Tag: moby benedict

Update On Jeff Wilpon and Pro Ball

Last week we discovered an inconsistency between the published bio / resume of Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and the memory of the 1983 Jamestown Expos manager.

Again, for your indulgence … this is what has been the “canned” bio for Jeff Wilpon, on the official websites of both Sterling Equities and the Brooklyn Cyclones:

jeff-wilpon-se

But, the manager of the Jamestown Expos back then — Moby Benedict — said that Jeff Wilpon never played for him.

It took a few days for the information to sink in around the blogosphere, but finally Shannon Shark of MetsPolice re-confirmed the facts, as posted on MetsBlog.

You know how us bloggers sitting in our parents’ basements can be quick to make assumptions and spew wild speculations that could significanly damage a person’s reputation. So before John Gonzalez or some other well-respected journalist accuses us bloggers of being irresponsible or not doing our due diligence, I provide you an update to the lingering question of Jeff Wilpon’s professional baseball career.

This from the June 21, 1998 edition of The New York Times (page ST-4):

From the time he was 10, Jeff Wilpon had been eager — maybe too eager — to follow his father. At that age he carried a homemade business card identifying himself as Director of Construction. His father, Fred Wilpon, was an owner of Sterling Equities, a real estate conglomerate he founded with his brother-in-law Saul Katz.

In 1980, when Jeff was a high school senior in Roslyn, N.Y., his father and uncle bought the Mets. Jeff was so gung-ho to join the front office that he gave up every boy’s dream — a potential career as a professional athlete. He had been drafted by the Montreal Expos out of college and believes he could have started at catcher in the major leagues, he said, but quit after one spring training session to join the family business.

“I always knew I wanted to do what my dad did,” he said, sitting, like his father, with legs crossed in Fred Wilpon’s office in Sterling Plaza, on Fifth Avenue at 47th Street. From time to time, his father glanced dotingly at him.

So there you have it — Jeff was drafted by Expos, as we confirmed, but his pro experience consisted of “one spring training session”. Now it makes sense that Moby Benedict didn’t remember him — Jamestown was in the NY-Penn League, a short-season rookie league that doesn’t begin play until June. By then, Jeff was long gone from the Montreal system and getting himself comfy in the Mets’ front office.

Though, I’m not sure what “one spring training session” means. I can tell you that after my own college career, I spent a few weeks at MLB spring training camps warming up minor league pitchers and playing in some scrimmages as a means of trying out. However, I do not label that experience as “professional”, since, technically, I wasn’t under contract and didn’t play in an official game. But maybe someone else would interpret that differently. Although it would certainly help my baseball instruction business if I told people I “played for the Sarasota White Sox”, I wouldn’t feel right saying it because, to me, it’s simply not true. But furthermore, I don’t want to gain clients because they think I played pro ball — I want them to come to me because they’ve heard I do a great job teaching baseball. You don’t have to be a pro ballplayer to be a good teacher — as they say, “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach”.

Similarly, there’s no correlation between playing baseball and running a professional franchise. In fact, I’m not sure there is another COO in MLB who has baseball playing experience above the Little League level. And if there is, who cares? What would it have to do with managing a $500M – $1 billion business?

But I digress. What I wanted to do today was present evidence that suggests that Jeff Wilpon spent some time (hours? days? weeks) in the Montreal Expos spring training camp in 1983. How you want to interpret that is up to you — and how Sterling Equities wants to describe it, is, obviously, up to them.

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Did Jeff Wilpon Play Pro Ball?

You may already know that I’m a former college baseball player and coach, and therefore geeky enough to have an appreciation for listening to an interview with Moby Benedict. For those unaware, Benedict was one of the most successful college coaches of all-time, leading the University of Michigan from 1963-1979. In those 17 years, no less than 25 of his players went on to play in MLB — a fairly stunning accomplishment. After his college coaching career, Moby spent three years coaching the Jamestown Expos in the NY-Penn League (from 1982-1984).

Considering that Moby played for Michigan in the mid-1950s and managed Jamestown in the early 1980s, one would think that he’d be familiar with Fred and Jeff Wilpon. After all, Fred was supposedly a “star” pitcher in high school and college, and Jeff played for the Jamestown Expos in 1983 … or did he?

According to the biography on the Sterling Equities website:
jeff-wilpon-se

The exact same bio appears on the Brooklyn Cyclones official website.

However, if you listen to Moby Benedict tell the story, Jeff never played for Jamestown. Per the interview:

Q: “One of the players you managed while at Jamestown, but Jeff played with you in 1983 at the Jamestown Expos … what can you tell us about Jeff?”
A: “I don’t think he did … the years I was there, and I was there three years, and I don’t recall that he played. No. No — not for me.”

Moby is not a young guy, so you might think that his memory is failing him, or that Jeff was such a poor player that he didn’t leave much of an impression on Moby. Except, you would think that Moby Benedict would remember the son of Fred Wilpon playing for him — even if it were for only five minutes. After all, Fred and Moby were teammates at the University of Michigan, and Fred was extremely helpful to Moby’s baseball program. Indeed, Benedict later mentioned, in regard to Fred Wilpon:

“… he was there at the same time as I was … in fact, I know him well — we were pretty good friends … he gave us a lot of money to re-do our baseball field … he was very, very, very generous … it’s called the Wilpon Baseball Complex … it’s really beautiful … he was very generous, and a very kind man.”

Benedict also clearly remembered that Fred came down with a sore arm while at Michigan, and therefore never pitched for them.

You can listen to the interview here (the Wilpon discussion comes in around the 3-minute mark):

Still, maybe Moby, for whatever reason, forgot that Jeff Wilpon played for him. But there doesn’t seem to be any information, anywhere, that supports the claim that Jeff played pro ball. For example, if you go to the Jeff Wilpon page on TheBaseball Cube.com, there are no stats listed. Neither is Wilpon’s name listed on the 1983 Jamestown Expos page. Baseball-Reference.com reports the same non-info on Jeff Wilpon (nothing for ’82, ’84, either).

Of course, neither of those websites can be considered “official” — so it’s possible that both of those sites have mis-reported the facts and that Moby Benedict mis-remembered his time in Jamestown.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but this information is bothersome to say the least. If it’s true that Jeff Wilpon never played pro ball, why does his bio claim that he did? Why would the COO of a billion-dollar company have to lie on his public resume? And what else is he, the Mets, and Sterling Equities lying about?

And for the record, I have never lobbied for the job of COO of the New York Mets. I’m not looking to tear anyone down, either — only in search of the truth.

** UPDATE **

An alert MetsToday reader pointed me to a Murray Chass article from the September 14, 2004 edition of The New York Times, which includes this tidbit:

Wilpon is the son of Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ owner. Like his father, Jeff was a baseball player as a youngster but didn’t go far. In 1983, at the request of and as a favor to Fred Wilpon, the Montreal Expos drafted Jeff, a catcher. He joined Jamestown of the New York-Penn League but apparently never played before he was released a week or so later. Jeff Wilpon’s name does not appear in the team’s statistics for that season.

So this is old news that has yet to be addressed. Or does being a bullpen catcher count as “playing”?

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