In the Book of Job, a capricious, punishing God speaks from behind the obscuring protection of a whirlwind. God’s formerly pious subject, Job, is suddenly questioning Him and bitching about all kinds of things: he’s taken aback by a series of unexpected health problems, feels enraged and cheated by the death of his livestock and won’t shut up about the calamitous ends of his sons and daughters. When Job complains, God kicks up a twister and projects His voice from the eye of the storm:
Who is this whose ignorant words
Smear my design with darkness?
Stand up now like a man;
I will question you: please, instruct me.*
I couldn’t help thinking of the Book of Job when I read Jeffrey Toobin’s recent New Yorker article “Madoff’s Curveball.” The article, a profile of New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, is Toobin’s best ever for the magazine. But if you’re a Mets fan, the article is also Toobin’s worst, because it prefigures the team’s utter doom.
Toobin went behind the scenes of one of Major League Baseball’s most troubled franchises and, with the zeal of an inspired investigative reporter, pieced together a portrait of a powerful man cratering under the pressure of financial ruin. Toobin, who doesn’t normally write about sports (his usual subject is the legal profession), has made the clannish cadre of New York sportswriters around him envious of his big scoop: he got the Mets’ owner to talk trash on the record about his own team. While eating cheeseburgers in the owner’s box with Toobin during a Mets-Astros game, Wilpon began to make taunting remarks about Mets stars Carlons Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright. The team as a whole, Wilpon declared, is “snakebitten” and “shitty.” All of his comments were published in Toobin’s article.
Wilpon seems to be engaged in his own re-telling of the story of Job, but he’s confused about which role he is meant to play. Sometimes he imagines himself as a helpless mortal whose happiness and good fortune have been erased by the powers that be (or, in this case, by a combination of overrated sluggers and Bernie Madoff). In other moments, Wilpon casts himself as a betrayed and angry god. I guess if you own a sports franchise this kind of self-deification is an occupational hazard, but as a Mets fan I find Wilpon’s outburst inexcusable. The injury-riddled Mets had fought their way back to a .500 record before Wilpon’s comments were published; since then, thanks in part to a serious morale problem created by the guy who signs their paychecks, the Mets have been in a tailspin.
Toobin’s reporting has touched off more controversy than any New York City baseball story since Roger Clemens threw the shard of a broken bat in the general direction of Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series. Now Wilpon and the 42-year-old hedge fund manager who has decided to buy into the Mets franchise are in the New York sports pages every day. Despite all this coverage, though, I am not satisfied. Stand up like a man, now, Mr. Wilpon: please, instruct me. When your players are fighting game after game for their dignity, for the good of the team, what do you hope to accomplish by taking a bat to their balls?
*From Stephen Mitchell’s 1987 translation.