Mets COO Jeff Wilpon discusses the Bernie Madoff fallout, the collapse of the team’s sale, some of his best and worst memories, and what he thinks of this year’ club in a Q&A email exchange with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: What is your recollection of the day you and your father Fred learned about Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme?
A: Shock and disappointment.
Q: How crippling was the fallout?
A: What I will share as the most important fallout from Madoff is all the community-minded and philanthropic organizations that were burned by him and all the people that were in need and wouldn’t be able to receive as much assistance as they needed. Also other individuals less fortunate and lost everything is the biggest crime.
Q: Biggest mistakes?
A: Many that I try to learn from and not repeat.
Q: What are your feelings about the dissolution of the Steve Cohen deal? What’s next, and how could it affect you?
A: Have to refer to the following from the statement released earlier. As spring training begins, on behalf of ownership, we would like to share more information explaining why the proposed transaction has ended, however due to confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, we are unable to do so at this time. So right now, I believe we need to focus on the future and not on the past and that’s what we intend to do. We would like to assure our fans that we will continue our commitment to winning in 2020 and beyond, and we’ll work hard to earn and maintain everyone’s confidence and trust. We’ll be moving forward to find a new transaction.
Q: Why fire Willie Randolph in the middle of the night during a West Coast trip in 2008?
A: A lot of people, including myself, made mistakes with that situation.
Q: Biggest regrets?
A: Firing Willie Randolph when we did. We should have been more thoughtful on the timing.
Q: Does the Bobby Bonilla contract — $1.2 million every year — and the fact he’s getting paid until 2035 make you sick?
A: You make some bad and some good deals. This one was a deferred-compensation arrangement, which are common.
Q: You’ve been described as too meddlesome. Your thoughts?
A: As COO, my responsibilities go beyond being a part of the ownership group and are to oversee elements on a day-to-day basis and report to Fred.
Q: What do you think of the small-market-team criticisms?
A: I understand criticism is going to come and have a great appreciation for that, knowing how passionate our fans are. We are committed to winning and have rewarded many players with extensions and multi-year free-agent contracts.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out about Yoenis Cespedes and the wild boar?
A: Just a shame that we wouldn’t have such an impact player for the entire season.
Q: Do you get upset or angry reading your emails?
A: No. Always appreciate the passion of our fans. We have the same goals as them, which is to win.
Q: What is it like for you when you’re recognized in public?
A: Fans are always supportive and passionate when coming face-to-face. I always try to thank them for their loyalty.
Q: What makes a good owner?
A: Wants to win, cares about the fans and hires good people.
Q: What should Mets fans think of Jeff Wilpon?
A: Works hard for the fans, to be proud of the team they support. When we lose a game, I go through the same hurt and anguish they experience and understand their frustration. [I am] passionate and care deeply.
Q: Describe your leadership style.
A: Hire good people to do their jobs, collaborative. communicative.
Q: How are you different as a boss from your father?
A: I’ve obviously learned a ton from my dad and mixed that in with lessons from other people in leadership roles. I believe everyone has to be themselves and find their own leadership style.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you learned from your father?
A: Work ethic, and sleep on a idea before making a big decision.
Q: What is the best advice he gave you in life and with the Mets?
A: Enjoy what you do. Don’t take shortcuts. Pay attention to detail.
Q: What kind of father was he growing up?
A: Caring, supportive. Came to all my games. Always gave advice before and after — never during.
Q: What have you learned about GM Brodie Van Wagenen?
A: Hard working and as collaborative an executive as I’ve ever seen. Big thinker.
Q: Carlos Beltran taking a called strike three against Adam Wainwright to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS: Your thoughts?
A: Knowing Carlos as a person and player, nobody wanted to come through with a hit more than he did. He had a wonderful career with us and had come through so many times in the past.
Q: What did you learn about former GM Sandy Alderson?
A: Perseverance and a steady hand.
Q: Why didn’t Mickey Callaway work as manager?
A: Mickey is a good baseball man. Sometimes the best intentions don’t work out. But for me, it’s about looking at the tasks ahead and what we can do better.
Q: Then-GM Omar Minaya signed Pedro Martinez to a free-agent deal in 2004. Why was that important at the time?
A: Knew he was a future Hall of Famer. Was pivot point and first big name to sign with us, and others followed. Had just come off a World Series championship with the Red Sox. We suddenly had an icon, and [that] was a catalyst to a turnaround.
Q: What was it like dealing with former manager Bobby Valentine? What did you think of the dugout mustache?
A: Bobby V is a terrific baseball person and always learned something about the game in our conversations.
