Bud Selig needs someone new to run the New York Mets, and deep down he knows it. Before Fred Wilpon brings any more embarrassment to his team and his sport, Selig has to take the ball out of his friend's hand and give him a pat on the back as a parting gift.
Selig executed a hostile takeover of Frank McCourt's Dodgers, appointing a former Texas Rangers executive to say yes or no to every financial decision that McCourt's dysfunctional franchise is pressed to make.
The Mets need the same kind of sentinel until Wilpon cashes out for good. If Selig doesn't take control of the Mets the way he took control of the Dodgers, there will remain only one plausible explanation:
Wilpon is a buddy of his, and McCourt is not.
Selig bristles when such suggestions are made, but he no longer can build a credible case that the Dodgers represent a bigger train wreck than the Mets. Wilpon has now told Sports Illustrated that his team is "bleeding cash," in danger of losing $70 million this year and in danger of being sold outright if the trustee in the Bernie Madoff case, Irving Picard, succeeds in his claw-back lawsuit and wins hundreds of millions of dollars that Wilpon doesn't have.
Enough is enough is enough. If wresting the Mets from Wilpon isn't in the best interests of baseball, what the hell is?
On Nov. 2, 2005, after Red Sox GM Theo Epstein announced he was stepping down in the middle of a front-office power struggle, his employer, John Henry, pulled up to a microphone and said, "I hold myself wholly responsible. Maybe I'm not fit to be the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox."
Henry said this only a year after winning a historic championship, after ending an 86-year drought. It's the first time I had ever heard an owner deliver such a startling public concession.
If Wilpon is half the dignified and accountable figure he makes himself out to be, he will acknowledge publicly that he is no longer fit to lead the Mets.
At the very least, Wilpon is guilty of wretched judgment in his extensive dealings with Madoff, who proved to be nothing more than a common crook. Wilpon didn't just put his most cherished holding -- the Mets -- in jeopardy by embracing Madoff as his money guy and by doing everything but let him run the bases at Shea; he set fire to his family's legacy, too.
But the unseemly Madoff affair wasn't enough for the Mets' beaten and battered fan base to weather. On top of that scandal and all of the on-field failures the fans have endured, on top of all the misguided investments the team has made in personnel, Wilpon had to go and rub it in his customer's faces.
He had to go and tell Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker that he had a s----y team with s----y players, which, of course, is a pretty s----y thing to do to your team, your players and your fans willing to pay their hard-earned money to watch the team lose more than it wins.
I wanted to hear from one of those fans, so I figured a man (not a mascot) known as Mr. Met was the right place to start.
"It's unfortunate it's come to this," Ed Kranepool said, "no question about it. I really want to stay away from expressing my feelings, but as an ex-player I never liked anyone taking shots at me or anyone else. Certain things need to be dealt with internally. I can see the frustration coming out, and it's unfortunate, but if I said what I really wanted to say, I won't come out ahead."
Saying little in this case was saying it all.
Wilpon has succeeded in devaluing his most important baseball assets -- his players -- at a time when his general manager, Sandy Alderson, and manager, Terry Collins, needed those assets bolstered in a big way.
Alderson likely will trade Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, two players mocked by Wilpon and two stars who were supposed to bring back critical young pieces to the Mets' long-term puzzle. Collins will have to rebuild the psyche of injured David Wright, a player unlikely to be traded and a face-of-the-franchise type who now realizes his employer doesn't truly believe in him.
It doesn't matter whether Wilpon's assessment of Wright as a superstar wannabe is accurate (it is). An owner is supposed to protect his prime assets, not assail them. Good luck to the Mets coaches and executives who try to reassure Wright the next time the third baseman descends into a six-week slump.
Wilpon is running his Mets as recklessly as he ran the real estate empire he placed in Madoff's sinister hands. In a strange and comical way, maybe this piece in The New Yorker will help Wilpon in his faceoff with Picard.
If the owner was dumb enough to trash his own team to a reporter at a time when that team is locked inside a grim financial crisis, maybe he actually was dumb enough to believe Madoff was on the up-and-up all along.
Either way, the fans and the city deserve better. The notion that a sale of 49 percent of the franchise to incoming partners will make all of Wilpon's problems disappear belongs to those who believed Wilpon's absurd claim way back when that the Madoff mess wouldn't affect his running of the team.
No, Selig can't sit this one out. He needs to put his friendship with Wilpon on the bench, ignore his affection and respect for Alderson, and appoint a trustee to reign over the Mets.
And then the commissioner needs to convince his friend Fred Wilpon that it's time to sell the franchise for the good of the team, the city and the sport.