CASEY AT THE PLATE: BATTER UP IN BABYLON

Gambling, like pornography, has somehow arranged itself to be completely normalized; an integral element in our service based economy. It is still on the margins of acceptable discourse at the Sunday family supper, sort of doing a limbo under the vice bar.Its been crawling in from the fringes, one hand at a time. Certainly, the definition of vice has become more expansive. These days, an evening of gambling isn’t sinful; its a boys or girls night out, and a symbol of affluence that one has that much extra cash to afford losing. Those guaranteed pensions; easy come and easy flow into the coffers. The house never loses.

Satchel Paige. "An attempt to reorganize the Negro leagues in 1932 failed almost from the outset. One sad consequence was that disreputable promoters such as Gus Greenlee came to dominate the Negro leagues, which were tainted with dirty money of rum runners and gambling houses. A "silver lining" of the Great Depression was that the financial stress on major league franchises created an incentive that paved the way for future integration. Thus, more and more of the Negro teams were allowed to play in the stadiums owned by (white) major league teams."

It appears we have become, inadvertently, a society of gamblers. The appetite for games, and in particular, games of chance, keeps growing without bounds. In part, television is fuelling this drive for risk.This in kind, has helped create an aesthetic of gambling. The apotheosis of gambling as entertainment – people watching other people gamble; is one of those strange phenomena, like bottled water, that would never have been believed in fiction before it appeared in reality.

Most large urban centers possess a ring  of casinos within driving range,yet underground clubs in the city are constantly being raided. And yet, despite the raids, new card rooms sprout up all the time.Even once-pious politicians can’t resist a piece of that action.Praise the Lord and hope he deals you a good hand and point spread you can live with. Don’t blame the politicians: Government is merely following the public, like it’s supposed to do. In the good old days gambling was the preserve of the ambitious entrepreneur, and baseball, America’s  national pastime, was not immune.

This same research paper supports Mr. Rhoden’s comment that, “The treatment of the Negro Leagues was brutal and disrespectful.” Mr. Fort and Mr. Maxcy provide quotes from “Shadow Ball”. Most of the big league clubs didn’t pay the Negro league teams by buying up the players’ contracts, as they did when they hired away from a major or minor league team. Even Branch Rickey, who signed up to sixteen players for the Brooklyn organization, had an excuse for this theft of talent. Many of the Negro league owners were numbers runners, Rickey told reporters. That made the league a “racket” that wasn’t entitled to compensation. (p. 68-71) Effa Manley, manager of the Newark Eagles, put a different spin on Rickey’s “racket” angle: “He took players from the Negro leagues and didn’t even pay for the. I’d call that a racket” (Ward et al., 1994, p, 71). Mr. Rhoden acknowledges the gambling connections of some Negro Leagues owners and how Mr. Rickey exploited the situation.

”Howard Rosenberg, a researcher and author, has discovered 162 instances of players and team officials betting on baseball during the 19th century. Specifically, Rosenburg writes, “As my 2004 book will show, Cap Anson, baseball’s all-time hit leader from the 1890s until the 1910s, bet on his team in the regular season at least 57 times. And he was widely viewed as a symbol of baseball’s honesty.” These bets were not made secretly; Rosenburg found accounts in the newspapers of the day, and nobody seemed particularly concerned about these bets. It was, at the time, considered perfectly natural to bet on yourself to win. In fact, considering how many times players were paid to lose in the game’s early days, it must have been somewhat reassuring when a player went the other way.”

Casey at the Bat

“The whole history of baseball has a quality of mythology attached to it; as if connected to the fabric of American cultural identity. Yet the idyllic image of the game as idyllic has long had dark overtones that resemble a bittersweet fantasy. Bernard Malamud, who wrote the “The Natural”, tied this theme of American innocence and fall from grace into the story of Roy Hobbs, and engaging yet flawed man with murky ties to the underworld. The ending brilliantly evoked the Black Sox’ scandal, right down to the little boy on the courthouse steps pleading, “Say it ain’t so, Roy.” But, of course, it was because Hobbs was only a frail human without that majestic bat in his hands.

Chicago White Sox 1919

The roots of gambling in the game go back to its inception. The issue was first immortalized in the iconic poem ”Casey at the Bat” The connection with baseball’s founder Abner Doubleday and the occult world of Helena Blavatsky set the stage for organized gambling to act as clean-up hitters. The psychic and paranormal seemed to impregnate the game from its inception with the actual origins of the game clouded in obscurity;  the game traced back to ancient religious rites involving the sun, human skulls and religious orders.

Shoeless Joe Jackson. 1948

Is there a greater American myth than Casey, standing there pounding with cruel violence his bat upon the plate?

…And then shattering the air — and our dreams of success.

The poem, written b

nest L. Thayer, first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner of June 3, 1888. Thayer had been a school chum (at Harvard) of William Randolph Hearst, founder of the Examiner, and had come to San Francisco to work for Hearst. Thayer soon went back to New England, since he found the San Francisco climate uncomfortable, and scholarly disputes have raged about his whereabouts when the poem was actually written.

Abbott and Costello

Some scholars insist it is pure fiction. Others insist Thayer had in mind some actual game that took place near Worcester, Mass. Some say it was another game, elsewhere in New England. And some have amassed evidence that it referred specifically to a game played in Stockton, which has a low-lying district that has been called Mudville, and that “Casey” was modeled on a local hero named John Cahill.

