The New York Mets are at the center of a vast criminal enterprise that secretly, systematically and deliberately defrauds millions of consumers, according to a recent article in the Sports section of the New York Times. This is shocking news, to say the least, and we heartily commend the Times for their role in exposing this mischief. But: The connection between the Mets and fraud is not, as we might legitimately suspect, their continuing masquerade as a professional baseball franchise, but rather more tenuous:
“…Mets fans — who have endured repeated losing seasons, wrenching collapses at the end of once-promising seasons and a front office that has spent much of the last two years reducing the team’s payroll — may be surprised to learn who now owns a share of their beloved squad.”
The entire article, in fact, has nothing to do with the Mets, but rather with a public company, 1-800 Flowers, whose CEO, one James McCann, also happens to be a minority shareholder in the Mets as a private investor, It appears that 1-800 Flowers has been caught red-handed offering a discount on its products which entails the purchaser signing up for some kind of “discount club” that in turn bills the purchaser almost imperceptible amount per month.
(Does 1-800 Flowers disclose this to these people? Why, yes, it does — but in the “fine print.” And, even if the amount per person is trivial, those pennies add up. So — what?
First of all, we don’t condone trickery of any sort in online marketing, but we are reminded of something a wise old lawyer — in fact, the same lawyer who called this story to our attention — told us:
“You know what you get if you read the fine print? Eyestrain. You know what you get if you don’t read the fine print? Experience.”)
Our point is simple:
What the hell does all this really have to do with — the Mets? Virtually nothing. But the Times wants to hang the ball club out to dry on its sports pages because they really don’t have much to write about these days.
In fact, the Sports section of the New York Times has undergone a pretty curious evolution over the past couple of years, as realtime sports coverage online and on TV have steadily eroded the utility of print media. Some time ago, for example, the Times stopped sending reporters to cover New York teams when they were on the road. This seemed to us like they were pretty much running up the white flag where actual reporting goes, and it turns out we were right.
And just as the “news” section of the Times has shifted from actual reporting — or any pretense at unbiased viewpoints — to “interpreting” events for us cognitively-challenged readers, the Sports pages now devote themselves to explaining the seamier side of the athletic universe, and exposing the moral perils that both amateur and professional sports daily convey to participants and fans alike. These include an almost daily catalogue of pro football concussion stories, which the Times seems to have adopted as its most recent cause celeb, supplanting its previous crusade, which was the promotion of female pro basketball into major sports news status. Well, you know where that went.
Frankly, we’re with the Mets on this one. They’ve been through enough. Their high-priced talent continuously disappoints, their ineptitude has become legendary, and the Wilpons, their majority owners, were among those swindled by Bernie Madoff. Even then, the bankruptcy trustee demanded and received tens, if not hundreds, of millions from the Wilpons on the grounds that they were “sophisticated businesspeople” who should have known that their profits were illusory. That’s why they were compelled to sell part of the team to new investors, including Mr. McCann. Why a couple of baseball owners should be more adept at ferreting out Madoff’s skulduggery than the entire SEC is beyond our ken, but the law — like the Mets’ woebegone front office — works in mysterious ways.
Finally, we point out that it is 1-800 Flowers that ran the ads in question. And they are not an investor in the Mets. Its CEO, McCann, may be blameworthy for whatever role he played in this almost invisible swindle, but, like all investors in major league baseball teams, was vetted and approved by the league, perhaps because the league realized that there were no grounds whatever to disqualify him.
And so we wish the Mets better fortune in the future in both their on-field and off-field adventures — and as for the Times, we suggest that there are no shortage of real sports stories out there. Perhaps you should consider covering them, and leave the world of corporate malfeasance to the pros — like the SEC. You know — the guys who “caught” Madoff.