Mar 28, 2024, 06:29AM

All Bets Are Off

Maybe Shohei’s in the clear, maybe not. But once the feds get involved, a gambling scandal will hit MLB. What year is it (#486)?

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A long time ago, in a small German town along the Rhine, my oldest nephew (shown in accompanying photo) was my bagman. We were in Europe for a month, and I was brought along by my oldest brother and sister-in-law to mind their two children while they took long museum jaunts during the day and dined at Michelin-starred restaurants at night. The itinerary included Paris, Copenhagen, Oslo, Belgium, Zurich, Frankfurt and any number of smaller stops along the way. There was a fast-food joint in the Rhine village where the kids and I had lunch for a couple of days, but it wasn’t just the wurst that was memorable; it was the row of slot machines that I parked myself in front of for 30-minute stretches. My nephew’s duty was to fetch plastic cups of beer from the counter (I was taken aback that the cashier accepted the order from a five-year-old, and lifted a finger in appreciation) and hold the coins I won playing mindless games of chance. I didn’t win or lose much (what casual player does?) but the rush was real and shared by my charges, who didn’t rat me out to their parents. They liked having a “special secret” with their Uncle Rusty.

I’m a small-stakes gambler, meaning I’ve purchased lottery tickets, made bets at the track (horse and dog racing), spent an hour or two at casinos in Monaco, Cairo, London and the Bahamas, as well as minor sports and political wagers—never more than $50—but it’s, fortunately, a very occasional activity, a vice that never consumed me.

As noted before in this space, I’m in favor of legalized gambling, as well as prostitution and drugs, not only because a citizen ought to be able to make their own choices, but it also frees up law enforcement. In truth, when politicians self-finance their own campaigns, isn’t that gambling? In Maryland, a Democratic candidate for this year’s U.S. Senate election, Rep. David Trone, has spent around $20 million on advertising; you can’t turn on the TV or hit various videos on YouTube without seeing a pitch for the guy. And this is before the May 14th primary: the winner will take on former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, an anti-Trump Republican who, at least according the latest polls, is significantly leading both Trone and his opponent Angela Alsobrooks. Trone recently made news by accidentally saying “jigaboo” instead of “bugaboo” in reference to a GOP tax proposal; Alsobrooks got an immediate boost that nullifies, I think, much of the Congressman’s feel-good ads.

I do have a current bet on the line with my son Booker: I say at some point this season Shohei Ohtani will face a slap-on-the-wrist suspension; he’s certain, even if Shohei is guilty of whatever infraction, the “booboisie,” as Mencken said, that run Major League Baseball will cover it up. A valid opinion (it’s likely the dirt on Ohtani, if there is any, won’t be revealed until sometime this season; and the superstar did temporarily quell the speculative fury on Monday, issuing a statement that he had no idea now-fired translator Ippei Mizuhara was bilking his bank account), but even if I lose a U.S. Grant note to my son, anyone who follows sports knows this is just the beginning, a potential scandal that might dwarf the steroid revelations at the turn of the century. Online sports gambling is ubiquitous—and it’s, by some accounts, the reason that young (mostly) men are following baseball and giving MLB a welcome demographic uptick. It defies common sense to believe that pro athletes, who have disposable income, aren’t tapping at their phones and making bets, both legal and illegal.

Aside from when he’s playing against the Red Sox, I love watching Ohtani play since the modern-day Babe Ruth has transcended baseball and entered the larger world of pop culture. But I’m not one of those scolds, who say “it’s bad for the game” if a star player gets nailed for bad behavior or has a season-ending injury; for example, I’m hoping that Yankees ace Gerrit Cole needs Tommy John surgery and isn’t, as GM Brian Cashman says, back on the mound in two months. That’s just being an honest fan. I’m creeped out by players’ domestic abuse, and the “alleged” pedophilia case of now-banished Tampa Bay Rays star Wander Franco, and am glad when they’re disciplined (although why serial abuser Aroldis Chapman still has a job is a weird mystery; maybe his agent has the goods on the awful MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, but I suppose that’s hoping for too much). I’d be bummed if Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck, hypothetically, was collared for an actionable offense, but those are the breaks.

In any case, the gambling mess isn’t going away, especially in an election year when politicians of both parties are trying to score points on whatever’s going on at the moment. As longtime baseball blogger Craig Calcaterra wrote on Monday: “Once all of that is resolved, we can move on to the topic of how a how key employee of a major league baseball team—an employee who had close, personal access to the most famous and important player in the game—was allowed to associate themselves with sketchy-as-fuck gamblers for years without the league either knowing or caring the first thing about it.

Look at the clues to figure out when the picture of my bagman was snapped: Donald Coggan becomes Archbishop of Canterbury; Monty Python and the Holy Grail released in UK; Golden State Warriors win NBA championship; Iron Maiden is formed in London; Colin Dexter’s detective story Last Bus to Woodstock introduces Inspector Morse; Christina Hendricks is born and Susan Hayward dies; Charles Bukowski’s Factotum is published; Master Derby wins the Preakness; Zach Braff is born and Rod Serling dies; the Edmund Fitzgerald sinks; Robert E. Lee is pardoned; and Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns is released.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023

  • Gambling will only get bigger.

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  • I was in Vegas last weekend. Surprisingly didn't bet a dime since I was there primarily for a daughter's volleyball tournament. The big news on local tv was the upcoming demolition of the Tropicana. Later, I found out it will be the future home for Vegas A's. Of all sports, I thought baseball would hold out on a Vegas team considering its history.

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