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The Wilpons could sell more than 25 percent of the team

Feb 23, 2011, 8:22 AM EST

Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon

The New York Times reports today that the proposals fielded by the Wilpons in their efforts to find a “strategic partner” (read: cash infusion) suggest that most of the interested parties are interested in more than the 25 percent share of the Mets that the Wilpons want to sell.  This can be inferred by the fact that the man tasked with selling that share told the times “Let’s just say that a noncontrolling stake could be north of 25 percent.”  Many other bids, the Times reports, are only interested in majority stakes.

This is not surprising. As most observers, this observer included, said at the time of the Wilpons’ announcement that they were seeking an investor, being a minority shareholder in a closely-held corporation is rarely anything a person of means wants to be. There are few people less powerful than a 25 percent stakeholder in such a beast, and unless the cash flow is really impressive — which, at least for the time being may not be the case for the Mets — there is very little upside.

My guess is that if the Wilpons do hold on to a majority stake, their minority shareholder will be way closer to 51 percent than they originally hoped. And he or she may very well have options and opportunities to become the majority shareholder one day.  If not, the Wilpons will be dealing with a much smaller group of investors.

In other Wilpon news, the  Daily News reports that the late mother and brothers outgoing chief counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission were Madoff investors themselves. And even better, now the brothers are subject to lawsuits by Irving Picard seeking their Ponzi scheme gains.  The News suggests — and I’m sure at least one commenter in this thread will agree — this helps the Wilpons in that, hey, if family members of the SEC were Wilpon investors and they could be duped, how should the Wilpons ever have known?

Another interpretation, however, is that if the family of the SEC’s top lawyer were invested with Madoff, it’s possible that the SEC was less-than-vigilant than it should have been in investigating him, and thus its failure to do so should not be viewed as a legitimate defense of the Wilpons. Sure, such a thing would be an insult to the SEC’s reputation if it had a stellar track record of investigating industries and institutions to which its employees owe allegiance for various reasons.  But that, sadly, is simply not the case.

The SEC has routinely, either because of incompetence or because of conflict of interest, failed to catch and punish those who should be caught and punished for investment misdeeds. And I’m sure that Picard will have witnesses explain that to any jury that sits in judgment of the Wilpons.

  1. mrznyc - Feb 23, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    We need a statue of Bernie outside the stadium – “Bernie Madoff, savior of the Mets.”

  2. cur68 - Feb 23, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    Le Trump now has his opportunity to sneak in and start slowly acquiring the Mets. Course he can’t so anything quietly but the door is open.

  3. chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    Hi Craig, and good morning ; )

    It’s nice to know you’re thinking of me ; ))

    Now I don’t want to get all over you for your tendency to misrepresent a story, because in this case I don’t think it’s entirely your fault, but it’s really not true that “many other bids” are only interested in majority stakes. The issue here being who is an actual “bidder” vs. who is merely a potential investor who expressed interest to the media in the hopes of possibly getting publicity (see Trump). In other words, there are apparently two groups of potential investors right now:

    (a) those who are serious bidders who contacted Greenberg and whose names have been submitted to MLB already. Greenberg has not said any of these are submitting a bid for a “majority” stake … only that it’s possible someone in that group may be interested in a percentage north of 25% (ie, 30-35%).

    (b) those who have merely expressed interest publicly in buying a portion of the Mets (ie, Trump and MLK III). Few of these may actually have contacted Greenberg or be serious actual bidders. Greenberg has said the names bandied about in the media are not very accurate.

    So, while it’s true that many potential investors are only interested in a “majority” stake … it’s not true that many of the actual bidders who are currently being vetted by Greenberg and MLB are only interested in a majority stake. That’s an important distinction in this story, but the NYT’s seems to have purposely blurred the lines in order to try to portray the Wilpons’ position as more difficult than it actually is. They were purposely unclear, so I can’t fault you.

    And I don’t see how an ex-SEC official being sued by Picard is not a big help to the Wilpons. It reinforces their incompetence. They are the governing and monitoring body that all of the financial community relied upon. If they can’t do their job — for whatever reason — then it’s unreasonable to think the Wilpons should have done it for them.

