Fred Wilpon should read his own newspaper clippings. In 1993, when then-Mets outfielder Vince Coleman pulled a stunt that was dangerous and dumb, but with much less malice than Francisco Rodriguez' reported attack on his prospective father-in-law, a strident Wilpon responded swiftly and removed Coleman from the team. Coleman never returned. K-Rod served two days after Fred Wilpon's son issued a press release.
The handling of Coleman was one of Fred Wilpon's finest moments as owner. It showed him firmly in charge.
In 1993, Steve Jacobson wrote about Wilpon in the following column for Newsday:
It won't save the worst season they could imagine, but it may salvage a little bit of pride. Since Vince Coleman wouldn't or couldn't play and live by reasonable standards - as loose as they are for celebrities and baseball players - he is gone.
He has been held accountable for his action.
Those people who wanted Coleman gone in the worst way got their fondest wish.
"I can tell you, he will not play here again - as a Met," owner Fred Wilpon said.
Wilpon fired Coleman.
There should be some satisfaction in that. It says that even an athlete with a salary of $ 4 million a year isn't beyond the reach of civilization. Perhaps Coleman should have learned that 20 years ago and he is a victim of a system that often tells athletes they can make their own rules. But this is a statement of its own.
There would be more satisfaction for some people if they knew Coleman wouldn't be paid all that money for the balance of this season and next season. But the disposition of Coleman's contract is involved in the criminal hearing on the firecracker incident due Oct. 8 in Los Angeles, and the agonizing processes of baseball arbitration.
Wilpon has made his statement even if it will cost the Mets a lot of money. Players play for money, but there is a strong action here. It's an insult - direct and deliberate. Wilpon said it was in the "best interest of the Mets and Vince Coleman that he never wear the Mets uniform again. And he will not."
It will be Coleman's scarlet letter. There will be other employers who will seek what they think Coleman can give them on the field. And Coleman may have learned from the experience. But the statement is there.
It's still a lousy season for the Mets. "We are not only in last place in the standings, we're last in conduct off the field," Wilpon said.It's been such a combination of things that Wilpon felt compelled to go to the clubhouse for the first time in 14 years as owner of the team, to assemble the players and lecture them on their responsibility, not only as baseball players but as people.
He told them of his pride in New York and told them of what they were doing to the city that feeds them. He spoke individually to John Franco and Kevin Baez, who went to the same high school in Brooklyn as Wilpon did. He told them, he said, that he grew up in modest means with good parents, as they did. He told them he applauded their success in this city, but, he said, "you've got to give something back."
They have to give back something more than Coleman's explosive device that injured three people who were being only worshipful fans. They have to give back something more than Bret Saberhagen's watergun spraying bleach.
"I object vehemently," Wilpon said, "when we are considered - out of the City - as animals." Those players who don't want the pleasure of playing in New York, he said, "we'll do whatever the hell we can to get them out."
There are still more players who should go. And players Wilpon would like to move out. "Absolutely," he said. He will try to get that done, he said.
Coleman was only the greatest offender. He hurt people off the field, and he was charged with a felony. But that was only the incident that forced a decision. There was strong feeling that he should have been gone before this season, but he had this contract.
He was the player Frank Cashen brought in to make up for the loss of Darryl Strawberry. Coleman was to make up with speed what was lost with Strawberry's power. Coleman didn't work out from the beginning. The decision was made they would be better off not trying to make it work any longer.
"This man, even though he might have good statistics [the rest of this year and] next year, we don't want him to play for us," Wilpon said. Matter of fact.
Some question had to be raised whether Coleman was singled out as scapegoat, while Saberhagen has been let off lightly. He threw firecrackers at the feet of reporters working the clubhouse; he sprayed bleach that could have burned somebody's eyes. He agreed to donate a day's pay to a charity designated by the Baseball Writers Association. It's fact that players who are suspended seldom forfeit the pay for those days. Saberhagen may be held out of one start, which is a penalty for the club as well as for him.
The implication is that it's a racial distinction and it's a bogus issue. It has not escaped Wilpon or Dave Howard, the Mets lawyer, or people chronicling the worst season a New York team has had in 50 years.
Saberhagen is getting off easy, but it's not a racial issue. "The difference is a matter of degree and of kind," Howard said.
Perhaps most significant was that Coleman threw the equivalent of one-quarterstick of dynamite in public and hurt people. Saberhagen did his idiotic act in relative privacy, and didn't injure anybody. Saberhagen had a clean record until then. Coleman had a record. "This," Howard said of Coleman's explosive incident, "was his fifth."
There was the vile argument with coach Mike Cubbage and another with Jeff Torborg, then the manager, the golf club incident in the clubhouse and the rape accusation that was never really wiped away.
Dallas Green, the manager, had his own evaulation for a player who tried to steal third base when he shouldn't have and who didn't take sunglasses to the outfield when he should have. "When you're trying to put a team together, you got to have 'we' guys," Green said. "There were times when that wasn't Vince's first goal."
Saberhagen compounded his mistake by lying about his involvement in the bleach spraying. Managers lose players by lying to them; players lose managers by lying to them. But Saberhagen has shown he can pitch when he is not hurt.
Wilpon will accept that. He is trying to tell the fans the Mets still have and the ones they temporarily have lost that things will be better.
This is a first step.