While Mets and Marlins players took part in a moving on-field statement before deciding to postpone tonight’s game, a bizarre incident was taking place behind the scenes that resulted in public statements being issued by, separately, Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, Mets CEO and owner Fred Wilpon, his son and Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, and league commissioner Rob Manfred.
Less than two hours prior to game time, when it was still publicly unclear whether or not the teams would play, a video featuring Van Wagenen making some off-the-record comments was accidentally streamed to the Mets’ official website. Van Wagenen said that the Mets weren’t going to play, and expressed incredulity at an apparent suggestion from Manfred’s office via Jeff Wilpon that the Mets and Marlins make their protest as planned but then return to the field an hour later to play the game. “And I said, ’Jeff, that’s not happening. These guys are not playing.’….But that’s Rob’s instinct and Rob…at the leadership level, he doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it,” Van Wagenen said on the video.
Details about how the video was mistakenly uploaded (or perhaps leaked, as Newsday’s Tim Healey noted that the 70-minute video was blank other than a few minutes that included Van Wagenen’s comments) remain scarce, though they naturally sent a storm of controversy around the baseball world. Shortly after the Mets and Marlins left the field, the general manager released a statement saying he erred in thinking the idea came from Manfred. Van Wagenen’s full statement:
“Jeff Wilpon called Commissioner Manfred this afternoon to notify him that our players voted not to play. They discussed the challenges of rescheduling the game. Jeff proposed an idea of playing the game an hour later. I misunderstood that this was the Commissioner’s idea. In actuality, this was Jeff’s suggestion. The players had already made their decision so I felt the suggestion was not helpful. My frustration with the Commissioner was wrong and unfounded. I apologize to the Commissioner for my disrespectful comments and poor judgement in inaccurately describing the contents of his private conversation with Jeff Wilpon.”
In a later interview with the New York Post and other media outlets, Van Wagenen expanded on his apology to include the Mets players. “This conversation is about the players making a statement,” Van Wagenen said. “This conversation is about recognizing the pain and the anguish that black people are experiencing every day in this country. The fact that I’ve put myself and this organization in the conversation in a way that takes away from the real point, I’m disappointed in myself…and I accept responsibility for that.”
For his part, Manfred released his own statement later, with the Commissioner stating:
“Over the past two days, players on a number of Clubs have decided not to play games. I have said both publicly and privately that I respect those decisions and support the need to address social injustice. I have not attempted in any way to prevent players from expressing themselves by not playing, nor have I suggested any alternative form of protest to any Club personnel or any player. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.“
Adding to the surreal nature of the hot mic incident were a pair of statements from the Wilpons, which each included misspellings of Van Wagenen’s first name.
From Fred Wilpon: “I am very stressed and disappointed to learn tonight that our General Manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, made disrespectful and inaccurate comments about our Commissioner, a long-time close friend of mine. I hold Rob in the highest regard and in no way are Brody’s remarks reflective of my views or the organization’s. Rob continues to be a great leader of Major League Baseball. I apologize for any harm this incident has caused Rob.”
From Jeff Wilpon: “To clear up any misunderstandings, it was my suggestion to potentially look into playing the game later because of scheduling issues. Brody’s misunderstanding of a private conversation was and is inexcusable. We fully respect our players and the Marlins players decision to not play tonight and appreciate the sincerity of all those who wish to draw attention to social injustices and racial inequalities that must be addressed. The entire Mets organization remains committed to creating meaningful change in our society.”
This situation has only intensified speculation that Van Wagenen’s days in the GM role may be numbered, even with New York still in the NL wild card race with a 13-16 record. Van Wagenen’s contract runs through the 2022 season, though his future is thought to be uncertain given that the Wilpon family is preparing to sell the franchise (final bids are due by Monday) and a new ownership group might very well prefer to make its own pick for the general manager job. The Mets had a solid 86-76 record in 2019, Van Wagenen’s first season running the Mets’ front office, but his tenure has been marked with the off-the-field drama that has come to define the team under the Wilpons’ ownership.