Playing poker with Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio may sound innocent enough on the surface. That probably explains why fans, at least to this point, have been largely dismissive of the latest A-Rod indiscretions (if true) and are expecting them to blow over quickly with little or no consequence. But while some will see this as just further indication that in his heart A-Rod pines to be a Hollywood jet setter, others will see it as Rodriguez worst indiscretion to date and grounds for a tough penalty from Major League Baseball. Put me in the camp of the latter.
Baseball has a long and troubled history with gambling and the criminal element, and Rodriguez has apparently already been apprised by Major League Baseball once that his participation in these types of poker games is unacceptable. In addition to the star-studded cast of characters we know about, we can bet that games of that caliber are typically hosted, attended and protected by criminals and high stakes professional gamblers. Therein lies the biggest issue, and likely MLB’s greatest concern.
Professional sports gamblers, good ones at least, typically have particular areas of expertise. Often, these areas of expertise are fortified with “inside information”, well placed contacts who can give information to gamblers that the general public has no knowledge of, information that could influence the outcomes of games and therefore information that when in the right hands could prove quite valuable.
It seems unlikely that Rodriguez would intentionally feed this type of information to that type of element, but without intending to do so, gossip and anecdotes told over a poker table could potentially yield invaluable insight to an unsavory element clamoring to discern it. For baseball, that would be a big problem.
Additionally, and more importantly, it would seem that most tales of athletes or insiders gone awry because of gambling, find themselves at the mercy of criminals because of their inability or unwillingness to pay back big losses from card games, bets on other sports or other gambling losses. No matter how much a person makes, coming out of big money is never easy. Michael Jordan’s alleged $1 million plus in golf gambling losses became an issue not because he couldn’t pay it, we knew about it because he didn’t pay it. Coming off of a million bucks isn’t easy for anyone…even Michael Jordan…allegedly of course.
While it’s unlikely that an athlete who’s made in the ballpark of half a billion dollars in his career could find himself in that kind of trouble, there are plenty of guys making half a million per year or less that easily could. As the poker craze continues to grow, MLB is in a position where, like it or not, they’ll be setting a precedent going forward. They’d better make it a strong one.
Most but not all of those who have been banned from baseball for gambling were implicit in the fixing of games, but on rare occasions simply consorting with a criminal or gambling element has led to action from baseball. George Steinbrenner was banned for 3 years after consorting with criminal Howard Spira to get “dirt” on Dave Winfield. One year for A-Rod would probably suffice if the accusations against him are true.
There are literally thousands of elements to sports that we the public can appreciate, celebrate, even demand, but without integrity in the games themselves the rest of those factors and elements become meaningless and all sports become pro wrestling. While A-Rod is a bad example of someone who could or should find himself in a bad way to a bad element; in the interest of those who are compensated far less, he needs to be made an example of.
Begrudge athletes and their salaries if you’d like, but one fact relative to those salaries seems clear: High compensation for professional athletes is supposed to insure integrity in the games. Gambling is a big enough business that gamblers would make athletes rich if their teams didn’t. That the teams do, is supposed to keep players (and officials) above those types of temptations and problems. And like it or not, in addition to the most insane top end salaries of any sport, baseball also seems to have more guys in important roles making half a million dollars or less per season than any other professional sport too. Surely they don’t want those guys sitting down and playing “Rounders” with actual whales, sharks and other sea creatures with unsavory intentions.
Speaking of “Rounders”, even if I’m wrong and baseball lets this whole episode blow over, I’d hope at least a 10-game suspension would come down from Yankees brass for losing his money to high profile Red Sox fans Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.