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Gambling could save baseball

but not in the way you probably think

Panoramic View of Las Vegas Nevada at night with neon from Paris Eifel Tower view spot Photo by: Visions of America/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Well Astros, an apology would have been nice. I guess we shouldn’t have expected it.

We live in interesting times. Things that never used to happen, now happen all the time, and things that happened all the time, now never happen, and whether you believe all of this change is for the better or for the worse, it’s surely difficult to deny that things are different somehow.

Maybe this up is down, down is up world is precisely the world in which gambling can save us. Baseball’s recent cheating scandal, obviously, has been the subject of great debate and consternation. Some people view it as just about the biggest thing to ever hit baseball, others view it as just another blip along the way, something akin to the steroid era, which disgusted many while many others simply enjoyed watching what seemed like home run derby in real time and in meaningful games.

I’m here to suggest, and I recognize I’m not the first, that this particular cheating scandal is far larger and more meaningful than the steroid scandal or Pete Rose or even the Black Sox cheating scandals. In other words, this cheating scandal is bigger than Barry Bonds helmet…it’s big.

While betting on baseball as a player or manager can surely be a problem, for all the logical reasons, and steroid use clearly inflated both helmet sizes and power numbers for many players, those things, as dangerous to the game as they were (and may still be) didn’t truly go to the integrity of the larger game played on the field. Sure, hitters on steroids hit for more power than they otherwise would have, but with a possible exception here and there (I’m looking at you Brady Anderson) people who hit a lot of home runs just hit more home runs. Things, in other words, were exaggerated because of the cheating, not fundamentally changed.

Similarly, when Pete Rose gambled on his own team as manager, he must have surely altered the way in which he managed a given game depending upon how much he may have had on that given game, but even that affected the game on the field only around the margins. Nothing about the game of baseball itself was changed.

In contrast, hitters who actually were able to cheat by knowing which pitch was coming completely altered the nature of the game. What may have been likely outs, became doubles to the gap or home runs, as players could know with some certainty that they could wait back on the off-speed pitch that was coming, and away it would go! That’s central to the game itself! That isn’t a game of inches, in which a hard hit foul ball is just a strike and the same ball a few inches over goes for extra bases; instead it’s likely the difference between a ball being hit very hard and one being missed, or at least not being hit with such authority.

Knowing what pitch was coming would be comparable to a football team’s offense knowing what the defense was going to be, so they would never have to worry about a blitz, or they would always know where the double-team would be, and they could simply plan around it. If one team could do that, whether the sport was baseball or football, the other team would be so disadvantaged that the integrity of the game itself would be compromised.

So maybe we cannot save ourselves from what seems to be an increase in the desire to cheat in one form or another in our larger society, but Las Vegas, if you’re listening, you actually might be able to save us from ourselves. You can demand punishments and changes that the rest of us really can’t. You, after all, hold the cards, so to speak.

When my children were very small, and I’d occasionally watch a sporting event on tape, I was able to impress them with the knowledge that I knew what was coming. I could literally say “I bet he hits a home run here, or “I know he’s going to strike out” and I would inevitably be spot on. I didn’t carry this charade on very long confessing to them that I couldn’t actually predict what was coming, I instead actually knew what was coming because I’d previously seen the outcome and/or a box score.

I guess, if my children had had any money, I could’ve made a fortune this way. But it wouldn’t have been fair, and not only would it have made you question my parenting skills, it would have made you think I was shameless at best, and perhaps a criminal at worst. But, isn’t that where we are?

Some players, namely many of the Astros and Red Sox at a minimum, actually seemed to know what pitch was coming. They weren’t guessing, they weren’t using any predictive skill, they actually knew. That’s not fair, that’s not even baseball, that’s more like knowing the ending of a movie and betting on its outcome. That’s crazy. Would you bet with me that at the end of the movie, the Titanic would go down? Of course you wouldn’t. That’s not sport, that’s insanity.

So, if you’re listening Las Vegas, please save us. Please insist that the integrity of the game survives this scandal and that the gamblers of the world can rest assured that baseball doesn’t resemble professional wrestling, where outcomes are assured. Insist on significant penalties for the cheaters, when that cheating is proven. Perhaps even insist upon a ban, for if Pete Rose is banned for potentially affecting the outcome of a given game by maybe not using a given relief pitcher or not pinch-hitting a particular bench player, then surely Jose Altuve, Carlos Beltran, and many others, affected many games with their amazing (though now far less amazing) power numbers in their home ballparks.

I don’t hate Altuve, but I hate what he did, and frankly, I’m not sure I can forgive him, baseball wise. So not to get all Hall of Fame on everyone, but if Pete Rose is banned for what he did, and Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and others are not banned, but aren’t getting voted in anytime soon, then surely future potential HOFers like Altuve have to be banned as well.

I regret that this clouds my viewpoint of Marwin Gonzalez. I like him, I was glad when the Twins picked him up, his versatility is undeniable, and he seems like a fine fellow all in all. But, seriously, if he cheated to the extent that he had many at-bats in which he literally knew which pitch was coming next, I can’t ever look at him the same way. I’m sorry, I really am. Las Vegas, if you’re listening, make sure we don’t have to question the integrity of the games. Demand it, don’t let MLB go easy on this.

In a world in which up is down and down is up, why wouldn’t we reach a point where we have to lean on Las Vegas to restore integrity to the game. Who’d have thought? The alternative is simply to reinstate Pete Rose, allow Bonds and Clemens entry into the Hall of Fame, and adopt the attitude that if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying. I’d hate for us to go there, but I fear that if we don’t get serious about this and soon, that there really will be no other road to take.