March 4, 2021

DealBook: On This Field, Regulators Find No One Is Too Big to Fail

The S.E.C.'s Naked Shorts softball team played the Injured Reserves, a mix of friends. Offficials at Wall Street regulators regularly play softball on the National Mall in Washington.Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York TimesThe S.E.C.’s Naked Shorts softball team plays the Injured Reserves, a mix of friends, on the National Mall in Washington. Gary Rubin, coach of the S.E.C.'s Naked Shorts softball team, takes time out to check his phone during a game.Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York TimesGary Rubin, coach of the S.E.C.’s Naked Shorts softball team, takes time out to check his phone during the game against the Injured Reserves.

“Too big to fail” is something to be feared and loathed in Washington — except on the softball field.

The phrase, which typically refers to big banks whose collapse would endanger the financial system, doubles as the team name for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s softball team. The banking regulators have posted a meager two wins this season, putting them near the bottom of the Congressional Softball League.

After long hours policing financial firms and dealing with the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul, officials at the F.D.I.C., the Securities and Exchange Commission and other Wall Street overseers duke it out on the diamonds of the National Mall with fellow regulators, local businesses and big corporations.

The Treasury Department fields at least two ball clubs, the Gold Standard and the Greenbacks. Just as New Yorkers have the Yankees and the Mets, S.E.C. employees can root for the Naked Shorts or their cross-agency rivals, the Red Stocks.

The roster of the Overdrafts, the pride of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, included an enforcement lawyer who briefly played catcher while she was eight months pregnant. Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor who is setting up the agency, gets the play-by-play from her employees after every game.

Aside from the regulatory bent, the league is not unlike those in media, technology and other industries. The season spans April to August. Players typically pay for gear and uniforms out of their pocket. And postgame celebrations are part of the ritual, too. Teams in the Congressional Softball League often retire to the Exchange, a well-known Washington bar just down the street from the White House.

“It’s a good way to meet people,” said Gary Rubin, an S.E.C. staff lawyer and the captain of the Naked Shorts, named after the controversial trading practice. “As busy as we are, we have to enjoy ourselves.”

A hodge-podge of enforcement lawyers and market technicians, the Naked Shorts team mirrors its regulatory persona.

The roster reads like a bureaucratic organization chart with officious-sounding posts like “deputy assistant associate of softball personnel” and “office of equipment and technology.” In other words, the bench coach and the bat boy.

The team also has a constitution, with organizing principles like “no one is allowed to question any coaching or management decision made by Coach Rubin.” At each game, Mr. Rubin, 28, wears his customary green and white jersey with a cartoon softball and rising stock chart.

The Naked Shorts are one of the league’s heavy hitters, with an 8-3 record. In recent weeks, the team has knocked off competitors like Alphabet Soup, a collection of employees from agencies including the Government Accountability Office, and a Department of Veteran Affairs team, VA Is for Lovers.

But two weeks ago the Naked Shorts lost — by one run — to Microsoft’s Bada Bings, whose name is a nod to the company’s search engine. “It was a nail-biter,” said Mr. Rubin, who doubles as the team’s pitcher, a position he selected because he “can’t field very well.”

Other regulators are lagging behind Mr. Rubin’s team. While the new consumer protection agency has been open for only a few days, its team has been flailing on the field for months. The Overdrafts have won two games and lost three this season.

One of the rare victories came off a strong play by some senior officials. Late in the game, a top hitter on an opposing regulatory team ripped a line drive, which was quickly caught by Raj Date, the associate director of research, markets and regulations, who is also the starting shortstop. After making the out, Mr. Date fired the ball off to Steven Antonakes, the first baseman and the bureau’s director of banking supervision, for a double play.

The F.D.I.C.’s Too Big to Fail have a similarly weak record with only two wins, including a 17-8 victory against the Overdrafts. They’ve lost 11 games.

Formed in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the F.D.I.C.’s team name reflects its original robust roster of 26 players, far outnumbering competitors.

An agency spokesman and occasional first baseman, Andrew Gray, said: “I guess our record proves that no one is too big to fail post Dodd-Frank.”

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