    I know you don’t think the SEC defense will wash. But I suggest you go the WFAN website and look up the audio interview Francessa did with Charles Newhouse last week. He is a highly regarded lawyer familiar with these types of cases and thinks it is an excellent defense in this case.

    • seeingwhatsticks - Feb 23, 2011 at 11:43 AM

      So you’re going all in believing that the person hired by the Mets to find a buyer thinks they are a great investment and that he has lots of interest, while ignoring the logic that most people in position to do so would want controlling interest or nothing? Why would anyone prefer to have 30-35% vs 25%? You’re getting a slightly bigger piece but still not enough to control anything so why would that be a more attractive option or potentially a deal breaker?

      Greenberg can hardly be considered a trusted source when it comes to interest in the Mets because it’s his job to create demand for this minority stake.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 12:38 PM

        Whoa. Excuse me for believing something an investment banker said in the newspapers, on the record, vs. your mere speculation and illogic as an anonymous poster on a forum! Now tell me, why should I give any of your logic and speculation any merit at all over Greenberg’s statements of facts? What are your credentials?

        Why would anyone prefer to have 30-35% vs 25%?

        Because perhaps preferential options would accompany a higher share? I’m just guessing but you’d have to ask Greenberg for the actual reasons.

        Greenberg can hardly be considered a trusted source when it comes to interest in the Mets because it’s his job to create demand for this minority stake.

        So you are a trusted source? LOL. If anyone is a trusted source on the matter it’s Greenberg. Or else, one doesn’t exist. Only he would know the type of interest there is now. No one else, and certainly not the NYT’s (unless he told them specifically, and he hasn’t).

        BTW, I’m glad you dropped by, because today’s story is an excellent example of spin vs. facts which we discussed the other day and which you seemed to have problems understanding. I don’t have any reason to doubt the statements of fact in this story by the NYT’s but they did spin it to imply that the Wilpons are having issues drumming up interest in a minority share. Another excellent example is the NYT’s story about Sterling handling the administrative aspects for family and friends. That is a fact. The NYT’s choosing to use the word “buffer” in that story, however, is not a fact, and is spin and an intentional attempt o wrongfully imply wrongdoing.

        By the way, spin can be true or false. IOW, spin is not necessarily inaccurate. I’m not saying the NYT’s is necessarily wrong by simply spinning. But I do believe they are.

      • seeingwhatsticks - Feb 23, 2011 at 1:29 PM

        You don’t have any problem accepting the facts which come from the Mets or with a Mets spin, you just have a problem listening to everything else because you “believe” the NYT is wrong.

        Greenberg is a car salesman trying to get people to buy a Yugo by saying it’s in demand. “I can get you in one of these today but only if you’re paying cash. After today I can’t guarantee anything. Hurry, these prices won’t last long!”

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 1:46 PM

        seeingwhatsticks, you seem to have a problem understanding my point about facts vs. spin. But let me answer you anyway.

        I don’t have a problem accepting as true incontrovertible facts as given by either side in this fight — whether Picard or the Wilpons. And I believe, on what has been incontrovertible facts, both the NYT’s and the DN have been accurate. What I don’t believe in is the incredible “spin” portion of the NYT’s coverage. I hope that’s clear to you.

        Your belittling of Greenberg, who works for the premier investment bank in the media and entertainment sector, is pretty weak and laughable. Believe what you want.

      • seeingwhatsticks - Feb 23, 2011 at 2:15 PM

        Chris I’m not belittling his abilities as an investment banker, or his intellect, or his qualifications. I’m belittling you for believing everything he’s saying as if he has no reason to say it other than being honest and open. He has every reason to make this investment seem more appealing than it actually is because that’s exactly what he’s being paid to do. What part of that is not clear? His job is to get the best possible offer for his clients, the Wilpons. That’s it. Besides, after the last 3 years haven’t we all learned that high level investment bankers are full of crap anyway?

        Ask yourself this: if the interest really has been strong, and he’s at the stage where he is merely picking the right offer from the ones he’s already received, why is Greenberg talking to the press at all?

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 2:30 PM

        Calling Greenberg a “car salesman” who will lie outright to customers is not belittling him? Wow, I guess we just have two diametrically opposed ways of looking at the English language and the world!

