Baseball’s Legitimacy and Milk: An Expert’s Take on A-Rod’s Poker Habit

Professor Roger I. Abrams

Alex Rodriguez is under investigation by Major League Baseball for allegedly participating in illegal poker games.  Sources from the Commissioners Office have told the media that Rodriguez could even be suspended if the rumors are confirmed.  Rodriguez and the MLB are currently discussing a date where the two parties can meet regarding the allegations.  The Legal Blitz spoke to Northeastern Law Professor Roger I. Abrams to get a perspective on Major League Baseball’s gambling policy.  Abrams has served as a salary arbitrator for the MLB and wrote the book, The Dark Side of the Diamond: Gambling, Violence, Drugs and Alcoholism in the National Pastime.

Why does Major League Baseball care if Alex Rodriguez plays poker?  If he is not gambling on baseball what is the difference?

Gambling has been the source of significant problems in baseball since its origins in the mid-19th century.  We all know about the role of gamblers in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, but as early as 1877 the Louisville Cardinals threw the National League pennant for a payoff from gamblers — and the game has always been plagued by players who gambled.  Alcoholism and gambling have been the two major vices afflicting the national game.

Under Rule 21 for misconduct, it appears as if the rule only prohibits gambling related to ballgames, under what rule could A-rod be suspended or banned?

The commissioner has disciplinary power under the broad “best interests of baseball” rule.1

The 1919 Chicago "Black Sox" were not baseball's first gambling scandal, however, it left a permanent black mark on the game.

What precedent has Major League Baseball set when it comes to punishing gambling, specifically when it does not involve betting on baseball?

Of course, there is no need for precedent.  Each commissioner acts pursuant to the broad provisions of the Major League agreement. The commissioner — and before that job was established in 1920, the league presidents — have, at times, banned players who have gambled (on the other hand, during the 1903 the boston and Pittsburgh players openly gambled and announced their bets in the local newspapers).

In today’s game of multimillion dollar contracts and lucrative endorsements, it seems unlikely that a player will roped into throwing a game in order pay off gambling debts.  Should baseball loosen its policy on gambling not directly involved with games?

Baseball’s legitimacy depends on the public’s appreciation that the game is played “on the level.” Association with gamblers is a sufficient taint to raise suspicions, even if A-Rod has plenty of money. The policy should remain air-tight.

Do you think the commissioner would actually impose any serious penalties on Rodriguez for playing poker, or do you think this week’s statement was more of a warning shot?

I need more facts about the actual event — and so too does the commissioner. He has shown his willingness to “step up to the plate.”

As a baseball fan, are you bothered by players participating in illegal poker games?

Sure, I think the players should drink milk and be in bed by 10 — ok, maybe later after a night game. Some teams seem to be asleep by 10 even when there is a night game.

1Under the Major League Agreement, the new Commission was broadly empowered to “investigate, either upon complaint or upon his own initiative, an act, transaction or practice, charged, alleged or suspected to be detrimental to the best interest of the national game of baseball, (and to determine and take) any remedial, preventive or punitive action (he deemed appropriate).” The Agreement also expressly provided that the Commissioner’s decisions would be final and could not be challenged by the clubs in court. – MLB.com

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2 Responses to Baseball’s Legitimacy and Milk: An Expert’s Take on A-Rod’s Poker Habit

  1. Henry says:

    It strains credulity to argue that an underground poker game that Alex Rodriguez may or may not have played in has any relationship to the “best interests of baseball.” MLB has no basis whatsoever for getting involved in this until Rodriguez is convicted for taking part in illegal gambling.

  2. Greg says:

    Private poker games, of any size, are legal in California as long as the sponsor “rakes” the pot no more than 5 times in a night. Thousands of people, including celebrities of all stripes, play poker in the World Series of Poker. It seems the public is well able to differentiate between poker playing and the type of gambling that might endanger the reputation of baseball. The notion that A-Rod even associating with gamblers (like Jennifer Tilly and Matt Damon) will cause the public to think baseball isn’t “on the level” is a baseless accusation unsupported by any evidence other than the personal prejudices of this professor and, apparently, the commissioner.

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