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January 2011

What Is The Truth About The Met Finances?

 

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The news came out this past week that the Wilpons may be looking at taking on a minority partner to increase their cash flow in the wake of pending litigation surrounding the Madoff scandal.  As often happens with these types of stories, all of the media scribes turn into financial experts who now have the ability to see through the trees explaining what happened and how the Wilpons are to blame for everything that is bad in this world.  I am no expert in finances (as can be readily seen by examining my net personal worth) but in talking to some people that are indeed qualified to speak on finances, the issues here are complex and certainly not clear cut.

I have covered the Mets since 1982 and I must say my dealings with both Fred and Jeff Wilpon have been pleasant, professional, and always courteous.  Fred strikes me as a man who cares deeply about family and more importantly, the quality of life for all of his employees.  They desperately want this team to win and I do not think Met fans understand how the losing affects them.  It is crucial to understand here that Bernie Madoff was a  close personal friend of the entire family and the betrayal the Wilpons must have felt is hard to even quantify.

This was not merely some broker who swindled investors--it was someone the family trusted as you or I would our very best friend in the whole world.  This does not absolve the Wilpons of any responsibility in all of this but it might explain why it happened.  And at the time the scandal was uncovered, they were asked if it would affect the team financially which they denied.  They are now being villified for that but I think that criticism is misdirected.

It stands to reason that the financial pressure they are currently under is a direct result of the law suits which recently came to the forefront.  And lets speak the truth here--the team operated business as usual last year maintaining one of the higher payrolls in the sport despite a so-so season and lower than expected attendance figures.  So, I do believe the Wilpons here that this is a recent economic shortfall and seeking a minority owner is a potential solution to alleviating the cash flow issues.

And for the record minority owners are very commonplace in sports these days--just look across the Whitestone Bridge where the Yankees have routinely had minority owners throughout their history.  In fact, the Wilpons 100% ownership is the exception rather than the rule in the high-priced game of sports franchise ownership.

Being a Met beat reporter for the past few years, I know the plate spinning act of "kicking a dog when he is down" and that is fair I guess when it comes to on the field stuff.  Nobody was more critical of Jerry Manuel than me last year and so I understand the dynamic.  But no one on the beat (no matter what they might tell you) is privy to the finances of the Wilpons and so anything you get, should be taken with a boatload of salt.  There are also people who may have an ax to grind with the Wilpons for other reasons and so they will present a slanted view as well.

I am not saying believe me or believe them--I am saying make up your own mind but understand that there is still much to this we do not know and may never know.  But I do know this--the Wilpons have acknowledged they will pay out a huge sum of $ to Madoff victims--you can infer that by them using the word "settlement" instead of "litigation" in their statement to the press.  And that prospect has forced the family to seek alternate revenue streams because of how much they want to win in this town.

And that's the  back page piece to this story--I will leave the financial pieces and legal questions to those much smarter than me.  I know it's outrageous to think we should wait until all the details of a story come out before we jump to any conclusions.  And I know patience is not a virtue of the New York media who would often rather be first and wrong than second and right.  Journalism 101 teaches you the latter but somehow in this town we have all forgotten that lesson.

 


2011 Mets Might Be Better Than You Think

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When you bring up the topic of the 2011 Mets,most baseball experts say they are a .500 team at best and were even picked to finish last in the NL East in some circles.  I say stop the insanity--they were pretty much a .500 team last year without some of their core parts and with a new manager, you have at least give Terry Collins a chance to put his stamp on this team.  Sandy Alderson has assembled a very impressive roster in the front office whose baseball acumen might very real re-define the "mission statement" of the team.

The team does have question marks and will reside in a division that houses some of the best pitching in the sport.  The strategy to stay put, evaluate what you have, and wait until you have more economic flexibility is a sound one which should not be surprising knowing what a solid baseball man the new GM is.  And my sense is there is serious talent on this roster--I mean All-Star caliber talent like Wright, Reyes, Bay, Beltran and K-Rod and budding stars like Angel Pagan and Ike Davis.  This team will hit plenty even in spacious CitiField and so the 2 big questions will be: Is there be enough starting pitching and who is the bridge to K-Rod?

One scout told me, "If Young does for them what Dickey did last year, they will be OK especially if Pelfrey duplicates 2010 and Santana returns for the second half.  They will hit and they are pretty solid defensively."  The 8th inning question is a tough one but not an uncommon issue around the league--that is why the Yankees paid so much for Rafael Soriano.  So, the rotation is the rub here and more specficially, how they perform on the road where the Mets lost in walk-off fashion too numerous times to mention a year ago. 

Many experts pinned that on the bullpen but you could make the argument that an anemic offense put the team in those positions due to the loss of injured players.  And then there is the question of in-game managing.  It is no secret that I was very critical of Jerry Manuel and the way he handled this team but let me be very clear--I personally liked him alot and always said that I'd want him to manage my son in high school or college but at this level, I think he misstepped quite a bit.

 Terry Collins will do a better job of communicating roles to the players and will do less tinkering with the lineup.  This is a group that needs that and needs to play with passion.  My sense is that Jerry sometimes tried to think too much "out of the box" when a simple approach would have served the team better.  Trying to bat Jose Reyes not once but twice indicated to me his stubborness clouded his judgement and in the 2009 season his opposite field hitting drill proved counter productive especially with his big power hitters.

When I look at this team its pretty simple, Reyes is the catalyst, Wright is your fulcrum, Beltran when healthy is your best all around player and Jason Bay, aside from last year has been an RBI machine.  Pagan and Davis are great complimentary pieces and so what will decide the Mets fate is health and starting pitching.

Which makes them very similar to a handful of NL teams aside from the Giants and Phils.  Lets remember the Mets were 10 games over .500 midway through the season last year before that fateful West Coast trip after the break which for all intents and purposes, ended their season.  With a little luck, (which they are overdue to receive) they just might surprise the naysayers.


