So maybe Arnold Rothstein wasn’t such a villain for fixing the 1919 World Series after all. Maybe he was just 98 years ahead of his time.
Oh, don’t get us wrong, Rothstein was an awful human being on any number of fronts, and if there is a hell, he’s working on one of the coal-fired boilers.
But Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s latest attempt to introduce a more earnest discussion about legalized sports betting (hint: MLB has equity in DraftKings) is a sign that Rothstein was on to something – but just took it a bit too far.
(We will now pause while you consider how Michael Lerner’s portrayal of him in Eight Men Out was superior to Michael Stuhlbarg’s version in Boardwalk Empire).
Manfred spent time on a panel with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and is doubling down on remarks he made last year about looking at baseball’s relationships with legalized gambling, but added the notion of what he calls “a federal framework” for sports betting that would expand current law prohibiting single-game betting outside Nevada.
Baseball has already put one foot in the water by allowing casinos to advertise in their ballparks – money in – and their investment in DraftKings suggests that after an idiotic attempt to seize the proprietary rights to baseball statistics – money out – that they are planning to get back ahead of the gambling curve – money back in.
It is difficult to quantify if this will get younger people with younger disposable income more interested in the sport, but it is an undertapped market, and you know how entrepreneurs hate an untapped market.
That’s what Rothstein saw in 1919, after all, when the scheme to fix the Series was brought to him, after all. He could not have known, for example, that his work would inspire the making of almost certainly the best baseball movie of all time, but he knew a fast buck when he saw one.
In fairness, Manfred is not saying he is going to steer right toward legalized single-game wagering. Among other things, there is the matter of repealing PAPSA, the law that prohibits such betting outside our neighbor to the east, and repealing a law takes years (as opposed to executive orders, which can be dashed off without a moment’s thought).
In addition, it would be exceedingly difficult to actually fix a game given the levels of money it would take to buy off an influential principal (say, a manager or umpire, let alone a player). I mean, in case you were worried that there are budding future Rothsteins out there – besides, most of them are more prone to get into hedge fund management.
But Manfred, like Silver, is acknowledging that betting goes on – as opposed to NFL harlequin Roger Goodell, whose industry generates the most gambling money of all – and that if there is money on the table to be had, they’d both be very much in favor of having it.
Of course, this opens mild debates on whether the potential Hall of Famers who have been kept out because of gambling, most notably Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, but while that would greatly amuse the chattering classes who love Hall of Fame debates because of the way it eats up time that would otherwise be wasted on loved ones and charity work, that’s not what this is about.
This is about the accumulation of a share of the as-yet-undercharted gambling world, and now that the NHL is invading Las Vegas and the NFL is considering it, the anachronism of denying its impact sits poorly both with Silver and Manfred.
Besides, the fleeting notion of Arnold Rothstein being inducted into the Hall of Fame some day is simply too delicious not to promote. Michael Lerner can accept the award on his behalf, and can designate Michael Stuhlbarg to present him. That way, nobody’s feelings get hurt, and everyone goes away slightly wealthier for the Bizarro World experience.