Three Strikes: World Series Fix, Dodgers Debt, and Sac Bunts

Cubs may have thrown 1918 World Series

The infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox may have gotten the idea to throw a World Series from their north side neighbors, the Cubs. At least that is the implication of a recently released court document. The evidence is vague and far less convincing than that in the Black Sox scandal, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think the Cubs may in fact have fixed their 1918 World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Say what you will about escalating salaries for major leaguers—at least we don’t have to worry about games being fixed (by the players, that is). Money, of course, was at the root of the World Series scandals. Players felt their owners were being stingy and so they opted for a quick and easy (if morally despicable) cash grab. These were players who worked other jobs in the offseason and used Spring Training to actually get into playing shape, two aspects of the game that are almost beyond believable considering player salaries today (the league minimum is $414,500).

While we can only hope higher salaries ensure pro athletes will play hard, we can guarantee they keep them from accepting bribes.

The same can’t be said of the officials, which is why we still can’t be certain games are always fair. We’ve seen it uncovered as recently as 2007 when NBA referee Tim Donaghy was indicted on charges of gambling on playoff games.

Gamblers betting big bucks can offer officials big bucks, enough to get them to believe it is worth the risk to fix a game, apparently. I don’t think the salaries of officials should be elevated to the point where accepting a bribe would be preposterous, so we can only hope the leagues do their best to prevent such behavior in other ways.

I doubt the rise in player salaries had anything to do with fixed games, but it is an unintended consequence that benefitted the game.

Dodgers seized by MLB; are Mets next?

After it was revealed that the Los Angeles Dodgers arranged a $30 million loan from the FOX television network in order to meet payroll, Bud Selig and Major League Baseball seized control of the club yesterday. “I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club,” Selig said in a statement.

In an interview earlier this month with Peter Keating of ESPN the Magazine, the commissioner was asked about the financial situations of various teams.

The Mag: How do you decide when a team is extended too far into debt? There have been reports of the Mets getting help from baseball, and the Dodgers have asked for a credit line.

Selig: We have debt-service rules that are a part of our economic structure. In the Mets’ case, there was a loan made, as there was to Texas, because a circumstance warranted it. We have a repayment schedule that makes sense. We made a business decision. We lend somebody money, they pay us back.

The Mag: About how many teams’ debt levels are you comfortable with right now?

Selig: Almost all.

It seems Selig added the word “almost” because of the Dodgers. Here in New York, Mets fans are wondering whether their team will suffer the same fate as their fellow National League club on the opposite coast. Only time will tell. At least the Dodgers don’t have the worst record in baseball.

Sacrifice bunting: Is it ever wise?

Speaking of the Mets, last night they hurt themselves in several ways, as they seem to do every game. Here’s one example: In the 9th inning, with the Mets trailing 4-3, manager Terry Collins ordered No. 2 hitter Josh Thole to bunt with speedster Jose Reyes on first and no outs. Statistics—of which there is never a shortage in baseball—show that sacrifice bunting is a bad idea in most cases. A team’s chances of scoring a run that inning decrease if a sac bunt is used (in this case, stats show that a runner has a better chance of eventually scoring from first with no outs than he does from second with one out).

I think this is especially true in this situation, where you have one of the best base stealers in baseball on first, a player who could get to second base on his own without giving up an out (and we won’t even get into whether the Mets should have been playing for more than one run considering their weak bullpen). The result of this play was Thole popping up his bunt attempt and Reyes getting doubled off first. Some blame goes to Thole for failing to get down the bunt; a little more goes to Reyes for losing focus; but the most blame has to go to the manager for calling this play in the first place.

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