Speaking on-camera for the first time this spring training, Mets owner Fred Wilpon maintained he knew nothing about Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme, insisted his family will retain control of the ballclub, and offered his thoughts on the upcoming season.
Remember when the Wilpons were mostly invisible caretakers of the Mets?
Not only that, they were once roundly criticized for their hands-off approach to running the franchise. They never stood up and took the shots for what went wrong, choosing to leave others to face the music for them. It wasn't exemplary leadership and it didn't fill people with belief that the men at top could steer the ship toward a pleasant port.
That's why Fred Wilpon earned some nice notices last fall when he sat in front of the masses and flagellated himself while ending the Omar Minaya era. He finally made himself part of the process, something that seemed to signal a new and better way of doing business in Flushing.
The only problem with that performance, it turns out, was the fact that he said the team was doing just fine financially and that there were no lingering problems from the Madoff affair.
It wasn't long before we learned that wasn't the case. When the Wilpons went public with their search for a silent partner dying to part with hundreds of millions of dollars, they confirmed every claim that they were in some rough financial waters and that said troubles were affecting the operations of the team. It was the openness that many sought from ownership, but it came with the lack of credibility everyone loathed.
At Mets camp Thursday, Wilpon offered more of the same. He looked and sounded like a man done wrong as he ranted and raved about how he will be vindicated when all is said and done with the lawsuit. He railed against those who would question his integrity and signaled a fight for the ages against Madoff trustee Irving Picard's charges that he should pay for playing any kind of a role in the Ponzi scheme.
Except, he stopped well short of actually promising that fight. Wilpon never said he wouldn't settle the case and pay a dime of money to satisfy his accuser nor did he ever say he was totally innocent of the charges. That's because vindication, i.e. an admission he knew nothing about Madoff's scheme, has nothing to do with winning a case that hinges on whether he should have known what was going on.
He was beating on a straw-man, something he made clear when he was forced to concede that he doesn't know how the law will come out and that he may be guilty of being naive about how Madoff conducted his "business."
In the end, it was a lot of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing beyond the Mets' understanding that there's a PR battle. Vindication makes for a nice sound bite, but victory and, more importantly, an end to this saga will take a lot more than that.