ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” broke a story of great journalistic importance Monday, reporting that it had obtained copies of pages from an old notebook that prove Pete Rose bet on baseball not only as a manager but also as a player.
Whether it’s a story of great baseball relevance is another question, one being hashed out on Twitter and in online comment sections across the world.
But regardless of how you feel about the all-time hits leader wagering on baseball three decades ago, the story was another reminder of the strange and often uncomfortable relationship between sports and gambling.
On the very day the story appeared online, you could go to MLB.com, the official website of Major League Baseball, to click on a different article that begins: “Welcome to DraftKings fantasy baseball, the Official Daily Fantasy Game of Major League Baseball.” It was composed by a writer described as “the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com.”
It had all sorts of advice on which players to pick in that day’s daily fantasy baseball challenge, the type of wagering sanctioned by MLB and not the kind that will get you banned for life.
I’ll pause here for a minute so the comparison doesn’t seem too overstated. Our world is filled with different rules — implied or directly stated — for different people. This is why no one looks askew at an 8-year-old kid splashing down a water slide, but when a 38-year-old man comes barreling down it creates all kind of commotion.
So yes, I can comprehend that something that it is OK for an average citizen to do through agreed upon channels, such as betting on baseball in a fantasy game, is not OK for an MLB player. But still, this side-by-side, have-it-both-ways relationship between sports and gambling seems problematic.
And yes, fantasy sports are a form of gambling. In almost every case, you are offering some of your own money in exchange for the chance that you will receive even more money based on the outcomes of athletic performances. If you fail, you will lose that money. That’s gambling.
Rose’s betting on baseball — even on his own team, as long as he bet on them to win, not lose — in most cases had the same influence on a game’s outcome as you do when you bet on Brian Dozier to have a big game for your daily fantasy team.
MLB punishes one and promotes another, sending out a mixed message.