By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
My friend Phil, a native-New Yorker, born and raised in Brooklyn is—like me—a fan of the New York Mets. No, that's not quite true—he's more than a fan. He's a fanatic, in the best sense of the word. The team has experienced considerable ups—1969 and 1986—and downs —like last season—since it first came into existence thanks to the hard work of folks like New York attorney Bill Shea and Branch Rickey, the former Brooklyn Dodgers executive chosen to head the fledgling Continental Baseball League, which never really got off the ground but eventually made it possible for the Mets to take the field.
The first baseball game my father ever took me to was a Mets game. We had seats on the third base line, just into the outfield area. And it was picture day. Somewhere in my attic I still have a picture of coach Eddie Yost and another of ace reliever Tug McGraw clowning around with some of his teammates that I took that day. Most of the others were too blurry to keep, because I couldn't hold my Kodak X-15 (you remember, the one with the "Magicube flash") still long enough to take a clear picture because I was so excited. And, other than the fact that a couple of thugs ripped the radio out of my father's Fiat in the stadium parking lot and we were stuck there until a couple of guys who new something about cars and could read Italian wired the ignition system back together, it was a pretty great day.
Well, this year the Mets have a new stadium, one that was designed to invoke the sainted memory of Ebbets Field, the long-ago home field of the Brooklyn Dodgers. And it has my friend upset. You see, the new ballpark bears the name Citi Field and, as Phil has written, "it's an embarrassment."
I wholeheartedly agree. The corporatization of baseball has gotten way out of hand. It's almost as though I can take my boys to a ballgame or I can pay my electric bill. A baseball game isn't a cheap date anymore—it's a major investment. And, in the case of Citi Field, it just seems, well, unseemly that a financial institutional that got federal financial bailout assistance, that was heavily into the sub-prime lending that caused the current economic crisis, and whose stock—for all I know—is now trading for less than it costs to buy a hotdog and a beer at the new ballpark, would be arrogant enough that it would fail to annul the deal giving it the right to have its name up on the new stadium.
Yes, it has a contract. And no, the government should not intervene to force it to break the deal. But you would think, after all the bad public relations it has endured, that CitiGroup would be smart enough to realize on its own that it might need to tone it down just a bit. What CitiGroup should do, amplifying on the suggestion made by my friend Phil, is voluntarily agree to rename the park for Jackie Robinson—whom the aforementioned Branch Rickey signed to a Brooklyn Dodgers contract so that the two of them would be forever remembered as the team that shattered the "color line" in professional sports.
Or, to go Phil one better and as a way to also remember the other national league team that played in New York before moving to California, the stadium could be renamed Robinson-Mays Field to honor as well New York Giants great Willie Mays, who ended his career back in New York, playing for the Mets.
CitiGroup can choose to do the right thing, all by itself. Or it can keep the Citi Field signs up on the new stadium and, with them, join the pantheon of baseball immortals who are best remembered for their bad decisions—like the Mets' M. Donald Grant, who sent franchise pitcher (and future Hall of Famer) Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Pat Zachry, infielder Doug Flynn, and outfielders Dan Norman and Steve Henderson.
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