        Sure, he has every reason to make what he is selling seem more attractive, but he is doing more than selling here. He is stating that there are “dozens” of “serious” and “qualified” investors who have approached him about buying a minority share. So, essentially, you are not just accusing him of selling, you are accusing him of lying. also. Look, that’s your choice to say he is lying. But I have no reason to believe he is. You believe what you want — which I know by now is not grounded in facts but stems from your own bias and speculation.

        As for why is he talking to the press at all, lol, how about they called him and asked him to comment? Fred Wilpon had made a statement to the media a few days before that there was strong interest among potential investors, so don’t you think it makes sense for reporters to follow it up and see if that’s true?

      • seeingwhatsticks - Feb 23, 2011 at 2:56 PM

        So every time someone gets a call from the press they respond on the record? I’m not accusing him of lying Chris, I’m accusing him of inflating reality and stretching the definitions “dozens,” “serious,” and “qualified.”

        Hypothetically speaking, what if someone offered to buy 35% of the franchise for 25% of the franchise’s overall value, And what if that person were wealthy enough to pay in cash. I would consider that a “serious” offer from a “qualified” investor. So is Greenberg completely lying? No. Is he telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help him God? No, no he’s not.

        Everyone willing to go on the record in this story has a reason for doing so. Picard, the Wilpons, Greenberg, everyone.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 4:23 PM

        So every time someone gets a call from the press they respond on the record?

        If one has nothing to hide, the issue isn’t under court seal, it isn’t a sensitive issue, and the truth is favorable, why the hell not? Can you think of one good reason why, in just such a situation, one would not want to answer questions?

        I’m not accusing him of lying Chris, I’m accusing him of inflating reality and stretching the definitions

        You’re accusing him of lying.

        Hypothetically speaking, what if someone offered to buy 35% of the franchise for 25% of the franchise’s overall value, And what if that person were wealthy enough to pay in cash. I would consider that a “serious” offer from a “qualified” investor. So is Greenberg completely lying? No. Is he telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help him God? No, no he’s not.

        Huh? Just being wealthy enough does not make one qualified to buy a MLB franchise. There are plenty of people who may be extremely wealthy involved with shady or otherwise prohibited enterprises — ie, they may simply own gambling casinos — who wouldn’t pass muster with MLB and would thus be unqualified according to MLB’s criteria. Moreover, not everyone who has money and expresses interest in buying the club may not be dead serious, but may be more looking for publicity.

        If there are in fact dozens of “qualified” investors as defined by MLB who are also serious in owning a part of the Mets, then what Greenberg said is 100% truthful.

        Everyone willing to go on the record in this story has a reason for doing so.

        Sure, but not everyone willing to do so lies.

      • seeingwhatsticks - Feb 23, 2011 at 4:35 PM

        You hit the nail ont he head Chris: If there are in fact dozens of “qualified” investors as defined by MLB who are also serious in owning a part of the Mets, then what Greenberg said is 100% truthful. “If.” That’s a big “if.” You have no more knowledge of the situation than I do, you’ve just made the decision to take one side of the argument totally at face value and be skeptical of the other side, while I’ve chosen to be skeptical of both sides.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 4:54 PM

        I hit the nail on the head already way back — where I said at 12:58:

        Whoa. Excuse me for believing something an investment banker said in the newspapers, on the record, vs. your mere speculation and illogic as an anonymous poster on a forum! Now tell me, why should I give any of your logic and speculation any merit at all over Greenberg’s statements of facts? What are your credentials?

        It’s his word against yours. There is no reason someone should believe you over Greenberg. You’re just speculating and pulling stuff out of your butt.

        Do you really want to keep going in circles?

        I’m not 100% sure he is telling the truth. But he is on the very inside. And you are just guessing. So I’m going to believe Greenberg. You believe what you want.

        By the way — no one on the “other side” of the argument would have any way of knowing whether Greenberg was telling the truth or not. NONE.

