The Wilpons’ sudden decision to sell the majority interest in the New York Mets is apparently the result of an internal family squabble that has been going on for years.
With patriarch Fred Wilpon now 83 years of age, the prospect of his heirs running the team in the future must have spooked him into selling rather than have them, son Jeff in particular, squander the family’s prized asset.
In a report from the New York Times, the family feud between Jeff and his brother, Bruce, goes back years and without Fred around to mediate and mitigate, it is feared the franchise would be in incapable hands. Thus, the agreement to have billionaire minority owner Steven A. Cohen increase his stake in the team in increments over the next five years was made.
With Fred Wilpon, 83, and his siblings aging, their children were increasingly wary of having Jeff Wilpon, their aggressive, short-tempered relative, in charge of the family’s most valuable heirloom. That issue will go away with a deal to sell Cohen 80 percent of the franchise that will give the family a huge profit, considering what the Wilpons paid each time they increased their stake in the Mets.
Tensions between Jeff Wilpon and his relatives have been brewing for years. Many of them work with Sterling Equities, the family’s closely held umbrella company, but the baseball team, which last won a World Series in 1986 — before the family took full control — was largely Jeff’s domain.
For years, some family members have questioned his choices behind the scenes.
The disdain for Jeff goes back even before the Wilpons took control of the team from partner Nelson Doubleday in 2002.
During the years he controlled the team, Nelson Doubleday had insisted that neither his children nor Wilpon’s have a role within the team. Insiders at the time said it was well known that the purpose of the rule to was exclude Jeff Wilpon, who had played baseball at Palm Beach State College and was even drafted twice by major league organizations.
“Doubleday was very hard on Jeff,” one executive said.
Met fans can thank Fred for his foresight. Had he not made the choice to sunset his family’s interest out of Flushing, the fans would have been subject to an unfettered era of Jeff running the team with no governor to control him.
Now, we don’t know what kind of owner Cohen will be, but we do know he is a genuine billionaire without the entanglements Fred had (see Madoff) but he also doesn’t come with a pristine past. Cohen was slapped with a $1.8 billion fine in 2013 for insider trading.