The Astros, Sports Betting And ‘Integrity:’ Why MLB Lost The Moral High Ground
Major League Baseball has officially lost the moral high ground when it comes to the “integrity of the game” and sports betting. That much is clear in the wake of the Houston Astros cheating scandal, and as the 2020 campaign begins with Spring Training. And yet, MLB lobbyists will continue to argue with state legislatures and, indeed, with anyone who will listen as the wave of legalization continues, that it is the arbiter of integrity. They’ll engage in intellectually dishonest arguments that will paint sports gambling as the scourge of baseball’s integrity when institutionalized cheating by the Astros had been going on under MLB’s nose for years. The latest revelation: Everyone knew about the Astros’ cheating, but no one did anything about it until the issue became unavoidable. I won’t spend a ton of time recounting the Astros brouhaha that has been covered extremely well by media outlets across the country. Suffice it to say that it’s beyond doubt that many in the Astros’ organization contributed to a scheme of stealing signs that violated MLB’s rules. But the MLB reaction to the scandal has created a large gap between its actions in reality, and the idea that is doing everything it can for the sake of “integrity.” And that’s important when considering if MLB should get any credit for being vigilant when it comes to integrity matters. It also clearly calls into question whether betting is even as big of a threat to integrity as cheating, which has nothing to do with gambling.
First, what MLB has said in regards to integrity and bettingMajor League Baseball has shouted long and loud about how much of a threat gambling on the sport threatens its underlying games. The history of the Black Sox and Pete Rose — though neither had anything to do with a legal, regulated gambling market — has long dominated the narrative around baseball and gambling. Here’s a sampling of what we have heard from MLB in the recent past on integrity and betting:
Commissioner Rob ManfredManfred has had a lot to say about sports betting in recent years. Some of the highlights specifically about “integrity.” After the fall of the federal sports betting ban:
On states passing sports betting laws:
“Even worse, they’re presenting a threat to the integrity of that product that will require us to spend money in order to protect that integrity. I just think it’s important to keep those fundamentals in mind.”
“We will never delegate responsibility for those integrity issues to state regulators, whatever their expertise in the gambling area may be. We have our own expertise and no one is more motivated than the commissioner’s office in baseball to make sure that there is no threat to the integrity of our sport.”So, to recap: Integrity is very important to Manfred. MLB also originally asked for “integrity fees” in state legislation before deciding that was an idea with bad optics and started asking for “royalties.” And for good measure, here’s former Commissioner Bud Selig circa 2012:
“[G]ambling on a sport, on any sport but on this sport is what you want to talk to me about is, I think, the deadliest of all things that can happen. It’s evil; it creates doubt and destroys your sport.”
MLB Senior Vice President Bryan SeeleySeeley is one of the people that MLB puts front and center on the sports betting issue. He also led the investigation into the Astros. So what has he said on the issue of betting and integrity?
- “We don’t want to see a race to the bottom where certain states decide that less regulation is going to mean more to their bottom line. We think there should be a floor. States should have to enact certain provisions to protect the integrity of the game.” (Baseball America)
- “You need as much data as possible to spot the real integrity issues. When I talk about that in meetings with people, they all nod their heads, it intuitively makes sense but again, it’s something the gaming industry is opposing.” (Boston Herald)
- “We are the product that powers sports betting, and we bear increased risks and costs to monitor integrity and protect integrity,” Seeley said. (MassLive)
How much effort is MLB actually putting into “integrity” not related to betting?The entire Astros’ situation reads like an organization that is pretending to care about integrity. It’s, at least, trying to make it a priority and failing miserably. Consider what we know and what MLB did.
- The Astros’ sign-stealing was hardly a secret in pro baseball, The Washington Post reports. So, we’re either to believe Manfred and MLB headquarters were oblivious to this talk, or they just ignored it. Neither scenario is particularly flattering or good for MLB.
- MLB classified the Astros’ scheme as “player-led.” But somehow zero current or former Astros players were suspended, only the team’s manager and general manager.
- We then learned from a blockbuster in the Wall Street Journal that the entire idea started with the Astros’ front office, starting in 2016. Manfred’s report left all of this information out.
- The investigation might not have even happened had it not been for the media and internet sleuths. It’s borderline crazy that this is what it would take to trigger the investigation into what would become one of the biggest scandals in baseball history.