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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Wilpon creates another distraction

Fred Wilpon's comments in the New Yorker magazine

Fred Wilpon's comments in the New Yorker magazine have created more unwanted distractions for the Mets. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Principal owner Fred Wilpon acted the part of the everyman Mets fan in this week's edition of The New Yorker.

He ordered a Shake Shack burger, followed it up with a hot dog, then leaned back and ripped into his team, namely David Wright, Jose Reyes and ownership's favorite target, Carlos Beltran.

Based on Monday's staccato bursts of Twitter responses, plenty of fans agree with Wilpon's assessment of these players, perhaps with the exception of Reyes. But that's not the issue here.

With the Mets finally showing a pulse, briefly climbing back to .500, the team now must absorb another off-field distraction, and one that easily could have been avoided.

Just as the Wilpons decided to pick the first day of spring training in Port St. Lucie for an al fresco Bernie Madoff-Irving Picard news conference -- with the Mets stretching in the background -- their sense of timing once again is atrocious. They come off as looking so desperate to tell their side of the story in the Madoff mess that it doesn't matter who gets burned in the process, including their own employees as collateral damage.

Scoffing at the notion that Reyes could get a Carl Crawford-type contract ($142 million for seven years) confirms the suspicion that the Mets won't spend to keep the homegrown shortstop. Calling Beltran "65 to 70 percent of what he was" doesn't seem like the best negotiating ploy, at the very least, heading toward the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline.

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But picking on Wright, one of the most consistently loyal players in this franchise's history, is downright mean. Not only has Wright tried his best to put a positive spin on some of the Mets' lowest points, he repeatedly has defended the Wilpons during their latest fiasco, often referring to them as friends.

His reward? As Wilpon said: "A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar."

Whatever the dictionary definition of "superstar'' is, Wright is a five-time All-Star and has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times. Beyond that, the Mets have marketed him as the face of the franchise, and Wright never has embarrassed them for doing so.

Wright obviously is not on the level of an Albert Pujols or an Alex Rodriguez -- giants of the game -- and he's off to a sluggish start this season, partly because of a stress fracture in his back that he played through for nearly a month. If Wilpon didn't feel like universally praising him to Jeffrey Toobin, the author of The New Yorker piece, maybe he should have bitten his lip at "very good player."

Instead, here's what happens next. The Mets get besieged in Chicago Tuesday by questions regarding the owner's low opinion of them, which will ignite smaller brushfires that continue to linger throughout the season -- or until the players in question are traded.

Terry Collins, who has done a great job earning the trust of his players, now is in managerial no-man's land between the clubhouse and ownership.

And for what? An 11,000-word Hail Mary pass for vindication in a weekly magazine?

The Wilpons' fight will be determined by a judge, not the media. As Bud Selig steadily chips away at Frank McCourt's fingernail grasp on the Dodgers for the good of baseball, it has to be questioned whether Wilpon's efforts to hold on to his team, at any cost, are in the best interests of the Mets.

At the moment, the answer is no. The Mets have survived dozens of PR disasters over the years, and they will get past this one, too. Reyes and Beltran will be gone after this season, if not sooner. Wright is under the Mets' control through 2013, but even he'd probably welcome a trade out of town.

When the dust finally clears, there's a good chance Wilpon still will be watching games from the owner's box for years to come. But with the damage done to the franchise and its reputation around the league, those Mets could be worse off than the "---- team" Wilpon claims to be presiding over now.

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