Thursday, May 17, 2018

Gambling Ban Reversal Has Joe West Scared "to Death"

MLB's senior-most umpire and World Umpires Association president Joe West says that the United States Supreme Court's decision to lift a federal ban on sports gambling "scares me to death," positing that ump safety is in greater jeopardy now that gamblers have more freedom to bet on games.

Joe West is concerned for umpires' safety.
Before writing this off as an umpire taking things to the extreme, bear in mind the MLB Players Association confirmed that its members have similarly expressed concerns about safety and criminality related to the new gambling reality—monetary wagering, it turns out, is something that players and umpires agree on.

As Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett said: "It’s amazing what drunk fans that hate their lives will say to players even with no money on the game. Can't imagine anything worse."

Maybe a former Reds manager, who bet on baseball, flagrantly pushing a former NL umpire while arguing a call he didn't like. Oh wait, I'm saving the Pete Rose-Dave Pallone story for later.

MLBPA director Tony Clark echoed West and Gennett's concerns, as pertains to his group's membership: "The court's decision is monumental...From complex intellectual property questions to the most basic issues of player safety."

SCOTUS ruled New Jersey can bet on sports.
But why does the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling to reverse a 1992 federal law that had prohibited most states from legal sports wagering—a ban that the NCAA, NFL, and NBA supported—have Joe West scared "to death"? Maybe this will help explain (we'll get to why MLB didn't join the others in a little while).

First, the Supreme Court's decision refers to a New Jersey case concerning sports wagering: The NJ party was legally prohibited from gambling on sports in that state thanks to the 1992 federal ban. The Court's decision to lift the federal sports betting prohibition applies immediately to New Jersey, and the remainder of the country (except Nevada and other states where some form of sports gambling is already legal) will have to decide, on a state-by-state basis, whether to permit sports betting in the respective state.

As to West's reaction, unlike the players' version of fan-imposed pressure, umpires not only must worry about fans affected by a perceived missed call against their chosen team or by fandom's anti-umpire echo chamber, but by incendiary player (and coach, and broadcaster) comments that accuse umpires of wrongdoing, too.
Related PostThe Blame Game (Umpire Scapegoating) (8/8/14).

The umpire perspective is a bit more complex than that of the players' and goes back to the oldest testament of the old non-ump line of thought: if it's not the team's fault, then surely it's the umpire's. It's scapegoating and when taken too far—as money can do—it can be devastating.

When exactly is enough, enough?
Had Ian Kinsler held his tongue against Angel Hernandez and not taken it public, it would have sufficed.
Had he taken it public and not said that Hernandez "needs to find another job," it would have sufficed.
Had he said "he needs to find another job" and not said "he's just that bad," it would have sufficed.
Had he said "he's just that bad" and not said "he's messing with games, blatantly," it would have sufficed.
Had he said "he's messing with games, blatantly," get the idea.

Angel Hernandez ejected Ian Kinsler in 2017.
Although MLB's CBA with the player's association contains a provision that states the Commissioner (Rob Manfred) or Chief Baseball Officer (Joe Torre) may suspended a player without pay for, amongst others, "making public statements that question the integrity of the game, the umpires, the Commissioner and/or other Commissioner's Office Personnel," the league office decided not to suspend Kinsler and instead opted to fine him the paltry sum of $10,000.

That's right, Kinsler—a player who made $11,000,000 in 2017—was fined $10,000, or 0.09% of his salary, for publicly impugning Hernandez's integrity.
Related PostToken Gesture - Kinsler Fined $10k, .09% of $11m Salary (8/21/17).
Related PostFined - Kinsler Not Suspended for Hernandez Comments (8/18/17).

For illustration's sake, if a person who makes $50,000 per year were fined 0.09% of his or her salary, the penalty would be $45—$90 for a $100,000 salary, and $135 for $150k.

Yeah, that'll show him. Meanwhile, the damage is done, and if a fan were to take Kinsler's words seriously and interpret Hernandez's "blatant" "messing" as "cheating me out of my wager," suddenly Joe West's umpire safety concerns make a lot more sense.

SIDEBAR: Kinsler's previous relevant disciplinary history included a 2010 one-game suspension for returning to the field after having previously been ejected.

ALSO RELEVANT: Manfred's office suspended Joe West in 2017 based on the findings that West violated the MLB-WUA collective bargaining agreement when he answered a reporter's question of who MLB's biggest complainer is with, "Adrian Beltre."
Related Post: Source - Joe West Suspended 3 Games for Beltre Comment (8/8/17).

Maybe MLB's CBA with the players' union doesn't matter as much as its basic agreement with WUA.

No wonder the umpires took to a white wristband protest against "escalating verbal attacks on umpires and [WUA's] strong objection to the Office of the Commissioner's response to the verbal attacks."
Related PostWUA-MLB Relations Deteriorate with New Umpire Protest (8/19/17).

Speaking of "cheating," Brandon Belt Wednesday night responded in the affirmative to a postgame question of whether he felt cheated by home plate umpire Doug Eddings' game-ending strike call, accusing Eddings of manufacturing the call in order "to get the game over with."

