Citi stock closed at $6.51 Monday, down over 20 percent.
The company continues to skate on the edge of existence during the credit crisis. Is Citi a victim of short sellers or its own reckless risk-taking? These are issues above Loge13's pay grade but two government bailouts later, one issue has emerged: is it appropriate for Citi Field to retain its moniker?
There's lots of noise in the system on this subject. Here is the latest from George Vescey: With a mixture of rage and pride, I drove past the Mets’ new ballpark Monday and noticed that offensive name still up there.
As Citigroup grovels for a bailout from public funds, the Mets insist the name will not change. Not to give free publicity to these jokers, but as of this moment, the new stadium is still Citi Field.
My rage gave way to pride, however, knowing that we are all, in a broad sense, shareholders in the Mets. Civic benefactors. Patrons of the arts. Sportsmen and sportswomen, as franchise owners used to call themselves, before we wised up.
We are paying for the government subsidy — socialism at the top — so that this failing institution can keep its name on the Flushing skyline where Serval Zipper once stood so proudly.
How much money? Get your pencils and scorecards ready: last Sunday’s New York Times reported that the federal government is investing “about $20 billion directly and guaranteeing $306 billion in loans and securities on Citigroup’s balance sheet.”
The article also said that Citigroup “effectively suspended its dividend for three years and agreed to limit executives’ pay.” How nice of them. On Monday, a dreadful day for the economy, Citigroup shares plunged 22.2 percent.
Yet Citigroup is still under contract to pay $20 million a year for the next 20 years to subsidize the bullpen that launched dozens of late-inning defeats in the past two years. We are enablers all around.
New ballparks are a source of amusement in the Bronx as well as in Queens. It was recently reported that the Bloomberg administration had bargained 250 extra parking spaces to the Yankees in exchange for a larger luxury box and free food for the high-profile schnorrers from City Hall.
This disclosure makes it easier to understand why the Bloomberg administration was so compliant about the vanishing of a neighborhood park that was so inconveniently in the way of the new Yankees playpen. The city claims it will eventually put in tiny little parklets on top of garages, but at least the Yankees respect their brand and are not selling their naming rights to some shaky financial institution.
For several years, I have been insisting that the Mets should name their new stadium — partly paid for by the owners, the Wilpon family, with infrastructure mostly subsidized by the city — after a legitimate New York sports hero who would not embarrass everybody down the line.
The most obvious name would have been Jackie Robinson Stadium, but if the standard were somebody who wore the Mets uniform, then what about Gil Hodges Stadium?
Meantime, I persist in calling it New Shea, in honor of the lawyer who helped bring the National League back to New York, whose name was proudly affixed to the old dump that is being torn down.
The Citigroup bailout brought out my populist leanings, and I was toying with the name Power to the People Park. Then I heard that the New York City Council members James S. Oddo and Vincent Ignizio, both Republicans from Staten Island, had proposed the new park be named Citi/Taxpayer Field. Their suggestion kicked up a flurry of approval on the Internet.
“A cheeky way to make a point,” said Oddo, who noted that his colleague, Ignizio, had the idea first. “These are complex issues,” Oddo added. “They go over my head, but this was a way to vent my frustration.”
Oddo was referring to the worldwide economic crisis brought about, in large part, by American buccaneer capitalists we seem to admire so much, unregulated by government. In terms of lives being affected, it’s hardly funny, except for the antic chutzpah of a failing corporation putting its name up in lights, with somebody else’s money — yours and mine.
“This is more of a case of using the office as a bully pulpit,” said Oddo, who does not claim the City Council has any legal power to take down the annoying name. The response on the Internet has made Oddo appreciate “the beauty of a snarky comment.” Previously known for his campaign to ban metal bats, claiming they are dangerous to young players, Oddo does not apologize for his varied interests.
“I can fill a pothole at the same time I spark a debate,” he said.
As a lifelong Mets fan, Oddo said, he learned to suffer at an early age. For example, he recalled his trauma in 1981 when Mets catcher Ron Hodges drilled pitcher Craig Swan in the back while trying to stop Tim Raines from stealing second. Swan’s rib was broken, and he went on the disabled list.
Lately, Mets fans have endured two hideous Septembers, which, in a weird way, makes Citigroup and the Mets ideal partners — “both entities had collapses,” Oddo said. And while he professes great admiration for the Mets’ general manager, Omar Minaya, Oddo notes that management of bank and ball team have something in common: both retain their jobs.
The first step is the name. The Mets can do without the $20 million a year, since all they would do with the loot is recruit some other ghastly bullpen. Better they start all over, on the cheap, like the rest of us are learning to do. With apologies to Ronald Reagan: Mr. Wilpon, tear down this sign.