The Mets once again were forced into damage control mode Tuesday and this time it was COO Jeff Wilpon at the wheel from the very beginning - not the club's humiliated general manager, Omar Minaya.
After giving the assembled media a five-minute heads-up, Wilpon suddenly appeared in the home dugout at Citi Field, flanked by Dave Howard, the club's executive VP of business operations, and David Newman, the senior VP of marketing & communications.
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Noticeably absent was Minaya.
During the 12-minute news conference, Wilpon made it sound as if Minaya was lucky to still have a job. His message, as he stood in front of the dugout rail, was simple: Minaya made a big-time mistake verbally attacking Daily News reporter Adam Rubin on Monday and Wilpon wanted to apologize on behalf of the organization. As for Minaya, he remains employed, but apparently is on thin ice.
"Right now, the idea is that Omar is our general manager - period," Wilpon said. "He hasn't been reprimanded. I think his remorse in what he's shown is his sorrow for this and what he knows he did. The collateral damage it caused me, the collateral damage it caused my father, my uncle, the organization as a whole, he feels bad for. And I think that's more punishment than anybody can ever put on him."
Wilpon explained Minaya's absence by saying he needed more time to settle down before he issues his own apology, probably Thursday.
"We're very sorry about what happened [Monday]," Wilpon said. "It was the wrong forum, the wrong time, and a wrong situation for Omar to express himself in that way. Omar would very much like to call [Rubin] and apologize for the venue that he took to embarrass him and talk to him in that manner."
Wilpon did not address the content of Minaya's remarks, in which the GM accused Rubin of "lobbying" both he and fired VP Tony Bernazard for a player development job in the organization. Wilpon said that discussing those remarks would be Minaya's responsibility.
But Wilpon added that he already had phoned Rubin to apologize personally and also asked the reporter if he would accept a call from Minaya. Rubin declined to comment Tuesday but deferred to a statement from Martin Dunn, the editor-in-chief & deputy publisher of the Daily News.
"The Daily News accepts the Mets apology and Adam Rubin will continue to be our beat reporter covering the team," Dunn said.
As for Wilpon, all that was missing was the Hazmat suit. He cleaned up after Minaya as if Monday's news conference was the site of a toxic spill and the Mets COO didn't want the contamination to spread.
"Omar is extremely remorseful," Wilpon said. "This has taken a toll on him in a very big way. I think he's feeling the effects of what he did. He was angry. He was upset. A little bit about Tony, a little bit about some of the things that have been portrayed about the organization, and trying to protect it.
"I think he really understands he made a very large mistake here and he's apologized to ownership. He's apologized to a bunch of the staff. He understands he put us in a bad spot here."
Minaya showed up for work Tuesday, but spent much of his time talking with Wilpon, and later that afternoon returned to his regular duties with only three days left before Friday's 4 p.m. non-waivers trade deadline. It seemed unlikely that the Mets would make a significant deal before the deadline - as much as Minaya could use the distraction - and Wilpon's description of his humbled GM suggested he might have a difficult time focusing on the task at hand.
"He's not in a great state right now," Wilpon said. "I think if you guys can give him a day or so, he'll be back to Omar. And if we can all give him a chance, I think he'll come back and make this organization proud."
But for how long? Wilpon insisted again that he was blindsided by Minaya's verbal assault on Rubin and had no prior knowledge of any specific job inquiries by the reporter. But he isn't likely to tolerate many more surprises.
"It hurt the organization," Wilpon said. "We'll overcome it. We have to move on from there and rebuild ourselves."