Monday, January 31, 2011

Matters of high finance

Fred and Jeff Wilson's offer: Invest in our team and shut up.
It's been known for quite a while that the Wilpon family, the owners of the new York Mets had "invested" with Bernie Madoff, once a highly regarded figure on Wall Street and now an imprisoned con man. The Wilpons had withdrawn the money long ago.

Now they are about to be hit with a "clawback" suit from the special trustee, whose job it is to recover whatever funds can be salvaged from the mess and distribute it proportionally among Madoff's victims. How much money is involved is unclear, but it could be as much as $1 billion. It's substantial enough that the Wilpons are offering 25 percent of the team for sale.

Selling a minority interest is likely to prove difficult. There have been expressions of interest, but they pretty much all want control of the operation. Which figures; it's difficult to imagine that somebody with a spare $125 million or so to put into a baseball team would be inclined to let folks with the track record of the Wilpons bumble around with their capital.

Some of those expressing interest are known to have serious money. One, for example, is the founder of Vitaminwater, who sold that company to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion. Others ... well, one group is headed by Martin Luther King III and includes Ed Kranepool, a Mets first baseman in the 1960s, and Donn Clendenon Jr., the son the the man who platooned with Kranepool on the 1969 Mets. I'm sure these guys have more cash than I do, but is being the son of a civil rights icon really so lucrative? I'll believe it when I see it.

So it's interesting times indeed; baseball is flush with cash, and it appears that two of its most high-profile franchises, the Mets and the Dodgers are approaching forced-sale status through the sloppiness of their ownerships.

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