The fact is that Thayer, who was sickly, actually dictated his poem into a tape-recording machine before copying it. Before transcribing the poem for publication, someone erased 18 lines from the recording. It has not been established whether this was an accident or a deliberate action, nor even exactly who did it. But advanced technology has been able to reconstruct the blank piece of tape, which survived.

The fix is in

Here, then, is the missing passage. starting in mid-stanza after line 42, ending “audience was awed”:

They knew he’d never fail them and they still refused to doubt
While suddenly a voice declared, “I’ll bet you he strikes out!”
Five thousand roars of laughter soon became a rising din.
I’ll take that bet,” and “So will i,” and “Hey, there, count me in.”
And while the gambling fever swept the stands from every side,
The pitcher threw a wide one and “Ball One” the umpire cried.

Ball Two inflamed the spirit of the Mudville betting clan
“Come on, let’s raise the ante, stranger,” yelled a local man.
And more and more believers in their Casey’s artistry
Displayed their faith with wagers while the pitcher threw Ball Three.

And now excitement mounted as the count had run its string
A walk would put the winning run on base — a foolish thing.
“I still say he will miss it,” called the stranger, loud and brash.
“I’ll double every bet and cover any extra cash!”

The crowd responded wildly, turning to this reckless knave.
And no one paid attention to the wink that Casey gave.
For the stranger came from Reno — and Arnold was his name.
And his brother’s son was Casey, who’d agreed to throw the game.

Casey

And why such ambiguity about the location? —-Likely  Because Casey and Uncle Ar-nold( Rothstein? ) worked their little con game from one coast to the other, re-peatedly. It is possible that  Thayer, a fine investigative reporter who uncovered the story, was forced by threats to keep still after the tape was erased. Casey and Uncle Arnold, you see, had powerful underworld connections. Now you know why Casey struck out, as well as when and how, and why the tape was tampered with.

Some owners eagerly sold players; others watched helplessly as players were signed and snatched away, their biggest stars snapped up and absorbed into white baseball with no compensation for the team. Worse, there was not respect for the leagues that had produced Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and other great players.Rickey brazenly snatched Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs, saying, “There is no Negro League as such as far as I’m concerned.” Rickey said that black baseball was under the control of “rackets,” referring to the several Eastern owners with gambling associations. Rickey insisted that Negro Leagues “are not leagues and have no right to expect organized baseball to respect them.” Mr. Fort and Mr. Maxcy explain that Mr. Rickey and MLB had a more tangible and important justification in denying the existence of Negro League baseball than its connections to gambling.

1865: Officially, “professional baseball” hadn’t yet been invented. But in this, the last year of the War Between the States, baseball in something like its modern form had been played for a couple of decades, and for some number of those years players had been paid under the table. In 1865, a gambler named Kane McLaughlin paid a New York Mutuals player named William Wansley $100 to ensure that the next day’s game against the Brooklyn Eckfords would be won by the Eckfords. Wansley, in turn, paid two teammates $30 apiece to facilitate the fix.

The plan “worked,” with the Eckfords winning 23-11 and Wansley doing more than his share. He was a bit too obvious about it, though — in five innings behind the plate, he was charged with six passed balls — and shortly afterward an investigation revealed the plot. All three players were suspended by the National Association of Base Ball Players (eventually, all three were reinstated).

The life and death of black baseball is symbolized by the lives of Rube Foster and Jackie Robinson. Foster built black baseball and Robinson, inadvertently, helped tear it down. Like Foster, Robinson was a pioneer. Although a generation and different approaches separated them, the two men represented the same general ideals: integration and empowerment. But Robinson did not realize the complex effects of segregation on black and white communities, and failed to balance the goals of integration and empowerment. In the end, he achieved one without the other.

“Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentine short story writer, provided a fascinating glimpse of exactly such a society in his story The Lottery of Babylon, from his 1941 collection The Garden of Forking Paths. His fictional Babylon develops into a government of the gamblers, by the gamblers, and for the gamblers, from a lottery much less dramatic than our own $50-million Lotto Max.

What begins as a simple drawing of lots by the barbers in Babylon develops into an elaborate system where negative outcomes are distributed along with the prizes; players receive punishments as well as rewards. Some tickets result in mutilation, while others result in brief periods of public adulation. Eventually, the lottery determines all sorts of random events: “One decrees that a sapphire of Taprobana be thrown into the waters of the Euphrates; another, that a bird be released from the roof of a tower; another, that each century there be withdrawn (or added) a grain of sand from the innumerable ones on the beach. The consequences are, at times, terrible.”

"i would say that our patients never really despair because of any suffering in itself! Instead, their despair stems in each instance from a doubt as to whether suffering is meaningful. man is ready and willing to shoulder any suffering as soon and as long as he can see a meaning in it"- viktor frankl. true, and yet,....

The story leaves open the question of whether the gambling really runs Babylon or whether it is a metaphor for the unpredictable turmoil of the city, or of any city full of random events, accidents and coincidences. Gambling reflects the volatility of life. That’s why it’s more popular now than ever before. Our lives are more volatile and becoming more so all the time. ( Stephen Marche )

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