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Koufax goes to bat for his friend Wilpon

New York Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese, left, gets

New York Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese, left, gets advice from pitching great Sandy Koufax. (Feb. 19, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Sandy Koufax made his annual visit to the Mets' spring training complex Saturday and did what he usually does: roam from field to field, chat up pitchers, stop to sign a few autographs.

But Koufax - Fred Wilpon's longtime friend and former teammate at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn - also took this occasion to defend the Mets' principal owner amid allegations that Wilpon knew or should have known about Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Upon seeing Wilpon on Field 2, Koufax stepped away from a group of Mets coaches and wrapped him in a bear hug on the outfield grass.

"We've been friends for almost 60 years, or over 60 years, I hate to admit that," Koufax said. "But I just hate to see him being beat up this way. I don't know a kinder, more generous, compassionate human being than Fred.

"I was part of that investment. I think if Fred knew it was going to be a bad investment, he never would have told me to put money in it. That's it. I hate to see what he's going through. It bothers him."

Koufax was one of the investors whom Wilpon brought on board with Madoff. But the Hall of Famer said the only money he really lost was to the IRS. Koufax also said he is not being sued by Madoff trustee Irving Picard and does not expect to benefit from any of Picard's clawback efforts.

"I don't know who are the victims and who aren't the victims," Koufax said. "If I lost any money, I didn't lose it to Madoff, I lost it to the IRS. You pay taxes on money that didn't exist, that's what happened. But I got some of that back. You were allowed to recoup some of your taxes for a few years."

Despite Wilpon's personal clash with Picard - the lawsuit seeks up to $1 billion from the Mets' ownership group - Koufax did not sound as if he was affected one way or the other by the trustee's actions.

"I have no problem with what's going on," Koufax said. "I just feel bad for Fred. I don't know the legal situation. I don't understand what's going on. Basically, there are two different numbers involved, and I don't understand the discrepancy."

As for baseball, Koufax talked to a number of Mets pitchers, and he's known Terry Collins since Collins managed in the Dodgers' organization roughly 25 years ago. Koufax remains a fan.

"He's organized, he's devoted, he's passionate," Koufax said. "He's just a good guy."

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