Episode 51 — Chapter 57
In a very small circle of friends and associates, Crawley was deemed a genius at taking on risks which were generally not much more than an illusion. Rarely, had he ever had to pay out anything more than legal fees, and that was usually to coverage counsel for their ingenuity in denying a claim. Years before, he had found a particularly delicious niche: punitive damage coverage for nursing homes. These risks came from desperate operators in the United States who were fearful of being hit with a massive award. With states bending over backwards to advance legislation on behalf of the elderly, juries had been known to throw the book at nursing home operators where abuse or neglect was found.
The coverage Crawley provided was largely illusory because the states generally prohibited insurance companies from contracting for punitive damage coverage. Consequently, Classic Re had a built-in defense to ever paying such an award, even in the rare instances where a client had been tagged. It had even been tested in some state courts, where judges ruled that such coverage from a foreign insurer was in violation of public policy. Thus, Classic Re was prohibited from paying the award, even if they wished to. Naturally, the insuring contract allowed Classic Re to keep the premiums in such an event. Crawley congratulated himself on having acquired $35 million in punitive damage premiums over the years, without ever having had to pay a single dollar back, except for legal fees. The equity in his reinsurance company had now grown to nearly $75,000,000 and he had become slightly more averse to risks than during the halcyon days of his younger years when he had rarely turned one away.
When Crawley received the call from Fidelity National, the broker had offered him $200,000 of the $250,000 premium for assuming 95% of the risk. Crawley had initially rejected the request, since he knew little about baseball. However, the reinsurance broker was a baseball fan and had assured him that the odds of the Braves winning the World Series and Cobb batting .400 were greater than selecting the winning numbers for the Powerball Lottery. Even then, Crawley wasn’t persuaded to assume the risk and asked for time to check with a stateside associate whom he knew to be a baseball fanatic. A few minutes later, he had Blake Donnegan, his Miami agent for U.S. risks, on the line.
“Blake, Fidelity wants me to assume 95% of a $100 million risk for some baseball team,” Crawley began.
“That’s right up my alley. How much is the premium?”
“It’s just two hundred thousand. There’s a couple of conditions that have to be met. The team has to win the World Series…”
“What team are we talking about?”
“That’s a team in disarray. There’s no chance of them contending this year at all. So, with a $200K premium and $100 mill exposure, that’s roughly 500 to 1 for them to win the World Series, about the same as what the Vegas books are offering. But, it’s way too much exposure for such a piddly premium.”
“Well, there’s another condition that also has to be met. Have you heard of this Ty Cobb fellow?”
“Oh yeah, there’s been a media firestorm about him here in the states. Claims to have traveled in time from a hundred years ago. Ridiculous, of course, but the public’s eating it up. To everyone’s surprise, he actually acquitted himself quite well in his first game.”
“Well, for the risk to mature, he’s also got to bat .400.”
There was a pause on the other line.
“Did you say four hundred?” Blake asked in astonishment.
“You’re sure it’s not .300?”
“I’m dead certain. I wrote it down…”
“Is this some kind of a joke?” Blake burst out laughing. “No one’s hit .400 since Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Not to mention, this guy’s some kind of a freak show. Never played minor league ball or in college, as far as I can tell. Who knows who he really is or where he came from. Believe me, baseball’s an unforgiving sport. I doubt he’ll even be on the club a month from now.”
“So, you’re telling me it will never happen.”
“Without a doubt. I can promise you this guy has zero chance of coming close to .400. Even the best players in the game are lucky to hit .300. And the Braves winning the Series? That’s absurd.”
“So, it’s a safe risk in your opinion?”
“Give me a slice of it, please! In fact, you pay me $150,000, I’ll assume the whole risk myself.”
“And you would back that with what?”
“My Porsche… I’m joking,” Blake stopped laughing. “But seriously, if the Braves are 500 to 1 odds to win the Series, Cobb hitting .400 must be about a billion to one. So both events happening, what’s that, about five hundred billion to one. Are those odds good enough for you?”
“Thanks, I’ll buy you a bottle of your favorite wine next time we have dinner,” Crawley hung up the phone.
