I always found David Wilder animated, opinionated and very voluble -- maybe a bit too much so for a baseball front-office type.
And maybe too mischievous. Like the late 1990s day when he peered into the Wrigley Field pressbox while he was Cubs' assistant general manager, spied a female TV reporter who caught his eye and asked me to find out if she was married. Yeah, Wilder the scout wanted me to be his bird-dog in another kind of talent hunt.
That's about the only skulking around the wannabe high-profile Wilder, a decade ago a baseball exec on the rise, seemed willing to do. But outside appearances can prove misleading.
On Wednesday, a federal case officially was made against Wilder, who like so many others in the get-rich-quick 21st Century succumbed easily to the greed gene. He and two other former White Sox employees were indicted on federal fraud charges that alleged they accepted kickbacks totaling around $400,000 from signing bonuses and contract buyouts involving 23 Latin-American players.
Wilder had to do something right to rise steadily through the Braves, Cubs and Brewers organizations. He'd probably be employed high up in a front office somewhere now if he didn't put himself first, foremost and always above the unknowing kids from abject poverty he supposedly was helping. In the meantime, he stuck a knife to friend Kenny Williams, who hired him to run the Sox farm system in 2003 to re-start his career after being bounced out of Milwaukee in a regime change.
The story first broke in the spring of 2008. Wilder and Sox Dominican scout Victor Mateo were immediately fired. Nearly a year earlier, the third indicted ex-Sox, Latin-American scout Jose Oquendo Rivera, was canned by the South Siders. The story simmered for awhile, and strange anecdotes about Wilder's personal life circulated. But it was out of the news lately until U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald lowered the boom Wedensday.
“The defendants were supposed to recruit players by paying amounts of money that matched their skills and were no greater than the amount needed to sign the players. Instead, the indictment alleges that the defendants secretly inflated those signing amounts to fund kickbacks for themselves,” said Fitzgerald, in a press release summarizing the indictments.
Said Robert D. Grant, special agent in charge of the Chicago office of the FBI: “These defendants allegedly defrauded their employer and enriched themselves by taking advantage of vulnerable ballplayers, who were anxious to pursue their dreams of stardom in the major leagues,”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s press release, “to provide for kickbacks, Wilder, Oquendo and Mateo allegedly misrepresented to the White Sox the amount of money necessary to sign certain players and omitted information about the payments, causing the Sox to pay artificially and fraudulently inflated signing bonuses to players and causing the Sox to purchase the contracts of and rights to players from other teams at artificially and fraudulently inflated prices.”
If Wilder and his posse are indeed guilty of the charges, their actions are worse than any steroid user or gambler who bets on games, who hurt only themselves. Already the recipients of good salaries in a highly-political business where only the well-connected or those possessing big reputations get jobs, the accused stand charged with hurting others who depended on them to "get off the island" or trusted them to run a competitive player-development system.
I don't know when we'll ever get out of this "greed is good" mindset that already has wrecked the economy and millions of innocent people who played by the rules. This case shows baseball is hardly immune to piggish behavior.
The only cure is an entirely new, radical mindset that punishes the "I got mine" mentality. Unfortunately, that's decades, if not centuries, off in the future, right around the time the Cubs win the pennant and replays are finally introduced for bang-bang plays at first base.