Monday, August 29, 2011

Charlie Hustle, A-Rod, Gambling & Poker

My autographed photo of Pete RoseMy love of baseball probably peaked around the age of nine. That’s when I played little league, collected cards, tuned into games on AM radio, and never missed the “game of the week” on television. When we eventually got cable, I watched more games, and would even sometimes score them as I did. (No shinola.) I also sent letters a few times to players asking for autographs, and in just about every case I received replies, often with signed photos.

The only one of those pictures I managed to save from those days was from Pete Rose, who for a while there was right at the top of the list of my favorite players. That's the photo to the left, and the envelope in which it arrived is below. (I feel like I might have told this story before on the blog at some point, but searches aren’t turning up anything, so I suppose I have not.)

The envelope in which Pete Rose sent me an autographed photoIt was some time later, well after my fascination with the game had waned, that Rose, a.k.a. “Charlie Hustle,” was accused of having bet on games and was banned from baseball in 1989. Despite a mountain of evidence against him, Rose would deny the accusations for the next 15 years before finally admitting that he did, in fact, bet on games, but only for his own team to win. By then no one was really listening to him, though, that long period of denial having made it difficult for many to give him any credit for finally ’fessing up.

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure it was Rose’s troubles that helped ensure I’d hang on to his autographed picture while losing track of the others. Might’ve partly been out of an idea that it’d be worth more as a result, although I’ve never thought much about selling it. Could’ve also been just because I felt sorry for Rose, in a way, I don’t know. In any case, while the kid in me still gets a kick out of him sending me the picture, my more mature self agrees with most that what he did was very wrong, and his refusal to admit to it for so long made it all even worse.

Found myself thinking about Rose after reading about Alex Rodriguez’ meeting last Friday with “officials” of Major League Baseball to talk about his poker playing -- or at least about the allegations of such. Despite being injured for much of the summer, Rodriguez has been in the news quite a bit over recent weeks. But all of the stories seem to concern his poker-playing, not his bum knee.

One such story came in the wake of those lawsuits being filed against participants in that big Hollywood home game who won money off of Bradley Ruderman, the hedge fund guy who ended up convicted of swindling his clients via some sort of Ponzi scheme. Tobey Maguire was kind of singled out among those who were sued, but other famous folks like Gabe Kaplan, Nick Cassavetes, and Rick Salomon were targeted, too. (I wrote a bit about Maguire’s situation in my latest Epic Poker “Community Cards” post, if you’re interested.)

Shortly after those lawsuits came to light -- they’re being brought in order to try to recover some money for Ruderman’s victims -- a story emerged that Rodriguez apparently played in the games, too, although that was soon refuted both by Rodriguez as well as one of the participants, the poker pro Dan Bilzerian.

Alex Rodriguez playing pokerThen last week came another story about Rodriguez allegedly playing some high-stakes poker at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs near the end of his stint rehabbing with the Yankees’ Triple AAA affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. That story also was refuted both by Rodriguez and representatives of the casino. (That photo of Rodriguez and Jay-Z is from much further back -- a celebrity tourney back in 2006.)

In any event, the MLB wanted to talk to Rodriguez in part because he’d been connected with underground poker games in New York previously (back in 2005). And because the league is obviously super-sensitive to any players being connected with gambling in any fashion, not least because of situations like the one involving Pete Rose years ago.

A-Rod of spadesThere wasn’t much in the way of specific news about the meeting on Friday, other than Rodriguez saying he’d answered all of the questions asked of him. The Wall Street Journal piece about the meeting tells about how Rodriguez was asked if he thought it wasn’t fair that his trip to the Pennsylvania casino -- just for a steak dinner, Rodriguez alleges -- drew so much attention, Rodriguez sounded kind of melancholic about it all.

"I guess that’s just the world we’re in,” he said. “There’s a moving goal post. Those are the rules and it is what it is. Sometimes you just want to say uncle."

When Rodriguez refers to the “rules” here it is hard to tell what exactly he’s referring to, although it sounds like he’s talking about “unwritten” rules in our culture regarding gambling (“that’s just the world we’re in”) or perhaps more specifically the MLB’s recommendations that players steer clear of casinos or any gambling-related activities. At least that’s what the “moving goal post” comment seems to suggest -- namely, that the “rules” outlined to Rodriguez in the meeting perhaps haven’t been spelled out anywhere in particular.

Interestingly, the last time I wrote about Rodriguez here it had to do with his breaking an “unwritten rule” by running over the mound on his way back to first base after a foul ball. And, of course, Rodriguez is also well known for having broken another written (but poorly-enforced) rule when he used performance enhancing drugs from 2001-2003. Rodriguez admitted to the latter in 2009 after a list of players (including A-Rod) who’d failed tests in ’03 was published by Sports Illustrated.

My buddy Rich Ryan wrote a thoughtful op-ed for PokerNews a couple of weeks ago titled “Sports and Poker Don’t Mix” in which he essentially says pro athletes should say “uncle” and stop courting trouble by playing poker. I can see where Rich is coming from, but I can also see how some would object to players being unreasonably restricted or discouraged from entering a casino and/or participating in legal poker games.

Pete Rose in Las VegasI think again of Pete Rose. I remember visiting Las Vegas a few years back and while walking down the strip suddenly coming upon Rose sitting at a table, signing autographs. Looked a little closer and (if I remember correctly) saw it was $50 for an autograph, and $100 for a photo with the all-time hits leader.

Many who’ve visited Vegas over the last few years have seen the same sight, and probably shared the same thought I had about Rose and his legacy -- forever linked with his gambling -- and how Vegas perhaps seems a weirdly appropriate setting for him now.

I didn’t bother to wait in line to pay for a signature or photo or anything. I did stand and watch Rose a short while, though, thinking about the autograph I’d gotten for free so many years ago.

You know, way back before our heroes all started to fail us, with Rose (for me) one of the first to go. I guess for some Rodriguez would be one of the more recent examples. If so, I’d hope it’d be for reasons other than his poker playing.

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