FORT MYERS, FLA. – The revelation by Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons that major league baseball’s new gaming partner, MGM Resorts International, would be getting advance notice of all teams’ lineups has been a subject of much spring training conversation over the past 48 hours.
As a standalone item, it’s not that big of a deal, but it does cause many questions as to how far down the road MLB will be willing to go to use gambling to grow its audience among the 20-to-40-year-olds that it has been losing.
Alex Cora, manager of the champion Boston Red Sox, addressed the gambling issue this week:
“This whole thing is serious. You guys know [catcher] Hector Villaneuva. He used to tell me stories from Taiwan, how the whole gambling thing was there. The pitcher was [stuck] in it, he was in it, then the umpire was in it.
“Nobody knew what to do. Throw pitches down the middle; he was taking pitches, and the umpire was calling them balls.
“For us to send the lineup, and if something happens, we have to re-send the lineup and then keep doing it -- hopefully I don’t forget.''
Tom Kelly, the two-time World Series winner as the Twins’ manager, grew up in New Jersey as a fan of horse racing, thoroughbred and harness. He also owned a kennel when the greyhound track was open in Hudson, Wis.
He is well aware of the passions that go into betting – and now that baseball nudges closer to embracing it as a potential revenue stream, he’s curious where it leads.
“Sometimes, we had the lineup posted when the players were leaving after a night game; always, we’d have it out by noon or a little later,’’ Kelly said. “A lot of things can change. I guess someone is going to have to be notified when it does.
“Plus, if you’re really doing this for MGM and the sports books to set a line – you got parlays, you have East Coast-West Coast combination bets … [managers] on the West Coast are going to have to get those lineups out early.’’
As at the race track, there also will be high emotions, as Kelly recalls encountering as he was riding to a Chicago racetrack late one afternon. The Twins had an early game, and a Twins’ pitcher with a Chicago background asked Kelly if he wanted to go to the track for night racing.
Kelly, the pitcher and another player – “maybe Bushie [Randy Bush], I can’t recall for sure,’’ Kelly said – were picked up in front of the team hotel by the pitcher’s acquaintances.
“Big car … one of those town cars,’’ he said. “Four guys, They were big, too.’’
The big car was progressing through traffic, the radio was on, and a sports update broke the news that Ryne Sandberg had been scratched from the Cubs’ lineup for a game that night.
“The four guys went nuts,’’ Kelly said. “They were hollering. They were in a state of panic. No cell phones then. We got to the track, parked, and they started running, looking for phones.
“I didn’t ask. My conclusion was that whatever they had done earlier in the day with Sandberg in the lineup for the Cubs, they wanted to undo with another wager.
“We got inside and I said, ‘Thanks for the ride. I’m going to go my own way here.’ ‘’
Brandon Lang runs a Las Vegas-based tout service at brandonlang.com. He sees the MGM deal as “window dressing’’ to attract bettors to that location.
“Here’s my advice: When you bet a baseball game, make sure it is with the starting pitchers listed as part of the wager,’’ Lang said. “Then, if Clayton Kershaw is supposed to pitch and he gets scratched, the bet’s off.
“And 80 percent of betting baseball is still the matchup of starting pitchers.’’
How about the “opener’’ that Tampa Bay introduced last season, and was copied by numerous teams, including the Twins in September?
“Tampa had some success with that, so we had to take a look at that,’’ Lang said. “Usually, you would go by the opposing team’s starting pitcher – depending on whether you liked him or not.''
And if it’s an opener vs. an opener? “We’ll cross those bridges when we get there,’’ Lang said.
Anything else? “Yeah, don’t forget: brandonlang.com. March Madness is coming up.’’