The appointment of former New York governor and one-time presidential hopeful Mario Cuomo as a mediator in Sterling Equities’ dispute with Madoff trustee Irving Picard was the first bit of good news for Fred Wilpon in months. On the surface, this move by the bankruptcy court seems to suggest a reigning in of the overzealous Picard, who some reports suggested was looking to claw back over $1 billion from Wilpon and his partners. If a settlement is reached, Sterling will likely escape the process with a bill well below that nuclear figure, thereby improving Wilpon’s chances of holding onto the Mets.
Another positive for Wilpon is Cuomo himself. As governor of New York, Cuomo frequently worked with Wilpon, then a co-owner of the Mets with Nelson Doubleday, on various projects, ranging from the ambitious building of an 80,000 seat municipal stadium (a precursor to CitiField) to the installation of a statue honoring former Brooklyn Dodgers Jackie Robinson and PeeWee Reese (initial plans called for placement in the old Parade Grounds near Prospect Park, but in 2005 the statue was located outside Keyspan Park, the home of the Mets’ single-A affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones). Wilpon may not literally have a friend in Cuomo, but at least he has someone who not only knows him personally, but also understands the complexity of the industries involved in the dispute.
Cuomo is also intimately familiar with baseball. In fact, before going onto a career in politics, the former governor played minor league baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1952, Cuomo was signed to a professional contract and played 81 games with the Brunswick Pirates of the Georgia-Florida League. During the season, however, Cuomo was hit in the head with a pitch and suffered a serious injury that effectively ended his pro career.
A Pirate scout, Ed McCarrick, reported that Cuomo ‘could go all the way if he improves his hitting to a respectable batting average’. He added that the young outfielder had ‘plus power,’ was graceful, was a ‘plus’ fielder and a ‘plus’ runner. All he needed was instruction and experience, McCarrick said.” – Joe Browne, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 18, 1984
Would Cuomo have made the majors if not for the beanball? It’s tough to say, but it’s worth noting that McCarrick was one of the first scouts to discover the likes of Sandy Koufax and Carl Yastrzemski, so he did have some understanding of major league talent. What’s more, Cuomo’s signing bonus was $2,000, or almost twice as much as the Yankees paid to Mickey Mantle only a couple of years earlier. Nonetheless, after only batting .244 in the very low minors at the age of 20, it’s hard to imagine he would have progressed to the majors (the only member of the Brunswick team to make the big leagues was Fred Green, who pitched in the 1960 World Series). Still, it’s fun to think about how the world of politics would have been changed if Cuomo went on to play for Pittsburgh instead of attending law school at St. John’s.
Almost 60 years after ending his brief playing career, Cuomo has finally made the big leagues…at least as it pertains to the financial dealings of a major league baseball team. Meanwhile, his son Andrew now sits in the same governor’s mansion where he resided for 12 years. During that tenure (1983-1994), the Mets enjoyed their most successful run in franchise history, so maybe Cuomo’s presence as mediator will be the first step in helping the embattled franchise from Queens turn its fortunes around? First things first, however, and before that can happen, Wilpon has to hope he can avoid losing his.