The Truth, Mainly - 01/21/2002

Enron's real problem: offending Baseball Gods
by Leon Satterfield

You all know about Enron—the Houston corporation that so far as I can tell didn't produce anything but economic euphoria, economic despair.

You know, of course, that Enron is the largest U.S. corporation ever to go bankrupt. You know that about 30 top executives experienced economic euphoria when they got advance notice of what was coming—in time to sell off at great profit more than a billion dollars worth of their Enron stock.

And you surely know about the economic despair experienced by thousands of stockholders, many of them Enron employees who had their retirement money tied up in Enron stock, who didn't get advance notice.

So in the technical language of high finance, they took it in the shorts.

Made a lot of people grouchy, including politicians Enron gave money to—about 80 percent to Republicans, 20 percent to Democrats.

Last week, Sen. Joe Lieberman said on the PBS News Hour that he had to agree that the whole mess was the result of "greed, arrogance, deception, and fraud." Sen. Fred Thompson, the Republican sitting next to him, did not disagree.

And the next day, Richard Cohen, in his Washington Post column, was even less polite. He concluded that "This is not a political scandal. It is not another Whitewater, where you can't figure out what happened. We all know what happened. A bunch of bastards picked the pockets of their own employees."

Well, it's fun to let off steam like that. But real truth-seekers will dig deeper to get down to where real causes lie.

That's where I come in.

I don't deny that greed, arrogance, deception, fraud, and pocket-picking all were present here. Enron was, after all, an adventure in creative capitalism. But there are plenty of greedy, arrogant, deceptive, fraudulent, pocket-picking enterprises out there that are doing just fine. The question is, why was Enron singled out for comeuppance?

I'll tell you.

Enron offended the Baseball Gods.

The Houston Astros—yes, it is a goofy name for a baseball team—play home games in a stadium called Enron Field. It got that name not because Enron built it, but because Enron pledged to give $100 million over 30 years for the naming rights.

And here's a great Foundation Truth about Baseball Gods: They don't like having their playgrounds corrupted by the names of corporate sponsors. Unless the corporations make beer (Coors, say, or Busch) or chewing gum (Wrigleys). Baseball Gods probably like to drink beer and chew gum, I don't know.

But naming a stadium after any other kind of corporation makes them really cranky. If I owned property within a mile of Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, I'd sell it real quick.

And when Baseball Gods—Football Gods, too—get cranky with corporation, they really play hell with corporate net worth.

Hence, the Enron catastrophe.

If you want to see another potential corporate disaster in the making, look at the Denver Broncos' new stadium. You know what its official name is? "Invesco Field at Mile High." Is that a clunky name or what?

Invesco, so far as I know, is a corporation—like Enron—that doesn't make anything but trouble.

The City of Denver built the stadium (next to the old Mile High) with about $400 million, three-fourths of it from sales taxes, one fourth from the Broncos' owner's stash. Then Invesco—again like Enron—bought the naming rights for $60 million to be paid over 20 years.

The result? The once-powerful Broncos were a surprisingly mediocre team playing their first season in the new stadium this fall. Didn't make the playoffs. Lots of injuries to key players. Lots of internal dissension.

And there's a rebellion afoot—another clear sign of Football God displeasure. The Denver Post refuses to use the name "Invesco Field at Mile High." Instead it calls the edifice "the new Mile High stadium."

And everyone knows that newspaper writers, more often than not, are the spokespeople for Divine Sentiments. Retribution's surely on its way.

So there it is. Enron went down not for its greed, arrogance, deception, fraud, and pocket-picking. It went down for its hubris, its overweening pride and ambition in trying to name a stadium after itself.

What's that you say? The Gods seem to have overreacted with Enron?

Then just imagine this: Memorial Stadium—you know, where the Cornhuskers have played football forever—with a new name.

Con-Agra Meadows.

Say it aloud: Con-Agra Meadows.

Whaddya think of that, buddy? Huh? Huh? Huh?


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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