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“Wilpon’s Folly” by Howard Megdal: Baseball, Business and Legal Book Review

Sunday February 12, 2012

“WILPON’S FOLLY: THE STORY OF A MAN, HIS FORTUNE AND THE NEW YORK METS” –  BY HOWARD MEGDAL

(Bloomsbury:  2011)

MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen:  As I close my Google Books reader, I start to reflect on Howard Megdal’s latest book. I finished the book recently, but found myself going back to re-read certain parts over and over. Partly to comprehend the extent of the points within the book. But mostly because it was just damn interesting. Wilpon’s Folly broke new ground in several new ways for me. When I finished it, I felt more educated. I had a deeper understanding for the Mets, their ownership and troubles. I wanted to debate and discuss what I had read. All marks of another hit by one of the top rising baseball writers of our time. If you didn’t know the name Howard Megdal before, you certainly will know it after reading Wilpon’s Folly. Every important writer has their piece of work that puts them on the map, so to speak. Wilpon’s Folly is Howard’s masterpiece.

 The first part that I found fascinating was the fact that Wilpon’s Folly was only available as an eBook. While I am not yet old and frail, I will admit that until this book I still was stuck on reading “actual” books. Considering that I still remember using a typewriter and calling the computer “a fad”, I was glad that Howard brought me into the digital age. Perhaps kicking and screaming a little, but it was time. For those of you that haven’t used digital readers yet, don’t let this stop you. In the age of iPads, iPhones, Kindle readers and the whole gauntlet of electronic gadgets available, people are reading books in a whole new manner in this golden electronic age of ours. Howard has embraced those means by making Wilpon’s Folly available only as an eBook. Not a critical part of the book, but a point that I felt worth making. 

As an eBook, Wilpon’s Folly went with my everywhere…and I mean, literally everywhere. While I could have read the book on my phone and computer, I chose to stick to go the phone route. So yes, I completed an entire eBook on my iPhone- the first of many to come I’m sure. At lunch, doctor’s office, parking lot…there I was, reading Wilpon’s Folly. I found not being shackled to a physical book liberating. It meant that I could read the book wherever and whenever I wanted. I had a hard time “putting the book down”, which as an eBook I didn’t have to. So why did I just have to read this book everywhere you ask? Once you read it for yourself, you will definitely find out.

Before getting into the book itself, there is one critical statement that I had to make. Reading commentary and discussions of the book, the issue I am wondering is whether the talkers have actually read the book. Did the Wilpons read it? Mets officials? For everyone who reads Howard Megdal’s articles regularly and his previous two books, you will know that he is a lifelong Mets fan. A devoted, passionate proponent of the club. After all, he even went as far to run a public campaign to be voted in to run the club. While the election was done tongue-in-cheek, the message from the efforts was clear. The Mets need change. When Sandy Alderson was brought in as the new General Manager, the move was vindication of Megdal’s message. A clear focus and direction for the Mets was required. The hiring was to be the start of that new road as envisioned by Megdal. But then Fred Wilpon, Bernie Madoff and everything associated with the two individuals came to light. Rather than sitting back, Megdal again attempts to help the Mets in the best way that he knows how. To bring his message out to the people.

Wilpon’s Folly is many things to many people. Whether you are a Mets’ fan, baseball fan in general or just enjoy important news items, everyone will be able to take something out of Wilpon’s Folly. This book is very different from Megdal’s previous efforts. It is a baseball book meets legal education. Given the legal issues surrounding the Mets, it would have been impossible for Megdal to write this book without thorough legal analysis. Perhaps Howard Megdal went to law school. Maybe he was a lawyer in a former life. If he wasn’t, then he sure fooled me. Wilpon’s Folly presented the legal issues and analysis surrounding the Wilpons in a concise manner. For the person going to look for a book that bashes the Wilpons and/or Mets, go look elsewhere. This book is far from a mere critique piece.

