SocraticGadfly: Black Sox at 100 part 3 — could it happen today, whether in baseball or another major sport?

October 17, 2019

Black Sox at 100 part 3 — could it happen today,
whether in baseball or another major sport?

Or sometimes far worse than a crapshoot, so to speak.

ESPN reminds us that (even as the NFL celebrates the centennial of its founding), baseball is at the centennial of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. It mentions that to raise the question: "Could it happen today"?

It adds that this is the 30th anniversary of Bart Giamatti booting Pete Rose for betting on games. (I still think there's some chance he bet AGAINST his own Reds, and that John Dowd may have asked him that. Or Dowd may have feared the answer, and deliberately did NOT ask.)

It also adds that, after fighting gambling outside of Vegas, MLB has made Mandalay Bay among its new gaming partners — a place where Pete Rose autographs swag.

Of course Vegas ain't heavy, even if Sin City is corny: 

And, per Kevin Costner, one person is identified with that more than anybody, even though not the ringleader and totally opposite Rose in personality. I'm talking Shoeless Joe Jackson, of course.

Beyond whether Shoeless Joe Jackson helped do it or not, there's the question of whether MLB isn't hypocritical, on him, or on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, as I've discussed before. Paul Hornung and Alex Karras are in Canton despite admitting gambling on football. Art Schlichter also admitted betting on games. None of the three ever bet on their own team, though. (Of course, no set of NFL players has ever been caught allegedly throwing a title game. And, given that football is a one-game showdown, AND given that there's massive amounts of prop bets on today's Super Bowl, I would think that's hellaciously tempting.) 

(Things like Gaylord Perry's spitters or Don Sutton's nail files aren't in the same class.)

So, why do we still "pick on" Shoeless Joe, and even more than Rose?

Jackson was proven innocent in a court of law, as his own granddaughter notes at the top link. 

The Black Sox in general, because this was so early in organized sport, and organized sport was trying to become more professional after the Great War, were a target. Plus, baseball was the National Pastime. City College of New York point-shaving scandals hurt that game somewhat, but everybody moved on.

That said, as John Thorn notes, many myths still abound about the Black Sox. That includes that they were underpaid (actually, the highest paid team in baseball), that they were rubes taken for a ride by gambling sharks (not true in general, and note Cobb and Speaker above, representing just a tip of alleged game-fixing at this time), and that Shoeless Joe was just a country bumpkin (actually, he had good post-baseball business career).

On PBS, Jacob Pomrenke, in addition to refuting more myths, wonders if other pre-1919 WS were fixed. I addressed that in Part 2.) Pomremke, a member of SABR, chairs a committee it has just over the Black Sox. Here's a list of all his research.

As for Jackson? Like his granddaughter, as I note in this long piece, I don't think he did it. But, I'm not sure, either, per Thorn and Pomrenke. Per my Part 1, I'm leaning more toward him being guilty again, and explain there how he could have had such a great World Series and still be guilty. 

And, because of that, Jackson should be made eligible for the Hall, and then voted into Cooperstown, if there's at least the strong likelihood he didn't do it.

He's got the cred.

Despite his career being forcibly ended at age 32, he's 13 in JAWS among right fielders, as I note at that link. Give him four more years, and he's at around 90 WAR. Around 70 on JAWS. Right next to Al Kaline and Roberto Clemente, at a minimum.

As for Rose? Nope.

I disagree with the Bob Ryans, per the Red Satan link, who want to put him in. MLB had express prohibitions then, as it does today, which it didn't at Jackson's time. And, despite MLB looking hypocritical, other pro sports ban their players from wagering on their own sports, let alone their own teams as well. The added issue was that Rose was not just a player, but a player-manager, and could monkey with daily lineups to the longer-term detriment of his team.

Now, the $64,000 question. Or two, actually.

One? Could it happen?

Two? Would it happen?

No. 1? Yes. Despite computers seeing sudden shifts in betting lines, could you actually find enough to stop a game before it started? Very likely not. There's examples in pro tennis, of suspicions being confirmed quickly afterward, but not during a match.

Could you vacate a title? Well, cheating to win, maybe. But, cheating to lose? No, the Cincinnati Reds are still listed as 1919 World Series winners.

No. 2? Possible. But likely? Contra a Boston cop quoted in that piece, no.

First, when you can make an extra $100-150K or whatever for winning the World Series rather than losing it, plus, even as a bit player, maybe a bit more in commercial endorsements, you'd have to be offered a lot of money to throw it. And, as with the original Black Sox, you'd have to have several players involved. And, unlike a tennis match, something probably would leak out before it got done.

That said, although the NBA has pretended otherwise, who's to say that Tim Donaghy wasn't shading calls in playoff games as well as the regular season? Donaghy himself claimed the league got refs to fix the highly controversial Game 6 of the Lakers-Kings Western Conference finals.

If you don't recall, the Lakers shot 21-27 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter versus 7-9 for the Kings. Per the link above, Mike Bibby was called for a defensive foul on an offensive foul by Kobe Bryant, while both Vlade Divac and Scott Pollard fouled out, being called for defensive fouls every time the Diesel dropped his shoulder.

On the other hand, just like the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals after Don Denkinger's blown call (and why has nobody alleged a fix there?!?!?!!?) the Lakers and Kings had a Game 7. Had Chris Webber not reverted to the same deer in the headlights fear of failure that led him to call a non-existent timeout as a Michigan Wolverine, maybe the Kings win anyway.

And, it's not just players, or managers, or referees. Think of Deflategate and Tom Brady's footballs. Or the person sneaking into the Giants locker room to steal Eli Manning's helmet. There's people making a lot less money than refs, let alone players or coaches, who could be "turned" and who could have the ability to do something.

Or hangers-on of various sorts. And not just cheating to lose, but simply using inside information.

Like, say, Rich Paul, LeBron James' agent and more. Let's say it's Game 7, Western Conference finals, against Kawhi Leonard and the Clips. Bron sprained his ankle in Game 6, and for the public, and even within the team, everybody is saying, "he's good." But, Rich knows differently. And bets on it. Both directly and through others. Or Kawhi's Uncle Dennis.

Is that cheating? No, not by NBA standards. At that moment.

What if Bron or the Klaw find out? Then, IMO, if they don't report, it is cheating.

College hoops, with the betting money of March Madness and the one-and-done nature of the tournament, would be more rife to fixing, especially since college athletes aren't paid. Note Hot Rod Williams and his regular season college point shaving and way back in the 1980s. Or further back, Kentucky All-Americans Alex Groza and Ralph Beard, eventually discovered after they were in the NBA.


In summary, some thoughts.

First, players are paid way too much to be gotten to throw a game. And, pretty much, managers.

So, it's going to be officials, team support personnel or player hangers-on that are going to try to use poor officiating, in the first case, access to equipment in the second, or manipulation of information, in the third, to cheat in various ways — though the third may not involve throwing games.

Second, by its nature, basketball is probably the easiest of the three sports to fix. Football, even though it has more players, with its quarterback focus, comes second, but it's behind basketball because you can't risk being too obvious. Baseball is third. Also, basketball probably makes it the easiest sport for fixing by ref.

Third, college sports, especially college hoops, offers more temptation than pro sports. There, players come into the picture.

Fourth, replacing officials with robots and cams (most feasible in baseball) won't help. The robot programmers can be bribed or the programs can be hacked.

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