A hundred years after the Black Sox scandal, MLB embraces baseball betting

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox gambling scandal that threatened to destroy the game, betting on baseball is front and center again in a way that must have Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the game’s first commissioner, spinning in his grave.

Major League Baseball is embracing legal betting at unprecedented levels. The league and its teams already had a partnership with Draft Kings, a pay-to-play fantasy league, and in November announced a multiyear marketing partnership with MGM Resorts International, one of the world’s largest gaming operators.

Last week, MLB announced another partnership, with a company called Sportradar, which will get global rights to transmit real-time statistical data and game feeds to regulated betting operations in the United States and abroad.

The league’s motivation can best be summarized in the old saw, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Or, hoping to get their cut, “There’s gold in them thar hills.”

At the same time, this push into baseball betting will come with rules and procedures within the game that will impact everything from official scoring to when and how teams can release lineups each day.

Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all 50 states, not just Nevada, should be allowed to adopt legal sports betting. Since then, according to an ESPN gambling-bill tracker, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Mississippi and New Mexico have approved full-scale legal sports betting.

New York and Arkansas are about to join them, and 29 other states, including California, have bills in the hopper.

Every spring, Major League Baseball security officials visit the 30 teams to warn players about potential scams, associating with the wrong people, staying safe on the road, the evils of drugs and such.

When the Giants had their meeting last week, the gambling issue was front and center.

“They led with that,” second baseman Joe Panik said. “When they lead with that, they know that’s what people will pay attention to. They always go over Rule 21. This time they talked a little bit more about gambling and paying attention to people you deal with and outside influences.”

Rule 21 is an outgrowth of the edict that Landis handed down in 1921 when he banned for life eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox for throwing the World Series against the Reds at the behest of gamblers. Team owners had hired Landis as the first commissioner, with unlimited powers, to clean up the game and restore its reputation.

Rule 21 not only forbids anyone connected with Major League Baseball from betting on games, which got Pete Rose banned for life in 1989, it also spells out punishment for players who throw games or do not give their best effort.

A hundred years ago, gamblers sidled up to players in hotel lobbies and back alleys to make their moves. Now, with instantaneous global communications, the opportunity for abuse is limitless.

Giants coaches and officials have not been briefed on all the new regulations, but they learned they now must submit their lineups to Major League Baseball for review at least 15 minutes before they are released to the press and public.

“We are updating a number of our procedures to reduce integrity risks associated with the expansion of sports betting in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling last May,” the league said in a statement. “One new procedure is that we now ask clubs to submit starting lineups in a uniform fashion in order to reduce the risk of confidential information being ‘tipped.’

“This approach mirrors those of international sports leagues in more developed betting markets.”

One avenue for abuse is official scorers, who decide between hits and errors, wild pitches and passed balls, and other stuff that can affect over-under betting on a team’s hits, wagers on a hitter’s or pitcher’s statistical performance in any given game or even prop bets on odd scoring decisions that could occur.

Major League Baseball has professionalized official scoring and standardized training in recent years for reasons that go beyond gambling. However, sources say screening of candidates is being tightened and scorers are being kept apprised of new policies they must follow.

Baseball’s agreement with Sportradar comes with “sports integrity” services.

“Sportradar will be monitoring and analyzing every MLB game via its award-winning fraud detection system and providing MLB with educational components, as well as access to its intelligence and investigations services,” the league’s news release said.

In other words, Sportradar will run millions of bits of betting and game data through its algorithms to ferret out anything that does not look kosher.

Are daily injury reports next? The NFL issues them partly to provide uniform information for bettors.

For this year, no.

Will ballclubs be required to announce starting pitchers by a certain time, including the use of openers, to keep things on the up and up?

Giants coaches don’t know, but they hope to find out before the season begins.

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