The Texas Rangers’ three-year tradition (which is long for them) of ringing a 15-foot-high bell whenever a home run is hit has come to an end, as the national eruption of home foreclosures has come home to roost in Arlington.
This week, the Rangers cut ties with their stadium naming sponsor, Ameriquest Mortgage Co., due to the lender’s inability to pay off the 30-year, $75-million deal with the Rangers. The bell was Ameriquest’s trademark.
So, as if we needed it, sports fans have another example of team and stadium owners putting greed ahead of good sense – and good taste (remember Enron Field in Houston?). When the Arlington naming rights deal was done in 2004, attorneys general from states around the country were already investigating Ameriquest’s predatory lending practices (the company later settled a combined lawsuit for $335 million). But the Rangers didn’t seem to mind.
The California-based mortgage company was very heavy in the subprime lending market, and Ameriquest liked to put out the spin that they were allowing poorer folks with bad credit histories to buy into the American dream. But their loans were almost impossible to pay off, even if you were middle-class and had a great credit history – as the Weekly explained in an August 2005 cover story, “Wolves in Small Print.”
The tactics described in that story – adjustable rate mortgages in which monthly payments doubled in a few years, the pushing of high-rate refinance loans on people who didn’t even need them – have now swollen foreclosures to record levels around the country, including North Texas. In April, more than 3,400 homes in the Metroplex will go on the auction block. Tarrant County foreclosure rates this year are 20 percent higher than last year.
Of course, the Rangers are describing the de-naming as a “mutual” agreement, not mentioning that they teamed up with a crappy company whose loans were putting a lot of people into bankruptcy. Rangers’ owner Tom Hicks told The Dallas Morning News that the new name, “Rangers Ballpark in Arlington,” would stay on for the foreseeable future. “It’s worth more to us to have our brand back than it is to have the relationship [with Ameriquest],” Hicks told the paper. “You never say ‘Never.’ But as far as I’m concerned, it’s going to be Rangers Ballpark for forever.”
We’ll believe that one when Hicks refuses millions from some other smarmy corporation that sweet-talks him with some other version of the bell. Maybe there’s a new use for the old dinger, however: Static suggests installing it at the Tarrant County courthouse, to be rung every time a foreclosed house comes up for auction – not to toll for home runs, but for homes wrecked.