Q: Describe the Tom Seaver you know, and how heartbreaking was the news that he has dementia?
A: The Tom I like to remember is us walking and talking about so many things in his vineyard years ago.
Q: Who are owners in other sports you admire?
A: Respect and admire a number of owners that have a passion and commitment to their organization, fans and community.
Q: What do you think of Hal Steinbrenner’s leadership style?
A: I have a lot of respect for Hal and the Yankees’ success they’ve had over the years. More appropriate to ask that of others that are around him on a more regular basis.
Q: Describe the first time you met George Steinbrenner and your best anecdote about him.
A: At spring training in Fort Lauderdale [Fla.] with Fred. He was always very friendly to me.
Q: What has it been like competing against the Yankees?
A: Great rivalry for the city and fans.
Q: What is the closest you came to a big trade with the Yankees?
A: Don’t really recall, except to say that many conversations have been had through the years.
Q: Mike Piazza’s home run in the first game back after 9/11 … what is your recollection of that moment?
A: Emotional. Surreal. Hard to put into words how much that meant, still to this day. After the anthem, both teams shook hands, which never happens. It gave me chills that this was a sign of America standing together and was more than just a game. I was sitting in the stands. From the sound of the ball off the bat, there was no doubt that it was heading out and was also amazed at where the ball landed.
Q: What was your immediate reaction when Roger Clemens threw the sawed-off bat toward Piazza in the 2000 World Series, and do you think Piazza should have charged him?
A: Disbelief and confusion. Hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes in the heat of the moment.
Q: Losing the 2000 World Series or 2015 World Series, which one hurt more and why?
A: Both hurt when you get so close and don’t finish. We felt during both we had a lot of momentum leading into those and just couldn’t maintain. 2015 probably hurts more because it was more recent.
Q: What are your memories of the Mookie Wilson groundball in the 1986 World Series and going on to win the title?
A: Mookie ball was Game 6, so we knew we needed one more to finish. After Game 7, celebrated like all our fans with our family. Was sitting behind Commissioner [Peter] Ueberroth, and when the ball was hit on the ground, I had a feeling of despair thinking the game was going to extra innings. Suddenly it got by [Bill] Buckner and Ray [Knight] had rounded third. The next thing I remember was Shea actually shaking and fans going crazy.
Q: What happened to Matt Harvey and why did he flame out?
A: What I will tell you is that Matt provided us a lot of great moments, including starting the All-Star Game at Citi Field in 2013, and his performances in 2015 were a huge part of us making it to the World Series.
Q: What are your best three moments as a Mets owner?
A: 1986 World Series, Game 6 in Houston [a 16-inning win to clinch the 1986 NLCS], winning 2015 pennant in Chicago.
Q: What are your worst three moments as Mets owner?
A: Failing to reach playoffs in ’07 and ’08. When we lose family members like Rusty Staub and Al Jackson.
Q: What are your favorite locker room scenes or moments?
A: Watching Fred accept the ’86 world championship trophy. Seeing the camaraderie of the 2015 team and celebrate with them in Chicago after clinching the pennant.
Q: Bartolo Colon hit the only home run of his 21-year career in 2016. What was it like watching that?
A: Amazement and so much fun watching his teammates’ reaction. Don’t remember who I was watching with, but I do remember saying to them, “Did that really happen?”
Q: What are your favorite memories you have as a catcher? What kind of player were you?
A: Not good enough to make it to the majors but good enough to enjoy the game.
Q: Favorite players growing up?
A: Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench.
Q: Favorite Long Island things?
A: Billy Joel and New York Islanders of the ’80s.
Q: Four dinner guests?
A: My grandparents, Bo Schembechler, Gil Hodges.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Shawshank Redemption.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Denzel Washington.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Meryl Streep.
Q: Favorite singer or entertainer?
A: Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul McCartney.
Q: Favorite meal?
Q: Can the Mets contend in 2020?
A: We’re very optimistic with Brodie and his staff and how we finished the second half of last season with one of the best records in the league. Having addressed many needs, such as starting-pitching additions and bullpen depth, as well as returning mainstays such as [Jacob] deGrom coming off of back-to-back Cy Youngs and Pete [Alonso] building on his record-setting rookie season, the organization and our fans have reason for high hopes in 2020.
Q: How high is up for Pete Alonso?
A: The sky is the limit. Can’t wait to see it unfold. Pete’s record-breaking homer in the second-to-last home game really gave our fans something to hold onto and be proud of.
Q: What would you want to say to Mets fans about your ownership and the future of the club?
A: The future is bright. A lot to look forward to. Will always continue our mission to build a roster to win consistently.