      • seeingwhatsticks - Feb 23, 2011 at 5:42 PM

        The Mets announced they were looking for a minority investor almost exactly a month ago and if any of these offers were serious or the investors truly qualified they’d have accepted one of them by now, at least in principal even if some of the details had yet to be worked out. The fact that Greenberg is talking about how many great offers are out there rather than accepting any of them tells me maybe the market isn’t as good as he’s saying it is.

        By the way, for at least the second or third time, I don’t think Greenberg is lying about there being offers. He can exaggerate the quantity and/or quality of those offers without actually lying about their existence. Excuse me if, given recent history, I don’t believe everything that comes out of the mouth of an investment banker.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 6:35 PM

        Are you serious? Did you even read the Daily News article in which Greenberg made his lengthy comments? Maybe you didn’t, as Craig seems to only link to and cover articles for which there is a negative spin on the Wilpons or which includes major news on the issue. But I suggest you read it. Then let me know if you still have the same questions regarding timing.

        Second, if there are not in fact “dozens” of serious qualified investors — then yes, Greenberg is lying. Also, remember, your original position was that no one — not a one — would want a minority non-controlling interest in the club. Are you now softening your position to something like a “few might want it but not dozens” in light of the Greenberg interview?

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 6:39 PM

        Another point — if in fact there is keen interest, why not continue to field queries for months? What’s the rush? Why stop now? The longer the prospecting, the more likely they are to find a perfect partner.

    • ltzep75 - Feb 23, 2011 at 1:35 PM

      Chris, for someone who is seemingly without a legal or financial background (forgive me if I am mistaken), you sure do bandy insults and excoriation about often. Before I face your surely coming ire, I will state that the SEC is not an agency filled with the best and the brightest — those people work in the private sector.

      As for the Mets financial situation, the following is taken from the February 4, 2011 Press Release by Irving Picard:

      “The complaint states that the Sterling partners all had close personal and business ties to Madoff, and used their fraudulent accounts with BLMIS as collateral for financing for more than two decades in order to secure capital under favorable terms.”

      This is a very bad thing. Not necessarily legally speaking, but financially. They are levered to the hilt, and should a bank come knocking and accellerate the debt based upon the terms of the deal, the Wilpons could be in some very serious trouble (if not already).

      Also, as I am under the impression from your prior comments on the matter, you believe the so-called “SEC Defense” to go a long way with a jury. These cases will not be tried in front of juries as they are in bankruptcy court. Now, the Mets could conceivably remove the case to regular-old federal court in the southern district (like JPMorgan has filed a motion to do), but the fact remains that this is all a very serious time for the Mets and their balance sheet which likely bears the same hue of red as your rose-colored glasses. Forgive the pun, but I couldn’t resist myself.

      Now for some rampant speculation founded in absolutely no facts whatsoever other than the names and positions of those mentioned. (Fun stuff!). What are the odds that Bud Selig “advised” the Wilpons to hire Alderson-DePodesta-Ricciardi so as to have a management team in place should the worst happen and the Mets go the way of last year’s Rangers (well, not the WS, we all know that’s impossible)? Alderson is clearly over-qualified for the position, as he is more apt to be the next commish than go back to GM’ing. Again, this is rampant speculation, so feel free to burn me in effigy a la Heyman-Olney-Rosenthal…

      • ltzep75 - Feb 23, 2011 at 1:46 PM

        I feel disingenuous in not pointing out that Picard got his start at the SEC.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 2:11 PM

        itzep, since when does one have to have a legal or financial background to bandy about insults and excoriation in this matter? The Wilpons and Katz are the objects of much insult and excoriation in this very forum … are you telling me all these baseball fans have legal and/or financial backgrounds??? (Please, don’t make me laugh.)

        How does an agency filled with incompetents shield it from the responsibility of protecting the public from the entities they are supposed to be regulating and monitoring? The Wilpons didn’t know it was filled with incompetents at the time they believed it was monitoring Madoff. Did the SEC send a memo to the Wilpons warning them that their agency was incompetent, and so therefore, the Wilpons should do the SEC’s job and be extra vigilant to stock fraud and scams?

        These cases will not be tried in front of juries as they are in bankruptcy court… but the fact remains that this is all a very serious time for the Mets and their balance sheet which likely bears the same hue of red as your rose-colored glasses. Forgive the pun, but I couldn’t resist myself.

