Now that there is about to be legalized sports betting all over the country, many in baseball have voiced concern about the “integrity” of the game. Mostly this has been Rob Manfred who has attempted to get a cut of various state’s sports betting action by claiming it’s necessary to protect baseball from the scourge of corruption.
As we’ve argued here many, many times, this seems more like an attempt at a cash grab by Major League Baseball than it is about genuine concern over gambling corrupting the game. I mean, yes, I am certain they do care about gambling being a problem, but given how closely the league has partnered up with gambling interests like MGM, it’s safe to say that it’s about much more than that. In any event, given how well players and even managers and umpires are paid, the risks of gamblers getting to ballplayers and game officials and having them throw games or something is way, way less than it might’ve been at an earlier time in baseball’s history.
The same cannot be said for minor league baseball, however. There the players are paid peanuts. Indeed, Major League Baseball made a point of lobbying Congress in order to get a law passed that makes sure they are paid peanuts in perpetuity. Gee, I wonder how those two things play together?
As the Boston Herald reports, not too well. At least not in the mind of Minor League Baseball’s president and CEO Pat O’Connor, who specifically cites the low wages of minor leaguers and says “it’s not if, but when” there is corruption from gambling on baseball. O’Connor lays out a scenario regarding how a player could, quite easily, become compromised. The general idea is that even the smallest favor for the smallest amount of money, while not truly threatening the game directly, could lead to a player being blackmailed under threat of being banned from the game.
Is that realistic? Hard to say. Seems a little cinematic in the way O’Connor describes it, but I’m sure people looking to get an edge illegally are more creative than he or I could ever be. There is not a lot of wagering on minor league baseball at the moment, so perhaps the concern is overstated, but that could certainly change, especially there are more and more places putting lines on sports across the country. And, of course, minor leaguers sometimes become major leaguers, so if a player is compromised early on like O’Connor says, it could prove to be a problem further down the road. I don’t know.
I do know one thing, though: casinos do not want compromised games. It could kill their whole business if people think a fix is in. Which makes me wonder if pressure from MLB’s partners in the casino business will lead to better pay for minor leaguers more quickly than any fleeting sense of human decency on MLB’s own part ever could.