Trump says if Mets are for sale, he's interested

Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. Photo Credit: AP

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In need of a financial makeover, the Mets could instead be getting a combover.

Donald Trump wants to buy the team -- but only if things don't work out for current owner Fred Wilpon.

"Fred is a friend of mine," Trump told Newsday Tuesday in a telephone interview. "I hope it works out for him. If it doesn't, I certainly would be interested."

Trump said he recently "reached out" to Wilpon to express his interest in the Mets. A report on The New York Times website Tuesday said Wilpon called Trump, but Trump said that was "incorrect."

The Mets' owners announced last month that they were seeking to sell up to 25 percent of the club. The owners are being sued for up to $1 billion by the trustee in the Bernard Madoff case and may not be able to hold on to the team if they cannot find a silent partner. A Mets spokesman said the team is not commenting on the sale process.

Trump, the real estate magnate and star of NBC's "The Apprentice" who as recently as last week was mentioned as a presidential candidate for 2012, said he hasn't considered being the Wilpons' partner.

"I haven't given it much thought," he said. "I've just been asked this question today."

One major hurdle for Trump is Major League Baseball's rule against having a team owner who also is involved with casinos. Trump owns a stake in Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owns three casinos in Atlantic City that bear his name. One of those casinos, Trump Marina, is going to be sold to Landry's Inc. for $38 million in a deal that was announced Monday. A spokesman for MLB would not comment on Trump's interest.

Marian Ilitch, wife of Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, had to divest herself of any interest in the Tigers in the 1990s as she pursued interests in Detroit's growing casino gambling business. In 2005, she acquired controlling interest in Motor City Casino, and Major League Baseball needed to be assured Mike Ilitch held no interest in that operation.

"We'll see what happens," Trump said. "It's a long road to go."

Trump becomes the latest of a select group to publicly announce interest in buying the team, joining Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban; Mike Repole - who co-founded Glaceau Vitaminwater; and Martin Luther King III, who was linked to a group that included former Met Ed Kranepool.

This is not the first time Trump has considered buying the Mets. When the group that included Wilpon bought the team in 1980, one of the finalists was a then-relatively little-known real estate developer named Donald Trump.

"It was a long time ago," Trump said. "I was one of the potential buyers of the team. I think I was one of five groups that wanted to buy it."

The Mets sold for $21.1 million and are now worth more than $850 million, even with their current troubles. Their TV network, SNY, is worth much more than that, although the Wilpons have said SNY is not part of the sale.

Trump was asked if he regretted not winning the bidding 31 years ago.

"I never regret anything," he said.

Louis Hoynes, a lawyer for the National League for two decades who handled the 1980 Mets sale, said the young Trump made quite an impression - as did another young real estate man.

"Most of the people who came were mostly established people," Hoynes, a Glen Cove resident, said Tuesday. "Two of the younger people who came, both of whom made good impressions, were Fred and Donald Trump."

Of Trump, Hoynes said: "He wasn't The Donald that we know today. He wasn't flamboyant. But he had all the moves. He gave the impression of somebody who had a lot of imagination and a lot of drive."

Trump, 64, has owned a sports team once before - the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League from 1984-85. He made a big splash with his outsize personality and big-spending ways, and eventually was behind the league's attempt to move from the spring to the fall to challenge the NFL.

But the league folded, and Trump turned his attention to plastering his name on everything from buildings to casinos to golf courses to beauty pageants.

With Jim Baumbach

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