary Bettman has ruined hockey by taking it away from Canada and placing teams in Phoenix, Nashville, Tampa and Columbus.

The purists need to get over themselves.  Growing the game is important and Bettman has done this, making the owners who employ him lots of money.  Why would the guy in Calgary be upset that the Nashville arena sells out 41 nights a year?

All this said, the two winter sports are what they are.  The NBA relies on stars and because of this, dynasties form.  The NBA is a superstar driven league.  Steph Curry is a better shooter than JR Smith and always will be; he can get 30 points every night, Smith can’t.  In hockey, the hard working team can win because the game is set up as such.

I don’t expect people to leave the NBA for the NHL just because the NHL games are more exciting.  Basketball is the American game; we have the best players in the world and we dominate in international play.  Americans like that and it remains a reason why soccer and hockey will never get the huge national following.  As good as Americans are in soccer and hockey, we know that Canada, Russia and Sweden are better in hockey and 20 nations are better in soccer.

That’s why the middle-aged guy doesn’t watch the NBA playoffs.  It took 82 games and four rounds of playoffs to conclude what we knew back in October.  And, simply put, we don’t have time for it anymore.