The former manager of the Montreal Expos said that the New York Mets face far bigger problems than the financially-stricken Canadian outfit ever did, due to the fallout from the Bernie Madoff scandal, the New York Post reported Tuesday.
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In 2002, Frank Robinson took over as the manager of a teetering Expos team that was owned, in a caretaker relationship, by Major League Baseball and appeared headed for contraction.
He coaxed 83 wins out of that team — a minor miracle considering its financial limitations and the distractions the players had to overcome.
But Robinson, now a special adviser to the commissioner, believes that manager Terry Collins and the Mets will face even more daunting challenges this season as the Wilpons and co-owner Saul Katz deal with their role, if any, in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
"It’s a much larger problem than we had in Montreal because it’s ongoing and it deals personally with their ownership, since a lot of them know the Wilpon family," Robinson said.
Opening Day is just three days away, and the Mets still are trying to find a minority buyer for the team. The Wilpons and Katz are fighting a $1 billion so-called clawback lawsuit alleging that they are a guilty party in the Madoff scheme.
The Mets insist they are victims.
The team is reportedly so hard up for cash that it had to borrow $25 million from baseball last year — and had its credit from Commissioner Bud Selig closed off when it approached him, hat in hand, more recently.
"My players were jaded by the time I got there because they had been hearing rumors about the team for a few years," Robinson said. "For the Mets, it’s all new. It’s going to be a distraction."
According to him, how the Mets deal with the unknown will help decide their fate.
"They’re going to have to deal with questions they can’t answer and don’t even know about," he said.
And the Madoff scandal has a more far-reaching impact than the possibility of the Expos folding, Robinson added.
"This is more complicated than a baseball team not being around," he said. "It affects a lot of people in society, not just baseball. They’re gonna hear it from the loudmouths in the stands and are going to get barbs all the time. It’s going to be a difficult season."
Much of how they players react will be up to Collins, who Robinson believes will be up to the task of keeping his team focused on the field.
"I know Terry, and he’s a very positive individual," Robinson said. "So I think he’ll deal with it fine."