Is MLB Moving To Legalize Gambling?

There are two time periods in which gambling was prevalent in baseball. From 1865-1920, when gambling was the national past time and baseball just happened to be involved, and 1989-2004, which can simply be associated with one should-be hall of famer’s name; Pete Rose. In 1989, Rose agreed to be declared permanently ineligible from Major League Baseball for gambling on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Now, Rose openly admits it may have been the biggest mistake of his life, and fans cry out for his reinstatement. With the new year came a new commissioner, and as we begin the Manfred era, fans and Rose get their first glimpse of hope for reinstatement.

“Gambling in terms of our society has changed its presence on legalization, and I think it’s important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be.”

– Rob Manfred

For those of you who don’t know much about the gambling ages, here’s a brief outline:

1865– Gambler Kane McLaughlin paid William Wansley, a New York Mutuals player, $100 to ensure a win for the Brooklyn Eckfords in the next day’s game. Wansley then paid two teammates $30 a piece to facilitate the loss. They succeeded in losing to the Eckfords by a score of 23-11, though they didn’t do it discretely enough. An investigation was conducted which revealed the plot, and all three were suspended by the National Association of Base Ball Players. Eventually, all three were reinstated (imagine that?).

1877: It was the second year of the National League and teams often played exhibition games. Four players on the Louisville club were paid by gamblers to lose at least two of these exhibition games. The four said players, Al Nichols, Bill Craver, George Hall, and Jim Devlin, were investigated and all eventually succumbed to their guilt, admitting their fault. The four were permanently banned and were never reinstated.

Researcher and author Howard Rosenburg made a very interesting find about this time of gambling, he researched 162 instances of players and team officials betting on baseball during the 19th century. Specifically, he writes, “As my 2004 book will show, Cap Anson, baseball’s all-time hit leader from the 1890s until the 1910s, bet on his team in the regular season at least 57 times. And he was widely viewed as a symbol of baseball’s honesty.” Rosenburg found that these bets were not made in secrecy. There were accounts in newspapers with no concern directed toward the happenings at all. At the time it was considered perfectly natural to bet on yourself to win.

1918: Cincinnati Red’s first baseman Hal Chase was formally charged by the National League for attempting to “fix” games. Chase was acquitted by then National League President John Heydler in January of 1919 and signed with the New York Giants. Following the season, Chase was “quietly pushed out of the game” for his crooked play.

1919: The Chicago Black Sox. Eight Chicago White Sox players knew about the fixing of the World Series, and seven of them (Buck Weaver being the exception) benefitted profitably from it. The story didn’t surface until the fall of 1920, when Kenesaw Mountain Landis, newly appointed Commissioner, suspended the eight black sox just before the end of the season, and then permanently.

From 1920 to 1989, there were no documented accounts of gambling by any player, coach or manager on any major league team, or conspiracies with gamblers.

1989-2004: Charlie Hustle becomes the first manager since the Black Sox scandal to get caught and be banished from baseball.  I use the phrase “get caught” because it’s not likely that Pete Rose suddenly became the first player in 70 years to decide to bet on baseball. The first one not careful enough to cover his footsteps, definitely, but not likely to be the first to participate in gambling.

Now, skip to 2015 and the first few baby steps in the Manfred era. Quoted earlier, Manfred told ESPN’s Outside the Lines, “It’s important for baseball to give fresh consideration to the issue.” Similar words to those spoken by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth some 30 years ago after reinstating Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, who were banned for taking jobs at two Atlantic City casinos.

What’s to come for MLB? It’s apparent Manfred believes that gambling isn’t quite as frightening to the game’s integrity as it once was (when the Commissioner’s office was established just to save the game from gambling fixations). Professional sports could help control whatever comes of government regulations, and presumably get a piece of the action. Manfred made it clear that “the most appropriate thing for me at this point … is to wait until I’ve had a chance to deal with the owners on this topic.”

As far as Pete Rose goes, the 73-year-old can appeal to the Commissioner to be reinstated. In fact, Manfred mentioned in his interview that Rose’s lawyers have already contacted him. The argument whether he should be or not is for another article and if the hit king was allowed into the hall, would (stingy) voters even let him in during his lifetime?


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