Based on the title of the book, I expect that people could be looking for an anti-Wilpon publication. But to judge a book based on its cover or title is breaking the first code of literature.  Even if any Mets officials are upset by the book, I would suggest reading it before passing judgment. This book is not about hammering Fred Wilpon and his family. This book is not about criticizing the Mets as an organization. This book is about understanding what has happened to this once proud organization over the last few years. Howard Megdal did not do any of this to the Wilpons and their business associates. They did it to themselves.

While I have tried to keep up with the recent events surrounding the Mets, I came to realize after reading Wilpon’s Folly that I did not know the whole story. I actually understood only a small fraction of it before this book. Megdal was able to lay out the timelines and events that took the Mets into their current state of affairs. It wasn’t just the past year or so that was discussed. The whole history of the Mets was summarized, including a recap of the Wilpon purchase of the Mets and the ups/downs of the team until today. The history of the Wilpons was essential to understand how the team found the way into its current predicament. Not just from the baseball team perspective, but to the investment decisions and associations forged by the Wilpons. At the end of the day, without a solid financial footing, the Wilpons fell much like a house of cards. Wilpon’s Folly shows how and why this happened.

One particular interesting story that I was looking to read was the David Einhorn saga. He was so close to buying into the Mets, just to see the deal fall apart. My gut instinct was that he was a little too cocky about the situation. Perhaps putting himself into the limelight a little too quickly for the Wilpons’ liking. If he had laid low and kept his mouth shut, perhaps he could have become a minority owner and possibly more in the future. Howard Megdal certainly did not disappoint in summarizing that part of the story. Howard covered all the bases and explained in great deal what became of Einhorn and his relationship with the Mets. A small part of the equation, but something that meant a great deal to this reader.

In his usual style, Howard Megdal is not content with just presenting problems or issues. He comes armed with solutions and reasoning. Much in the way he had plans to fix the management of the team, Megdal similarly presents his solution to the Mets woes. Again, this did not come across as spite towards the team or its ownership. It was a realistic portrayal of where they are at and what they need to do to fix it. Megdal is very good at looking at the short-term and long-term benefits of his ideas and presenting them in a manner that best serves the team that he loves.

Facts are what they are. There are certain things that can’t be disputed. What I enjoyed most about this book was Megdal’s ability to find the evidence and display the legal reasoning and ramifications behind them. This book is not anti-Mets. Rather, it will serve as a historical guide one day for Mets fans. To learn about what happened to their franchise. What was the story behind their once proud owner. The team is in a sad state of affairs, there is no denying it. Megdal is not trying to glorify or capitalize it. Rather, he is attempting to help the situation by education and understanding. At the end of the day, there are not many people on this earth who want to see the Mets succeed more than Howard Megdal. But those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Megdal in Wilpon’s Folly is hoping that the story of “what happened” does get out- so that another folly does not occur to the team again in the future. This story unfortunately is far from over and could become worse before it gets better. But until it gets much further, it is important to learn how everything has transpired for the Mets and Wilpons to-date.

So it is time to get into the electronic age if you haven’t already. Download an e-reader or two of your choice. Head over to Amazon.com and spend the $2.51 to buy the kindle edition of Wilpon’s Folly. You will understand the Mets better. You will understand baseball better and how team ownership really works. You will learn about the business and economics of the sport. I will guarantee you that this will be the best $2.51 you will ever spend. Remember: reading is important. Reading baseball is even better. But reading baseball and getting a business and legal education at the same time- now that is taking it to a whole new level. Congrats Howard Megdal. Thank you for giving the world Wilpon’s Folly. If only the Mets had 30,000 more of you in the stands- the baseball world could really become orange and electric blue.


***You can follow Howard on Twitter and click here for Howard’s website.***

 

Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

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Posted on February 12, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Excellent review, Jonathan. Now I simply have to read this book. But I’m not sure how without Kindle or another such device. I’m just on old PC Laptop guy. Send me a DM if you would on my options. And again, great review.

  2. William – you can download a Kindle app on your PC which has all the same functionality. If in the future you upgrade to a Kindle/similar device it’s nice that the app saves your place in the e-book among other features. Agreed, great review.

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