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Grateful Gambling

The sign resided at the oldest ballpark in the country, Birmingham's Rickwood Field, built in 1910 and the former home both of the Birmingham Black Barons and the (white) Barons. Perhaps it was a vestige of the Black Sox scandal, but the message pretty much resonated in major and minor league stadiums throughout the country for decades. So much for ancient history.


Over the weekend, the Sun-Times reported on the employment of John R. Daley by the White Sox as a lobbyist to promote legislation that will permit a sportsbooks at The Grate, home of the playoff-bound ballclub on the South Side.

The name resonates in a city run by the Daleys for 43 of the 55 years between 1955 and 2011. This Daley is the nephew of Richie and grandson of Old Man Daley. Naturally.

The paper reports that 11th Ward (home of the White Sox) Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson is "supportive . . . of sports betting at stadiums and arenas." The same Patrick Daley Thompson who has been indicted for failure to pay back a $219,000 loan from a now-defunct bank although he allegedly deducted the interest on his income tax returns. If true, what a bad boy.

Before the end of the article, another indicted alderman, Ed Burke (14th), also is mentioned, but only tangentially as far as gambling in Chicago's sports venues is concerned.

All of this appears to be a done deal - the Ricketts' on the North Side already have an architect's rendering of what their two-story sportsbooks will look like at the corner of Sheffield and Addison. According to the Sun-Times, the owners of the Cubs are doing their own lobbying, although John Daley is representing Jerry Reinsdorf and the Wirtz family for betting at the United Center. More from the S-T: "A White Sox spokesman says: 'John is well-respected in his field . . . '" And what field is that?

Of course, the surest bet is that in the next five years all the aspiring wiseguys will be able to wager at pari-mutuel windows in our city's major sports venues. Ironically, the one place where this has been true for almost 100 years, Arlington Park, will have been reduced to rubble.

Historically, when newspaper articles reported on sports gambling, often the subject focused on bookmakers, both mob-connected and smaller, independent entrepreneurs, who got busted for taking bets. Often a "front" was mentioned as a way for the bookie to disguise his real business. I'd call that working two jobs, an admirable trait.

More often than not, the lone crime was accepting wagers. No bank fraud, bribery, tax evasion, or worse. Perhaps those old fellas' biggest mistake was timing. The practice now has become acceptable and legal, like smoking (or eating) pot.

Confounding the reporting is that the Sun-Times says a gambling license from the Illinois Gaming Board costs $10 million along with an annual fee of $5 million. Or what White Sox players Lance Lynn and Cesar Hernandez, respectively, are making this season.

However, the ordinance in front of the Chicago City Council stipulates just $50,000 upfront and then $25,000 annually. I think the Sox could afford that.

All of which reminds us once again that the games and the fan experience continue to witness rapid change. Simply look at last week's performance by the White Sox.

On any given day, manager Tony La Russa won't use all of his team's top six players - Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, José Abreu, Luis Robert, Eloy Jiménez and Yasmani Grandal - at the same time.

Last week, they lost a three-game home series to the Angels before winning two-of-three against the Rangers on the road. All six of La Russa's stalwarts played together twice - on Tuesday in a 9-3 win and again on Friday when the Sox blanked the Rangers 8-0. That's a combined 17-3 for those of you keeping score at home. With at least one of the top six sitting, the club lost three-of-four.

We must conclude from La Russa's lineups that he's willing to surrender home-field advantage to the Astros in the division series rather than risk injury to any of his stars the last month of the season. Perhaps that's sound reasoning. Perhaps not. Both the Sox at 49-27 and Houston (47-28) play their best baseball in their home parks.

The Astros presently lead the Sox by three games. If the clubs have identical records at season's end, Houston owns the tie-breaker, a 5-2 head-to-head advantage over the local crew. Houston's remaining schedule includes seven games against also-rans Arizona and the Angels before meeting the A's and Rays the final week.

Meanwhile, the Sox will play the Tigers six games, starting this evening with three in Detroit. Later this week La Russa's squad will have a five-game series in Cleveland. Sometime during that stretch, the South Siders will clinch the AL Central Division title.

Since July 1, the Sox lead has never been less than five games in front of their closest pursuer. When they do clinch, I can do without the Champagne shower, goggles and plastic sheeting covering the lockers. For three months this ending has rarely been in doubt. This is simply a first step for a team far superior to its division brethren.

What might make La Russa's lineup-shuffling strategy more palatable would be a minimum of mental errors by the guys on the field. In Thursday's 9-3 loss to the Angels, the Sox trailed 2-0 in the fourth inning when Anderson bobbled a potential double-play ball with two men on and no one out. Andreson still had a force at second except Hernandez made no move to cover the bag. Anderson was charged with an error, Lopez fell apart, and before the inning ended, the Sox trailed 7-0. High school kids get benched for losing focus in that kind of situation, but Hernandez finished the game.

On Sunday, Gavin Sheets stood on second base with one out when Romy Gonzalez hit a comebacker to the pitcher. For some unfathomable reason, Sheets took off for third and was an easy out. I get it. He's a rookie who's prone to mistakes. But c'mon, this is basic stuff. Make mental mistakes of this nature in a close post-season series, and the boys could be taking an early vacation.

Also Sunday, Moncada grounded into a first-inning double play, running maybe 75 percent in trying to beat the throw. Remember "Rickey's Boys Don't Quit?" No, I don't either.

Jason Benetti and Steve Stone have pointed out more than a few times that La Russa no doubt has told his charges to pace themselves. Don't run hard on routine ground balls. Pick your spots. Sounds like the NBA where resting star players is common and "load management" has become part of the vocabulary.

At the same time, fans pay more for tickets than ever before and cable fees are through the roof. Yet the expectation to see the best players on the field or for an athlete to run as fast as possible for 30 yards is often unmet.

But don't fret or complain because in the near future we'll be able to wager to our heart's content right at the old ballpark regardless of who's on the field or how fast they run. There are those of us who don't think that's an even trade.


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

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