Easiest $200,000 I ever made—minus the $300 for a bottle of wine. No need to lay some of the risk off on other reinsurers. I’ll keep it all to myself.
Following lunch, Savannah returned to her hotel room and checked out. She had a couple of hours to kill before she needed to leave for the airport, so she sat in the hotel lobby and took out her laptop. The article in the Philadelphia Inquirer had piqued her interest. She accessed the internet and typed in the University of Georgia baseball team on Google.
I wonder who this Chase Ripley kid is?
Seconds later, the Georgia team’s roster was displayed. It showed the current list of players but Chase Ripley’s name wasn’t present. She clicked onto the preceding year and saw his name. There was a brief bio; Ripley was listed as a junior, at 6’1″ and 180 pounds— similar size and stature to Cobb—hence the journalist’s hypothesis. Hometown was Commerce, Georgia. It indicated that Ripley batted left handed and threw with his right; once again the same as Cobb. But there must have been a thousand twenty-one year olds who met that profile.
To the right of the bio was a small thumbnail photograph of Ripley. Savannah studied it for a few moments. There was no particular resemblance to Ty Cobb. She noticed Ripley’s uniform number was number “9″. I wonder if that’s for Ted Williams, or just a coincidence, Savannah, a savant of great players’ numbers, pondered to herself.
The college team was known as the Georgia Bulldogs. They played in the Eastern division of the Southeastern Conference. Savannah was surprised to see some years before they had won the College World Series.
She accessed the team statistics and Ripley’s name was at the top of the batters. He had played in 57 games, with a batting average of .487. Savannah was vaguely familiar with college batting statistics. Unlike the major leagues, .400 hitters were relatively common in college baseball. Still .487 was one of the highest averages she had seen in recent years.
This guy apparently can hit!
Ripley had also clouted 12 home runs and knocked in 71 runs. She was stunned to see how infrequently he struck out: just eight times in 247 at bats. Ripley also had 32 stolen bases in 36 attempts.
Not only a terrific hitter, but an exceptional base stealer—just like Cobb.
These were no ordinary figures; these were extraordinary figures!
She could understand why the journalist had made the connection. But, it was college ball, after all—perhaps on par with Class A or possibly AA minor league baseball, but nowhere near the level of major league competition. Moreover, the top baseball talent was usually plucked straight out of high school; the vast majority of college stars never even reached the major leagues.
It didn’t surprise Savannah that she’d never heard of Ripley before, since she didn’t follow college baseball. But, she wondered if Ripley had truly disappeared or if the Philadelphia Inquirer article had just been written on a whim. She returned to Google and typed “Where is Chase Ripley?”
She first saw the banner for the sports article from the Inquirer that had humorously suggested that Cobb was Chase Ripley. The next item was an article about the top college stars from the year before and Ripley was listed as a likely top-round draft pick. Underneath that there was an item from “The Red and Black,” the University of Georgia newspaper. She clicked onto the newspaper’s web page. Under the category “Sports” she saw the headline: “Ripley’s departure will hurt Bulldogs’ Chances.” The article indicated that Ripley had left the team shortly after the Fall College World Series and had apparently stopped attending the university altogether. But, there was no mention of him having disappeared. Nor, could she find anything indicating that Chase Ripley had transferred to another college or university.
Savannah wondered if Ripley had hooked up with a minor league team. Savannah typed in Ripley’s name again adding “Minor League Stats.” She could find no reference under that name either. It seemed strange that a player with such phenomenal talent was not on the baseball radar somewhere. Could he have gone overseas, to Japan or somewhere else? It didn’t seem likely, because the vast majority of talented young baseball players remained stateside.
Maybe he just decided to take a year off. After all, 20-something kids often take a break from college for a year or so. I nearly did the same thing myself. Yet, she quickly discarded the thought, recognizing that highly sought-after young athletes rarely skipped a year from their sport, fearful that any absence could compromise their professional future and chance at a lucrative contract.
Returning to the University of Georgia baseball team site, Savannah accessed the name of the head baseball coach, Ike Hughes. Her investigative instincts took over and she called the university switchboard, asking for the coach. The phone rang several times and then she heard a recorded message. She enunciated her name and number, identifying her magazine and requested a return phone call.