THE COUCH SLOUCH

Can the Black Sox betting scandal happen again? With legalized sports wagering growing, you bet it can

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My barber George asked me an interesting question the other day – could the Black Sox betting scandal happen again?

Since it does not take much time to cut whatever hair remains on my scaly dome, I could not fully elucidate an intelligent answer for him. So I'd like to take this occasion to provide George a more complete, nuanced reply.

Yes, it could.

In fact, as gambling seeds are increasingly planted across this foundering nation of opportunists, hustlers, grifters and, yes, gamblers, it is rather appropriate that this is the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Black Sox World Series fixing scandal.

That series is just the best and biggest example of a simple, unchanging point:

If there is money to be made, somebody out there is going to try to figure out a way to game or cheat the system.

A look back

For those of you not around in 1919 – I interned that summer on an oil rig off the coast of Montana – let me provide a quick primer on the facts (more or less) surrounding the Black Sox crookedness.

A gambling syndicate led by Arnold Rothstein (godfather of Bernie Madoff) and "Sleepy" Bill Burns (great uncle of Pete Rose) paid eight Chicago White Sox players to throw World Series games against the Cincinnati Reds; the irony here is that, 70 years later, Rose was banned from baseball for betting on games while playing and managing the Reds.

Among the White Sox taking money was outfielder Joe Jackson. Jackson accepted $5,000 in cash but then appeared to play his best, hitting .375. As punishment, the syndicate removed all his footwear, and the barefooted Jackson was known as "Shoeless Joe" for the rest of his life.

In 1920, the eight "Black Sox" were indicted on conspiracy charges, but all of them were acquitted in the trial the following year, largely because key evidence – including player confessions – had mysteriously disappeared. The court also cleared NBA referee Tim Donaghy Sr. of any involvement in the game-fixing.

But newly appointed MLB Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis – no relation to Bowie Kuhn – banned the eight players from the game for life.

Fast forward

Okay, let's now return to the 21st century, where time and again we discover, if money's involved – whether it is Wall Street or Wrigley Field, the racetrack or the poker room – someone somewhere in some fashion will try to rip somebody else off.

Gambling, from state lotteries to fantasy sports to old-fashioned point spreads, now is bigger than ever in America. The latest American gold rush is a renewed, legal commitment to taking as many dollars as possible out of people's pockets by dangling the mirage of winning lots of money in front of them.

I should inject here, in case you've forgotten – most people lose when they gamble.

At the moment, 13 states have legalized sports betting, five states plus Washington, D.C., recently passed bills to legalize it and 25 states have introduced sports-betting legislation.

Eventually, we will have in-game, in-stadium sports betting.

What could go wrong?

Worst case scenario

While we're here, let me tell you how the confluence of legalized sports betting and replay as an officiating tool will come crashing down on all of us.

First let's remember that New Orleans Saints fans, after last season's NFC championship game pass-interference catastrophe, sued the NFL – and they had no money on the line. Well, down the road, a massive "injustice" – an obvious call, not corrected by replay – will prompt an even bigger uprising in which many sports-wagering individuals will seek redress in the courts.

There are so many "players" involved here: The coaches and players themselves, the game officials, the anonymous replay officials in New York, TV producers who might bet and think twice about providing the right angle, sports-betting operators. It's all legal, and it's ripe for a fix.

Best-case scenario in this nascent betting bonanza? Your neighborhood bookie is run out of business and your local schools are enhanced by the regulated, taxed bounty pouring into public coffers.

Good luck with that.

Ask The Slouch

Q. You are being given a red card for your flagrant use of a "La Boheme" reference in a recent column. Opera has no place when discussing such important issues as professional sports. (David Blackburn; Gaithersburg, Md.)

A. No $1.25 here, but I'll accept the red card – how long does this sideline me from writing the column? I am due for another unpaid vacation.

Q.I'm watching NFL Network and Joe Namath is talking – 13-year career, 65.5 passer rating. Hmm. Why exactly is he in the hall of fame? (Scott LaBerge; Fort Collins, Colo.)

A. He was known as Broadway Joe and no NFL player ever rocked a fur coat like him.

Q. Yuengling recently teamed up with Hershey's to make a chocolate porter. Genius or beer blasphemy? (Joel Rondeau; Glendale, Wis.)

A. A. I love Yuengling and I love chocolate, but I am en route to Pottsville, Pa., as we speak to seek an annulment to this unholy marriage.

Q.How much should we expect NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to fine China for tampering? (Terry Golden; Vienna, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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