Baseball history is pock-marked with scrapes between the players and communities of scoundrels, shady characters who liked to wager on the games, especially if they knew who was going to win in advance.
That’s why the proprietors of the sport wrote a specific rule dealing with such activity. Rule 21D spells out specifically the penalty for betting on games. Violators face suspension, anywhere from one game to permanent expulsion.
The rule dates back to the 1920s, when baseball was still recovering from the stain of the Black Sox and the fixed 1919 World Series. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis barred eight players in that scandal and the message was clear. Don’t gamble on the games. It will not be tolerated. Just ask Pete Rose.
Every clubhouse posts a warning about gambling on baseball. It is no secret. Everybody from the clubhouse attendants to the biggest stars know the rule. It is a mantra that has been upheld by every commissioner the sport has ever had, from Landis to Chandler, from Kuhn to Ueberroth, and endorsed in no uncertain terms by the current boss, Rob Manfred.
Rule 21, Manfred said, is very clear. If you bet on baseball, you will be banned from baseball. He called the rule fundamental to the integrity of the game.
And then, Manfred blinked.
That’s what a $80 million payoff from a gambling casino will do. After the Supreme Court gave a green light to gambling, the casinos swept in like vultures, quickly reaching arrangements with the NBA and NHL.
Next up was baseball and its forever sanctimonious stand against gambling. Now the sport has enthusiastically embraced a partnership with MGM Resorts, whose primary business is casinos where … uhh, ohh … the primary activity is gambling.
The deal permits MGM to promote its business on baseball platforms such as the MLB Network and the sport’s website, MLB.com. Major League baseball will supply MGM with proprietary analytics, the New Age numbers that apparently are so appealing to casino customers. How convenient.
For those who care about old fashioned considerations like integrity, Manfred was quick to offer comforting words. Integrity remains the game’s most important element, the commissioner said. He just decided to insure its presence in a rather unusual place.
At the heart of the matter is baseball’s troubling dip in attendance. The sport fell below 70 million fans last season and that kind of decline caught the attention of the industry. Gambling is a national addiction, which is why every game has odds and a betting line. Now those numbers will be attached to baseball as routinely as that day’s probable pitchers. And perhaps that will entice fans to return to the game. Certainly the sport is, you should excuse the expression, betting on it.
Baseball will adjust to this change. It always does. It is likely to be a lively topic of conversation during this month’s Winter Meetings. They will be held in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., the gambling capital of America.