Belt's comments were apparently so scathing that USA Today headlined the story as, "Giants slugger Brandon Belt questions umpire's integrity after questionable call ends game."

Undeterred, Belt expanded his critique and accused umpires of applying their monumental level of influence to harm players: "You can't have those guys affecting careers and affecting games like that."

Isn't it frustrating when numbers don't lie?
Sounds similar to Mets 3B Todd Frazier, who earlier this season accused umpires of "put[ting us] in a hole every day of the week," referring specifically to six games played from April 26 through May 2 when umpires were 95.3% accurate on favorable pitches to Frazier (93.8%) overall, and not one miss pertained to a terminal pitch (e.g., a called third strike). We followed Frazier for the next four games in which he went 2-for-16 to see if the umpiring really was subpar. In a finding that should surprise no one, the umpires were fine: they were 97.7% efficient at not erroneously calling strikes on pitches thrown outside of the strike zone.
Related PostTodd Frazier - "These Umpires Have Got to Get Better" (5/3/18).
Related PostAnalysis - Catching Up With Todd Frazier 5 Days Later (5/7/18).

Guess what the Commissioner and league did in response? ... ... ... I can't find it, either.

Time to break out the white wristbands again? Clearly, MLB has no respect for its officials, right?

Can player discontent breed fan uprising?

Gil's Call: Hyperbole aside, this much is clear. When more players defame more umpires, the denigration and disparagement becomes normalized and acceptable—and we're not even talking about physical assaults or players throwing things at umpires in disgust (don't read the comments...don't read the comments).

When demonization and degradation of umpires becomes acceptable, it becomes physical.

And Joe would know: a baseball thrown from the stands landed on Joe's crown in Milwaukee in 2017.
Related PostAssault - Joe West Hit in Head by Ball Thrown From Stands (6/30/17).

Lest one thinks there's no possible way an upper deck fan could hit an umpire with a baseball, a witness confirmed that prior to the toss, the suspect said, "Ump, you're going to cost us the game."
Related PostCold Case - Police Closing in on Joe West Assailants (12/19/17).

Now add a wager of $1,000 to "the game" and see what happens.

There was the KBO that fined Korean teams that sent money to former umpire Choi Kyu-Soon, and that time Lenny Dykstra claimed he blackmailed umpires through extortion schemes, and the time the New York Times accused MLB of trying to intimidate its umpires, but what really matters is that the players play and the gamblers gamble, right?
Related PostKBO Fines Korean Teams That Sent Money to Ex-Ump Choi (11/28/17).
Related PostLenny Dykstra Claims He Blackmailed Umpires (10/27/15).
Related LinkSports of the Times; The Poison Threatening The Umpires (7/18/01).

Shouting at someone: An American tradition.
Donald Collins tracks assaults and batteries on his website's Attacks on Officials page, sharing notable news clippings of violent criminal behavior perpetrated by players, coaches, parents, and fans against sports officials—all of which have occurred with, seemingly, no explicit monetary wagering involved. In these numerous examples, we've seen anything from a (relatively) minor bump to threats ("I will kill you") to actual murder. So money should help make those go away, eh?
Related Link: Attacks on Officials (

From the league's own players can publicly accuse umpires of a plethora of nefariousness without worrying that the league will seriously do anything about it to fans that feed from that behavior, West is concerned that adding money to the vitriolic mix will make things exponentially worse.

Then there's the issue with how to prove when a team or player has thrown something at an umpire versus when antipathy is simply implied—yet at the end of the day, regardless of explicit intent, an umpire's been physically harmed.
Related PostDid Detroit Throw at Umpire Wolcott? A Visual Analysis (9/14/17).
Related PostCoach Filmed Allegedly Plotting Umpire Assault (6/2/17).

Commissioner Manfred has a different take.
Despite West's supposition that, "I don't think anybody thinks [gambling is] good for the game," MLB Commissioner Manfred's comments regarding gambling and baseball don't exactly echo anything said by West's WUA or Clark's MLBPA: "Sports betting happens....Are we better off in a world where we have a nice, strong, uniform, federal regulation of gambling that protects the integrity of sports, provides sports with the tools to ensure that there is integrity in the competition…or are we better off closing our eyes to that and letting it go on as illegal gambling?"

So while Manfred appears to have not yet taken a particularly strong stance on the gambling issue, which explains why baseball did not join the NCAA, NFL, and NBA in opposing the overturn, his overarching message carries a valid consideration. Whatever the posture of WUA and MLBPA—and MLB itself—the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to lift the federal betting ban, meaning that gambling will occur with or without league support or condemnation.

Pete Rose pushed Dave Pallone in April 1988.
The only question is how will the league interact with this new legal reality? What policies and procedures will address gambling, from financial regulations to participant safety initiatives?

Maybe baseball should ask Pete Rose. Wait wait, belay that. Pete was one of those players who bumped umpires—though at least the league had the wherewithal to suspend him for 30 days for bumping Dave Pallone...and a permanent ban for betting on the game. Yeah, money's definitely more important.
Related PostManager Pete Rose bumps Pallone over purported late call (CIN)

This should serve as yet another reminder that sports is a business. I can't wait to bet on Little League.


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