Rex Ryan Blazing A Trail To Super Bowl Glory

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When the playoffs began just a few short weeks ago, many experts felt the road to the Super Bowl was filled with land mines for the New York Jets.  After all, they were a #6 seed and beyond that, their road to the first Sunday in February went through Indy, New England, and likely Pittsburgh which meant Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger.  It could be argued no team in recent memory had to go through that tough a journey--all on the road.  The fact that the Jets had became a hated team that talked far too much made the detractors of the team relish the chance to see them go up in flames.

But that very thing brought this team together and Rex Ryan used it as a motivating factor to "build the impossible dream."  Don't get me wrong--Ryan did not only use words--he devised unique game plans that quite frankly, parked his "blitz first" mentality at the door knowing his defense needed a different strategy against both the Colts and the hated Patriots.  It's the mark of a great coach to be flexible enough to change philosophies in order to win.  Pat Riley did it with the Knicks as his philosophy changed dramatically from his "Showtime" Laker teams when he came to The Big Apple.  His Knicks were "lunch pail players" that were physical and mostly about defense and rebounding, aside from Patrick Ewing's offensive prowess.  But he did it because it was the shortest road to winning and that is the biggest strength of Rex Ryan.

I know he's cocky and brash and will mix it up with anyone but make no mistake--he is a tireless worker and an innovative game planner.  And the adjustments he makes at halftime round out his resume as a complete coach.  But the real value in Rex is he has an impeccable sense of what his team needs.  Last week, he needed to be brash because of the history with the Patriots but this week, he's been humble and my sense is that's because this game will be more about bulk than syle.  So, expect the Jets to build a more aggressive defensive game plan with complex blitz packages designed to confuse a Steeler offensive line that is hurting.

The Jets are breathing hard on their first Super Bowl appearance since 1969 and moments before kickoff I am sure Jet fans will think about the tarp that was missing in Miami in 1982, the second half meltdown in Denver, or last year succumbing to the arm and brain of Peyton Manning.  But I suspect those thoughts will be long gone later in the night as Rex Ryan may finally deliver to Jet fans what so many coaches failed to do--a trip to the greatest of all sport spectacles--a Super Bowl.

And that will make Rex Ryan's name reasonate in this town much in the same way the names Davey Johnson, Mike Keenan, and Bill Parcells did when they satisfied long-suffering fans of their teams.  It would be rarified air for a coach who would deserve every inch of praise that he would receive.

 


Knicks Get The Point With Felton

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There has been a real resurgence at Madison Square Garden this year as the Knicks matter again and are headed in the right direction.  While Amare Stoudemire has gotten most of the credit, Raymond Felton has provided the Knicks with their best point guard in play in over a decade.  It is hard to believe you can fly under the radar in New York City but the classy Knick floor leader has done just that.  Recently, I spent some time with Felton and you get the sense he's a throwback--a player that leads by example.

Click Here To Listen To My Interview with Raymond Felton:

 

 

 

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Rex Ryan Leads The Way For The Jets

 

 

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He is brash, cocky and sometimes very irritating but make no mistake about it--Rex Ryan is a winner and well on his way to becoming an elite NFL Head Coach.  His Jet team has been in the eye of the storm all year whether they have been the focus of HBO, league investigations, or bulletin board fodder for their opponents.

But all that has just served as window dressing because he is very skilled at 2 major qualities all great head coaches possess: the ability to create unique game plans and at the same time, employ halftime adjustments that turn intermission deficits into dramatic victories. 

Going into this weekend's clash with Peyton Manning and the Colts, the star quarterback had dominated Ryan  as evidenced by last year's AFC Championship win in Indy as well as numerous encounters with him while on the staff of the Baltimore Ravens.  So, Ryan came up with a new twist--he would reel in his aggressive blitzing strategy and force Peyton Manning to beat him by handing the ball off to Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai.  He did it by employing a deep zone thanks to the fact Darrelle Revis kept wideout Reggie Wayne in his back pocket all night. 

Still, down 7-0 at the half, Ryan had to do more than defuse the high octane Colts--he had to find a way to both limit Manning's chances in the second half and score some points.  From the opening second half kickoff, the Jets leaned heavily on their talented offensive line behind Pro Bowlers Nick Mangold and D'Brickisaw Ferguson as they pounded the quick but small defensive front of the Colts finding the end zone twice in that second half.  But those 2 drives also forced Peyton Manning to watch from the sidelines as the Jets milked the clock for almost 15 minutes on those 2 drives alone.

More drama was to come late in the game as Ryan watched the Colts take the lead but effective use of his timeouts coupled with some creative play calling gave the Jets the win and sent the reigning AFC Champions home.  I have watched Peyton Manning lose playoff games but have never seen a defense defuse him in this fashion on the fast turf in Indy.  And a big reason for that is Rex Ryan had the courage to change his game plan because it was the best way to win.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots await the Jets in the next round in Foxboro on Sunday.  Going up against the best quarterback and the best coaching staff in the league is a tall order and add in the fact the Jets were embarassed there on National TV just a few weeks ago.  But do not count the Jets out here--Rex Ryan and his second year quarterback Mark Sanchez are now 3-1 in playoff games and all of those have been on the road.

 It should be a week full of verbal missles being fired between here and Beantown.  But when the bell rings on Sunday at 430PM and all the chatter stops, one thing is for sure.  Rex Ryan will have a few tricks up his sleeve and he will have to because he will be facing perhaps the greatest playoff coach in league history.  Can he win? Not sure about that but winning is Foxboro after defeating Peyton Mabnning will surely put the Jet Head Coach in rarified air--air that even the long arm of the NY media might not be able to reach.