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Gambling At The Grate

As a young adult, we knew a guy of the older generation who, prior to departing for Las Vegas for a couple of days, would say, "I hope I break even. I need the money."

Of course, if he were alive today, that glib gentleman wouldn't have to travel to Nevada to attempt to hold onto the cash he already possessed. At last count, 35 states have casinos, and any sports fan can legally open an account on FanDuel, BetRivers, DraftKings or PointsBet, the "Official Sports Betting Partner" of NBC Sports, the local carrier of White Sox games.

Tune in to any Sox game to not only watch a ballclub with a nine-game division lead, but also to learn about ways to make money gambling on Tony La Russa's charges.

It all sounds very lovely. There are so many ways to win. Simply wager on whether the Sox will win or lose, try the Over/Under for runs scored for each team or the entire game, make a bet whether the Sox will score in the first inning, and so much more.

What's missing from all the encouragement is the codicil that most people not only don't break even, but losers far outnumber winners. I mean, why does PointsBet exist? To lose money? I suspect not.

According to Legal Sports Betting, the 2,430 major league contests each pandemic-permitting season offer "half a million different wagering opportunities each and every season."

That much action has the potential to save the game from extinction, a possibility if you listen to the denigrators of the sport, formerly known as the National Pastime. So what if a game takes at least three hours and is filled with little more than walks, strikeouts and home runs? At least a bettor can win a few bucks at the end of the night.

The uptick in gambling on baseball just may be targeted on the demographic that the game most needs, according to people like Commissioner Rob Manfred, who frequently is tinkering with the rules to make baseball more attractive, especially to younger people.

Approximately one in five Americans bet on sports of which 80 percent are males. Of that number, half are between the ages of 18 and 34, a metric that no doubt has not escaped Manfred's observation.

Common knowledge tells us that the NFL receives the most action in terms of bettors and dollars, but baseball's daily grind has beckoned a bit more than one-third of people who bet on sports. That translates to millions of the nation's citizens. Meanwhile, 62 percent of the bettors wager on NFL games.

While the lords of baseball present an oft-repeated refrain of declining revenues, rising salaries and union woes, the 20- and 30-somethings buy bleacher seats, swill beer with their girl or boyfriends, and bet on the games. Maybe not at every park, but certainly on both sides of town in Chicago.

Having once been part of this demographic and from subsequent years observing same, invincibility tends to be a characteristic of this period, certainly more so than what lies ahead 10 or 20 years down the road. Assuming one is employed, single, a renter, and a lover of summer and the out-of-doors, why not wager a few dollars to entice the experience of going to the ballpark or watching the game on TV?

That's fine and dandy as long as one can afford the unperceived risk. As PointsBet buries the message, call 1-800-GAMBLER if problems arise.

With events such as last Monday when the Sox tangled with the Minnesota Twins in two seven-inning games at The Grate, those problems presented themselves with a richness seldom seen.

Most baseball gamblers first look at the pitching match-ups when making a wager. In the first game last Monday, a fellow named Griffin Jax - you can be excused if you haven't the slightest idea of who he is - was on the mound for the Twins, opposing All-Star Lance Lynn for the Sox.

This should have been a field day for the chalk players. Jax had been toiling at Triple-A for most of the season. He was making his sixth appearance for the big club and just his second start after being recalled from St. Paul. Jax came into the game with an 8.66 ERA over 17⅔ innings. Of course, Lynn has been a trooper all season as he was on Monday, pitching seven innings on a yield of five hits and one earned run.

Only problem was, for some inexplicable reason, Jax baffled the White Sox. He lasted four innings, and the only blemish was a solo home run by Tim Anderson as the game headed into extra innings tied at one. Meanwhile, Jax took a shower elated with the fact that his ERA plunged to 7.48.

The Twins scored twice in the top of the eighth off relievers Garrett Crochet and Ryan Burr, and when the tying run in the person of José Abreu died at second base with one out in the bottom of the eighth, the underdog Twins were victorious.

What was even more distressing, for all fans, not only the Sox bettors, was that Twins' ace José Berríos was facing the Sox in the second game, while Reynaldo Freaking López, of all people, had been promoted from Charlotte to face the Twins.

López, who unabashedly pitched himself off the team during spring training, had been struggling all season at Triple-A. In 10 starts, he was 1-6 with an ERA of 7.62. His teammates refer to Reynaldo as "Lopey," but most fans know him as "Dopey."

Nevertheless, he wasn't awful a week ago, just ineffectual. Departing after three innings, the Sox trailed 2-1, the first run resulting from Lopez's errant pickoff throw in the first inning.

Meanwhile, Berríos was throwing pitches that Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn might have had trouble hitting. Berríos was that good heading into the top of the seventh with a 3-2 lead.

But then it all fell apart for the Minnesota ace. Brian Goodwin singled; Berríos hit Andrew Vaughn with a pitch; and both runners advanced on a wild pitch bringing Gavin Sheets to the plate. Berríos fell behind 3-1 and then grooved a fastball to the Sox rookie, who propelled the ball far into the night. When it landed halfway up into the right centerfield bleachers, the Sox season added one more magical note. Uncharacteristically, La Russa even effused joy, hugging the Sox rookie slugger, and probably thinking, "We sure dodged a bullet in this one."

In addition to guaranteeing that the Sox wouldn't lose any ground in the standings, Monday's competition illustrated the extreme difficulty in predicting the outcomes of games that appear to be mortal locks.

If anyone needed further proof, Sunday night's encounter in Milwaukee provided plenty of evidence. Lynn again was involved, but this time he was matched against the Brewers' Brandon Woodruff, another All-Star with a glittering 2.04 ERA. The Brewers were a slight favorite to notch a sweep of the three-game series.

The Sox scored three times off Woodruff in the second inning, which was enough for a 3-1 win. Once again Lynn was superb, surrendering the lone run in six innings of work.

However, it was Lynn's two-run single that plated the winning margin.

Since coming over to the American League in 2018, Lynn was hitless in 11 at-bats. His last RBI came in 2015 as a member of the Cardinals. In 330 plate appearances in his career, Lynn is hitting .086. Yet his base hit to right field off one of top pitchers in the National League made a winner of the White Sox and confounded all the bettors as well as Lynn's teammates and the crowd of 36,877.

We learned last week that an ordinance permitting sports betting at Chicago sports venues, including The Grate, will be introduced to the City Council. Would-be wiseguys no doubt think this would be a wonderful development. Visions of running to parimutuel windows at The Grate in the fourth inning to place a bet on the Sox to score in the fifth creates an adrenalin rush. Just don't tell anyone they'll be lucky to break even, let alone pad their wallet.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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