Philip Maddocks: AIG now owned by Netherlands team after betting against it at World Baseball Classic
American International Group revealed this week that the Netherlands baseball team may own as much as 80 percent of the giant insurer after the New York-based company, in what turned out to be an ill-advised gamble, bet heavily against the tiny European country’s squad in its game last Saturday against the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
The underdog Netherlands team came away not only with a 3-2 win over the Dominicans, but a majority share of the ailing international insurer whose debt is millions of times greater than the land mass of the northern European country that now controls it.
In a conference call Monday, AIG’s chief executive, Edward Liddy, who joined the company in September, seemed at a loss to explain his business’ latest run of misfortune.
"We just can’t seem to catch a break," he said.
Mr. Liddy appeared a little put off that he hadn’t "received a heads-up" from AIG CEO Julio A. Portalatin, who oversees an office in the Netherlands and presumably would have been privy to the unexpected steeliness shown by the country’s baseball team.
"What good is having a company with worldwide reach if the different offices don’t communicate effectively?" he wondered.
But in the end, Mr. Liddy resigned himself to chalking up the latest AIG loss to events beyond his, his company’s, and even Mr. Portalatin’s control.
"I mean what were the odds that the Dominican team would lose, even without A-Rod in the lineup," said Mr. Liddy. "We thought that team was too big to fail. That’s what we had been told and that’s what we believed. No one could have seen this coming."
A-Rod, or Alex Rodriguez, is one of many high profile Major League players on the Dominican team, whose one bad inning Saturday — when it surrendered three unearned runs to the Netherlands team — proved to be enough to take the giant AIG to the brink of another bankruptcy.
"What a day for our country," said Rob Cordemans, a pitcher on the Netherlands team. "We beat the team from the Dominican Republic and we take control of a company that lost $99.3 billion last year."
"You can’t get more publicity for your team or your bank account than we got on Saturday," said Robert Eenhoorn, the Netherlands team’s general manager, who estimated that his net worth had now fallen into the negative 11 figures after his team’s victory had made him a shareholder in AIG "I couldn’t be happier for myself or my country."
The Netherlands government, which now finds itself at an unprecedented level of debt thanks to its baseball team’s controlling share of AIG, said it may seek bailout money from Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, two highly-paid Major League stars named to the Dominican Republic baseball team.
Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called the bailout offer a great opportunity for the baseball greats to "get in on the ground floor of a country, 27 percent of which is already located below sea level."
Aside from instituting more liberal policies toward drugs, prostitution, homosexuality, and euthanasia at AIG, Mr. Balkenende said he had no immediate changes in mind for the far-flung insurer. He said he is pondering the use of more windmills, cheese and clogs at the debt-ridden company but wanted to hear from Ramirez and Rodriguez on the topic before proceeding with any plan.
Back in New York, Mr. Liddy said AIG’s outlook was very much going to be influenced by what happens to Alex Rodriguez following the operation he had on the torn labrum in his right hip, a procedure AIG analysts have termed successful.
Mr. Liddy tried to reassure policyholders that with Rodriguez’s operation behind him, and AIG now under the capable stewardship of the Netherlands baseball team, the company "is in as strong a position as it has been at any time over the last six months."
Philip Maddocks can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.