        I believe in some issues, the judge can give the defendants the option of having part of the case tried before a jury. This is what happened in Bayou. The Wilpons chose to settle instead. But the judge’s overly broad ruling on “inquiry notice” which I’m sure played a part in the Sterling’s decision to settle was later overturned by an appeals court. Why would the judge in Bayou offer the Wilpons that option there, but not be able to do so in the Madoff case?

        As for this being a serious time for the Mets and their balance sheet, who said it wasn’t? Anytime there is a lawsuit of this size hanging over a business, it is a serious time, even if the lawsuit is seriously overreaching. So, I suggest your glasses are pretty foggy — whatever tint they may be — as I never said these were rosy times for the Mets.

        I’m not going to burn you over your own rampant speculation. You are free to speculate all you want, but if it is not grounded in facts, then it is pointless to argue over it. I will just say that Selig did urge the Mets to hire Alderson, that this happened before a lawsuit was even filed in court, and that Alderson took the position because it would be the first time in his career he got to run a team with a generous payroll. As he said well before the lawsuit was even filed, had it been another team, he wouldn’t have taken the job. But it was this opportunity to work with generous resources that compelled him. I also think the fact he was already friendly with Fred Wilpon beforehand. played a role.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 2:18 PM

        Hmmm, why am I not surprised that Picard got his start at the SEC? Maybe he’s too eager to go after the victims in Madoff in an attempt to exonerate the SEC? It would also fit in with your statement that the SEC is filled with incompetents — people who aren’t the best and the brightest. As I’ve said, I believe Picard is better at PR than he is at lawyering.

      • ltzep75 - Feb 23, 2011 at 2:54 PM

        one doesn’t need a background in the topics they’re debating, but they should probably recognize that those who do may possess some greater insight on the matter. That’s not to say that anyone who has said qualifications is not an idiot. Hell, I admit and inform others daily of my own rampant idiocy. It was, however, stated in so far as acting with such vitriol necessarily implies that the person acting in said manner has greater knowledge than those bearing the brunt of any retort. It’s intellectually disserving.

        As far as the SEC points, I still don’t believe them to hold much water. Sure, it’s not the responsibility of the Mets to point out inadequacies to the SEC, but classifying the SEC as being anywhere close to “vigilant” is at worst a canard, and at best misinformed. If anyone at that dept. was remotely sober and free of third-party influence, Madoff would be but a blip on the map of fradulent activity occurring in the financial markets.

        Also, Katz and Wilpon are not mere baseball owners, but operate a diversified corporation entitled “Sterling Equities”. Further, it is alleged that they funnelled a good portion of their employees’ 401k accounts thru maven Madoff. This may implicate a heightened duty on their part.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 4:40 PM

        itzep, reply below.

  4. chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    It was, however, stated in so far as acting with such vitriol necessarily implies that the person acting in said manner has greater knowledge than those bearing the brunt of any retort. It’s intellectually disserving.

    I don’t think that necessarily implies that. You yourself admitted that idiocy has no bounds. So if the vitriol is directed at the “idiocy,” then it’s perfectly warranted.

    As far as the SEC points, I still don’t believe them to hold much water. Sure, it’s not the responsibility of the Mets to point out inadequacies to the SEC, but classifying the SEC as being anywhere close to “vigilant” is at worst a canard, and at best misinformed. </i

    The Wilpons aren't saying the SEC was vigilant or not. The point is, they are relying on the regulatory agencies to do their job and cannot anticipate instances when they are not. In a previous discussion here on the topic, I gave the analogy of the FAA. We don't know whether they are vigilant or not. We assume they are, and are making the skies safe for us. But we don't really know whether they are or not.

    Also, Katz and Wilpon are not mere baseball owners, but operate a diversified corporation entitled “Sterling Equities”. Further, it is alleged that they funnelled a good portion of their employees’ 401k accounts thru maven Madoff. This may implicate a heightened duty on their part.

    And there were investors with Madoff who probably had a lot more investing/business expertise and experience than the Wilpons but who didn’t know. Being a successful businessman doesn’t insulate one from being duped.

