Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Gambling and Sports-Baseball

The little kid stood on the courthouse steps in Chicago and pleaded with his hero: “Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so.”

He was looking at the baseball legend “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was leaving the court after facing the grand jury. Jackson and several of his team mates had been accused of cheating by “throwing” the World Series in 1919.

Jackson was the premier player of the day. Born in 1889 in Pickens County, South Carolina, he made his major league debut in 1908 with Philadelphia of the American League. In his thirteen years as a major leaguer, his batting average was a magnificent .356. An outfielder most of the time, he made few errors. In fact, he made no errors in fourteen World Series games.

He moved from Philly to Cleveland, then on to Chicago in 1915 to play for the venerable Charles Comiskey. Comiskey was a tyrant, and very cheap. He promised the boys a case of champagne for winning the 1917 pennant, cheap champagne. He also promised his best pitcher Eddie Chicotte a $ 10 000 bonus if he could win 30 games. After Eddie won his 29th game, Comiskey benched him.

The team was the Chicago White Sox. The incident was called the “Black Sox Scandal”. Some observers believe the name comes with shame. A Chicago writer told me that Comiskey was too cheap to wash his players’ socks, and a lot of them wore them the entire season without washing them, as a gesture of defiance to Comiskey.

The situation was ripe for subterfuge. Several gamblers were contacted to put up the money for the 1919 Series to be fixed. Joseph “Sport” Sullivan met Chick Gandil on September 18th of that year, in the Hotel Buckminster in Boston to seal the deal. Another gambler, Arnold Rothstein, provided most of the money. Word had it that he would bet on anything he could fix.

Cicotte hit the Reds leadoff batter with his second pitch. That signalled that the fix was in.

It was to be a nine game series, but the Reds won in eight. Promised money did not appear, thugs were hired to intimidate the players, fielding became shabby, pitching was weak. Through it all, Jackson played his heart out. He batted .375, made 16 put outs.

But that was his last game in the Major Leagues.

Jackson confessed to a lawyer in a Chicago law office along with Cicotte and Lefty Williams. He then admitted his role to the Grand Jury. That testimony was released in 1988, and is available in its entirety on the web.

Jackson was asked: “How much did they pay?” he replied; “They promised me twenty thousand, and paid me five.”

At another point in the 26 page deposition, Jackson said that Mrs. Jackson “felt awful bad about it, cried about it a while.”

Although all players were acquitted for lack of evidence, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner of baseball, banned the eight players for life.

Peter Edward Rose played 24 years in the Major Leagues. He was known as “Charlie Hustle” because of his work ethic. He just would not quit. He played “full out” all of the time. He loved the game. He dedicated himself to the game.

He established several records that remain to this day. He went to bat more than any player, ever. He got more hits than any player. He ended his career with 4 256 hits. Near the end of his career, Rose began to bet. He bet on horses, he gambled at casinos, he bet on sport, and he bet on baseball.

The January 12, 2004 edition of Sports Illustrated has a photo of Rose on the cover. The current commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, had asked Rose about his involvement in gambling.

Rose stated: “Mr. Selig looked at me and said: ‘I want to know one thing. Did you bet on baseball?’ I looked at him in the eye. Yes sir, I did bet on baseball. ‘How often,’ he asked. Four or five times a week, I replied. ‘Why,’ he asked. I didn’t think I’d get caught.”

That was after fourteen years of denials. And it was also, coincidentally, three days before the release of his autobiography, “My Prison Without Bars.”

Bart Giamatti was the commissioner when Rose’s gambling habits surfaced. He appointed a law firm to investigate Rose’s activities. For many years the report remained confidential; however, it was recently released in its entirety by its author. The Dowd Report contains more than 200 pages of interviews with a variety of friends of Pete Rose, detailing times, dates, betting amounts. It contains threats from thugs which were received for not paying debts on time. Rose lost more than he won. He was always trying to “double up” his bets to break even.

He wagered two to five thousand dollars per game, according to the many witnesses who ran the roads with him. Names like Gioiosa, Peters, Bertolini, Janszen, Chevashore, and Val appear frequently in the document.

In the end, Rose signed an “Agreement and Resolution”. He acknowledged that the Commissioner had a “factual basis to impose a penalty.” Item 5a states: “Peter Edward Rose is hereby declared permanently ineligible in accordance with Major League Rule 21.”

No uniform. No dugout. No coaching. No Hall of Fame. End of Story.

There are hoards of fans around the country who would like to see the issue revisited. He likely would be elected to Congress in Cincinnati.

There are other baseball players who have placed a wager or two on the ponies or at the tables. Mickey Rivers was banned from using the dugout phone to check on his bets at the track. He then resorted to using the Yankee bullpen pitchers to call the track to check on his wagers while he wandered in the outfield at Yankee Stadium.

Denny McLain was the best pitcher in baseball in 1968. He won 31 games, lost six. He led the American League with 28 complete games. (I very much doubt that feat will ever be duplicated.) He then got mixed up with a Pepsi rep, and attempted to set up a bookmaking operation. He was suspended for the first three months of the 1970 season. His attempted comebacks included a stint with the London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball league. Because his arm was sore, he caught, played first and at short. He batted .380 in 14 games-not too shabby!

Are there other gamblers in baseball? Certainly. But the day has arrived when these athletes need to be circumspect with their salaries, as inflated as they might be.

And that kid who was pleading with Joe? Hollywood hogwash. At least that’s what Jackson said years later. “There was no kid there. Just me and the deputy sheriff.”

James Hurst
August 20, 2007

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