double play: two sides to home plate

At one time baseball was America’s national pastime. Bugsy Seigel would go to Ebbet’s field and gamblers and bookmakers were part of the natural habitat of the game. Players almost invariably smoked and drank and advertised for these companies. There were no African Americans. The game itself was filled with cheats and the expression, “if you’re not cheating you’re not trying” came from dugout lore. In fact, the iconic poem, Casey At the Bat by Ernest Thayer may have had missing verses, indicating that the mighty Casey struck out on purpose since the game had been fixed. And in 1919 the “say it ain’t so Joe” Whitesox of shoeless Joe Jackson were convicted of fixing the world series, which may have implicated Arnold Rothstein the architect of modern organized crime and sports wagering.

Norman Rockwell. Read More:

Thats what it was about baseball: its flim flam nature that made it attractive. The garden of eden rhetoric, the purity of wholesome American living, the Abraham Lincoln constitutional validity as reflection of our values. The virtues of honest, hard working and fair play countered by wild unpredictability. A Mickey Mantle with his heartland appeal then boozing and womanizing all night and dragging himself to the ballpark next day. Lincoln meets P.T. Barnum meets Rothstein. In the end, baseball, like all cultural architecture projects something about who we are, what captivates us, and even what we fear.

from a recent book by John Thorn. In much the same way that pornography was a driver of internet innovation so the relationship or betting is intrinsic to baseball:

From the beginning, baseball’s rise coincided with professional gamblers taking notice. The people running gambling games realized that adults would be more interested in the game if they could make side bets during innings — and that the endeavor would also be profitable for the gambling halls themselves….

---Two Brooklyn Dodgers players getting their spikes shined in Cuba, where the team held spring training in 1941. This photo was up for auction at CubanBaseballCards in September, 2010, and according to description by Cesar Lopez, the creator of the Cuban Ball website, a sticker on the back of the photos reads “Property of Pee Wee Reese Library” and lists an address and phone number. According to the description: We tried to call this number just to make sure this photo was not stolen and then sold on the secondary market, but it was a wrong number. We’ve asked numerous industry experts if they know anything about this “Library” but none had heard of it. Read More:

“I don’t think you could have had the rise of baseball without gambling,” says Thorn. “It was not worthy of press coverage. What made baseball seem important was when gamblers figured out a way to spur interest in it. … In the beginning, there were people who turned their noses up at gambling but they recognized the necessity of it. You would not have had a box score. You would not have had an assessment of individual skills. You would not have had one player of skill moving to another club if there were not gambling in it.”

But the gambling money soon entered the game itself. It was easy to approach a player and ask him to throw a game for a percentage of the coffers. Read More:


Douglass Wallop, best known for his novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, described the scandal as “a labyrinth, an incredible maze of doublecrosses upon doublecrosses, of broken promises, of guileless stupidity among the players, of artful, cruel deceit among those who manipulated them—gamblers, baseball executives, and public officials alike.”

Of those artfully deceitful manipulators, Arnold Rothstein was the most skillful, a criminal kingpin who had his hand in all manner of illicit endeavors. Known as “the B

ankroll” and “the Great Brain,” Rothstein helped invent organized crime, and his influence survived his death in 1928. Meyer Lansky, himself a mythic American gangster and an architect of modern organized crime, was a Rothstein protégé. Lansky was the inspiration for Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Part II, the Jewish gangster who explains to Michael Corleone, “I loved baseball ever since Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919.”

Despite his diverse misdeeds, Arnold Rothstein’s legacy remains tied to the Black Sox scandal, as David Pietrusza describes in the recently published Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series. This is true even though Rothstein was not indicted by the Cook County grand jury that investigated the affair in 1920. Rothstein once said, “I wasn’t in on it, wouldn’t have gone into it under any circumstances, and didn’t bet a cent on the Series after I found out what was underway.” So he claimed. An earlier Rothstein biographer, Leo Katcher, put these comments in proper perspective: “No one really believed in his innocence, only in his cleverness.” Read More:

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