    As for the 401k, that is a different matter. There may have been some higher responsibility on the part of Fred Wilpon, but that is being handled in a different lawsuit. Stick with Picard’s overreaching lawsuit.

  5. ltzep75 - Feb 23, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    “Stick with Picard’s overreaching lawsuit”?

    Are you now, or have you ever been, a member or employee of Sterling Equities, inclusive and without limitation of, the New York Mets? JP Morgan and Chase Co? HSBC? UBS? (/McCarthy’d)

    I guess the general crux of the debate here is whether the Sterling partners were willfully blind as opposed to being “duped”. Reasonable minds can differ, but realistically, I find it hard to believe that Katz and the Wilpons had no idea what was going on (nor those other “investors with Madoff who probably had a lot more investing/business expertise and experience” — most of the public court filings tend to show that anyone who has any knowledge of investing and finance saw plenty of red flags but chose to ingnore them — i.e.: willful blindness).

    And without rehashing Craig’s arguments over your SEC/FAA analogy, I think its inapposite to the instant matter, and also point out that Picard has since filed a suit against the SEC’s top enforcement attorney seeking a return of $1.5mm based on the same theories of willful blindness allegedly brought about by the possibility of financial gain.

    • chrisny3 - Feb 23, 2011 at 6:04 PM

      I’m really not sure what you’re trying to do with the McCarthy reference.

      I find it hard to believe that Katz and the Wilpons had no idea what was going on

      There are really two issues here. One, did they know? Not too many are saying they did. Do you really believe they knowingly put their friends and family in legal jeopardy by putting their money into a known scam? Really? Picard will absolutely fail on this point if he tries to prove it. Absolutely.

      “…most of the public court filings tend to show that anyone who has any knowledge of investing and finance saw plenty of red flags but chose to ingnore them”

      That is the second issue — “should have known” — and is open for much debate. For example, Picard’s characterization of what people told the Wilpons hardly rises to the level of “red flags.” For example, according to reports, Merrill merely told Sterling that “black box” investing was against their policies. But “black box” investing strategies are perfectly legal. And simply telling someone they can’t replicate Madoff’s returns means nothing. Picard will have to do better than that. Even many legal experts who have read through the complaint say there is no smoking gun and imply Picard is overreaching. I don’t know if Picard will win on this point, but I believe his case his weak.

      And without rehashing Craig’s arguments over your SEC/FAA analogy, I think its inapposite to the instant matter

      Well, of course you’d think that since you indicated from the beginning you side with Picard and Craig. But you haven’t even given one logical reason for your opinion.

      As for the SEC’s top attorney getting sued, it can only help the Wilpons, IMO. It reinforces what an utter failure the SEC was.

  6. ltzep75 - Feb 23, 2011 at 5:21 PM

    ckeck that: the complaint against Baker (sec litigator) does not allege knew/should have known but rahter just seeks a return of profits.

  7. spudchukar - Feb 23, 2011 at 7:54 PM

    Crissie, I am merely an outside observer, and while I willfully admit that commenting on the previous dialogue positions me in the truly naive, I cannot help but sympathize with Mets fans, pond scum that they may be, that your essential argument is that the Wilpons primary defense is that they are incompetent, rather than corrupt.

    • cur68 - Feb 23, 2011 at 11:39 PM

      And that, spuddy, is my assessment too. ltzep75 & chrisny3; You guys should form an investment firm and go for it. I’ve not read such breadth and depth of discussion involving so much speculation about so much vague and ambiguous historical evidence since I was forced to read paleontology papers to get through under grad. Like. wow.

      • cur68 - Feb 23, 2011 at 11:41 PM

        oh yeah, didn’t mean to leave you out there seeingwhatsticks. You can call the firm Cerberus.

      • ltzep75 - Feb 24, 2011 at 10:27 AM

        haha. enticing as it may sound, there’s no way I’d move back to the states for that..

  8. jeffhamman - Feb 24, 2011 at 3:26 AM

    I’ve been a mets fan since the 70’s. If they can find a serious investor with the fan’s interest at heart, i’m all for the sale. We need someone or something that can solve inability of our team to challenge and make another world series before i reach the other side.

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