Friday, January 8, 2010

Heavy Gambling Among Teammates Is A Recipe For Disaster

  • Inter-team gambling can explode into tragedy:

I pay almost no attention whatsoever to the NBA, but the Gilbert Arenas gun incident has shined a light on something that goes on with every team in every sport----gambling among teammates.

The episode between the Washington Wizards' Arenas and his teammate Javaris Crittendon stemmed from thousands of dollars being at stake; harsh words exchanged; guns displayed; and the macho world of the professional athletes coming to the forefront and becoming public. The participants, the NBA and sports in general were lucky things were defused before they got out of hand and someone wound up dead.

After reading the NY Times article recounting what happened----link----I thought of Keith Hernandez's underrated book, If At First, and how he discussed card playing in the clubhouse and how money can affect team chemistry and morale. The quote from pages 121-122 follows:

Funny about this card-playing. Other years I've hated it. For ten major league seasons I haven't played cards. This year I play all the time, hearts mostly, my deck in hand as I walk through the clubhouse door. I don't know why.

I will not play for money, and that's one reason I've abstained in the past. Plenty of clubhouse fights, not with fists necessarily, but with bad words and bad feelings, have broken out over card games. If I were a manager, no gambling among my players would be allowed. Tony Carullo, the clubhouse man for the visiting team at Shea, reports that $500 is sometimes on the table when San Diego comes to town. Dick Williams must know about it, and must therefore condone it. How can I question him? He's only won championships in both leagues. But I wouldn't allow it, and wouldn't play with teammates in a gambling game when "with" becomes "against".

There are a few problems with trying to prevent players from playing cards for money. Even as the New Jersey Nets have banned gambling on team flights, there's very little that can be done when star players like the Wizards' Arenas decided to play cards for money without (or even with) the team knowing about it.

The only major sport in which something can actually be done is the dictatorial NFL where contracts are not guaranteed; the NBA, MLB and NHL have little power with their players to do much of anything about such activities. It's like recreational drug use, drinking and driving and other self-destructive/team-destructive behaviors----you can't babysit the players 24-hours a day. All a team can do is discourage the players from partaking in such activities and that's it. If a player decides that he needs the action of high-stakes card games to try and maintain the high he gets from the crowd adoration of a ballgame, it can't be stopped.

There's not much for the players to do during their downtime of sitting around the lockerroom, on planes, buses and in hotel rooms; playing cards just to play is understandably boring. It's surprising the pulling of pistols between teammates over money hasn't happened before. In Hernandez's day, players weren't making as much money as they are now and most weren't carrying guns.

It's a dirty little secret that big time athletes are packing loaded weapons nowadays. Given the way their salaries are such public issues and accessible at the click of a button (along with team itineraries and player addresses), if I were in their position, I'd carry a gun too. Players have a right to protect themselves and their families. The negative side of such "protections" is that it's natural that harsh words and threats escalated as they did with Arenas and Crittendon and guns were displayed.

Everyone's lucky that it didn't go down a different road. The macho world of the professional athlete in which no one wants to be seen as a punk contributed to this as well. Words and loaded weapons could've degenerated this situation into places where it would've gotten way, way worse with someone dead.

I've never been particularly interested in card-gambling. I prefer to spend my money----not waste, spend----on beautiful women, slow horses and uncooperative roulette wheels; these circumstances don't lend themselves to gunplay.

If I were a coach or manager, I wouldn't allow gambling under team auspices either, but what can a nondescript and replaceable coach/manager really do if a highly-paid star like Arenas wants to play cards? Tell him to stop? And what if he says no? Then what? It can be disallowed by the league, in the lockerrooms and anywhere else during team activities, but in hotel rooms or private gambling parlors? What can be done aside from frowning on it? Nothing. No field boss or even GM or owner is going to cut off his nose to spite his face by taking on a star to the point where he has to get rid of him unless he has no other choice. It's not happening.

The NBA is the venue where Latrell Sprewell physically choked his coach P.J. Carlesimo. Sprewell got his money from his contract with the Warriors after the assault and wound up rejuvenating his career with the Knicks. The coach's/manager's power is almost irrelevant in today's NBA, MLB and NHL; and it's only the dark tormentor that is the NFL that keeps their players in some semblance of line.

They're grown men----in theory anyway----and there's almost nothing anyone can do to stop this type of behavior aside from legislating and dissuading the players from engaging in it.

And we've seen how well that works in the past.

  • Viewer Mail 1.8.2010:

David writes RE Matt Holliday:

Holliday for 7 years $120 million?? Are the Cards crazy, desperate, or crazy desperate? Then again my criticism ends there because the Dodgers haven't lifted a noticeable finger this entire off-season and it's almost mid January...

I'm not as entrenched in the "overpaying/bad deal" camp regarding Holliday as many others are. He hit very well for the Cardinals after he joined them at mid-season and while he's not the mega-star he was with the Rockies, he's still a very productive hitter who'll protect Albert Pujols sufficiently while the two are in the same lineup.

That they've also got their nucleus----Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Holliday----locked up and will not allow Pujols to leave under any circumstances barring injury or unforeseen collapse makes this a smart decision. The brilliance of Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan and a weak division gives the Cardinals a guarantee at contention and more; it wouldn't have been worth it to have a staredown with Holliday and Scott Boras. The Orioles were lurking around Holliday and had enough money to compete with the Cardinals offer. In the grand scheme, they did the right thing.

With the Dodgers, you have reason to be concerned. The Giants have improved; the Rockies are loaded with young talent; and, much like the Mets, everything that went wrong for the Diamondbacks in 2008-2009 can't happen again. The Dodgers can only go so far with their young talent and Joe Torre's penchant for somehow, some way getting his teams to the playoffs. As of right now, they're a third place team at best.

The McCourts' divorce is wrecking the place almost as badly as Paul DePodesta----well, maybe not that bad, but it's in the ballpark.

Jeff (Underboss) at Red State Blue State writes RE the Hall of Fame voting:

You think Pat Hentgen is bad... some joker voted for David Segui. DAVUD SEGUI!!!!!!!!

Not much to say here.

CharlieRay writes RE my suggestion that Rays manager Joe Maddon is on the hotseat:

Maybe you did not do you homework on Joe Maddon and the Rays. I will make it simple. Why would a manager be on the "HOT SEAT" when he and his team had the second best year in the history of the team???

I'm eternally grateful for you making it simple for me.

Thank you.

But the second best year in the history of the club included a team that looked like they'd packed up and gone home after the trade of Scott Kazmir and faded from contention due in large part to Maddon's mistake-prone managing style; the team's inattention to fundamentals; and that he's a strategic lightweight. For a club that many expected to win the World Series to fall to 84-78 suggests that there was a problem somewhere.

With all the talent on that roster, the "second best year in the history" of a club that prior to 2008 had won a maximum of 70 games isn't exactly a grand accomplishment. That team would've won 84 games----or more----without a manager at all.

There are cases in which a manager leads his team to extraordinary heights due to reputation, strategic acumen or will----Joe Torre, Tony La Russa for example. Then there are managers who are along for the ride without much aptitude or credit applicable----Bob Brenly....and Joe Maddon.

If you're a Rays fan, you should want one of the best managers in the world to take over in Bobby Valentine; but if you're so enamored of Maddon, I wish you luck as the team falls under .500 this year in part because of their failure to act and bring in a manager who knows what he's doing on the field and can handle the clubhouse off the field.


Mike Licht said...

Gilbert Arenas -- what a card!


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