My barber George asked me an interesting question the other day – could the Black Sox betting scandal happen again?
Since it does not take much time to cut whatever hair remains on my scaly dome, I could not fully elucidate an intelligent answer for him. So I’d like to take this occasion to provide George a more complete, nuanced reply.
Yes, it could.
In fact, as gambling seeds are increasingly planted across this foundering nation of opportunists, hustlers, grifters and, yes, gamblers, it is rather appropriate that this is the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Black Sox World Series fixing scandal.
That series is just the best and biggest example of a simple, unchanging point:
If there is money to be made, somebody out there is going to try to figure out a way to game or cheat the system.
For those of you not around in 1919 – I interned that summer on an oil rig off the coast of Montana – let me provide a quick primer on the facts (more or less) surrounding the Black Sox crookedness.
A gambling syndicate led by Arnold Rothstein (godfather of Bernie Madoff) and “Sleepy” Bill Burns (great uncle of Pete Rose) paid eight Chicago White Sox players to throw World Series games against the Cincinnati Reds; the irony here is that, 70 years later, Rose was banned from baseball for betting on games while playing and managing the Reds.
Among the White Sox taking money was outfielder Joe Jackson. Jackson accepted $5,000 in cash but then appeared to play his best, hitting .375. As punishment, the syndicate removed all his footwear, and the barefooted Jackson was known as “Shoeless Joe’ for the rest of his life.
In 1920, the eight “Black Sox” were indicted on conspiracy charges, but all of them were acquitted in the trial the following year, largely because key evidence – including player confessions – had mysteriously disappeared. The court also cleared NBA referee Tim Donaghy Sr. of any involvement in the game-fixing.
But newly appointed MLB Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis – no relation to Bowie Kuhn – banned the eight players from the game for life.
Okay, let’s now return to the 21st century, where time and again we discover, if money’s involved – whether it is Wall Street or Wrigley Field, the racetrack or the poker room – someone somewhere in some fashion will try to rip somebody else off.
Gambling, from state lotteries to fantasy sports to old-fashioned point spreads, now is bigger than ever in America. The latest American gold rush is a renewed, legal commitment to taking as many dollars as possible out of people’s pockets by dangling the mirage of winning lots of money in front of them.
I should inject here, in case you’ve forgotten – most people lose when they gamble.
At the moment, 13 states have legalized sports betting, five states plus Washington, D.C., recently passed bills to legalize it and 25 states have introduced sports-betting legislation.
Eventually, we will have in-game, in-stadium sports betting.
What could go wrong?
While we’re here, let me tell you how the confluence of legalized sports betting and replay as an officiating tool will come crashing down on all of us.
First let’s remember that New Orleans Saints fans, after last season’s NFC championship game pass-interference catastrophe, sued the NFL – and they had no money on the line. Well, down the road, a massive “injustice” – an obvious call, not corrected by replay – will prompt an even bigger uprising in which many sports-wagering individuals will seek redress in the courts.
There are so many “players” involved here: The coaches and players themselves, the game officials, the anonymous replay officials in New York, TV producers who might bet and think twice about providing the right angle, sports-betting operators. It’s all legal, and it’s ripe for a fix.
Best-case scenario in this nascent betting bonanza? Your neighborhood bookie is run out of business and your local schools are enhanced by the regulated, taxed bounty pouring into public coffers.
Good luck with that.
Ask The Slouch
Q. You are being given a red card for your flagrant use of a “La Boheme” reference in a recent column. Opera has no place when discussing such important issues as professional sports. (David Blackburn; Gaithersburg, Md.)
A. No $1.25 here, but I’ll accept the red card – how long does this sideline me from writing the column? I am due for another unpaid vacation.
Q. I’m watching NFL Network and Joe Namath is talking – 13-year career, 65.5 passer rating. Hmm. Why exactly is he in the hall of fame? (Scott LaBerge; Fort Collins, Colo.)
A. He was known as Broadway Joe and no NFL player ever rocked a fur coat like him.
Q. Yuengling recently teamed up with Hershey’s to make a chocolate porter. Genius or beer blasphemy? (Joel Rondeau; Glendale, Wis.)
A. A. I love Yuengling and I love chocolate, but I am en route to Pottsville, Pa., as we speak to seek an annulment to this unholy marriage.
Q. How much should we expect NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to fine China for tampering? (Terry Golden; Vienna, Va.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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