Crowne Corner

Alas – an intelligent look at the Robin Ventura grand slam hype. Was it game fixing at its finest? The ever skeptical Rob Crowne investigates.


© 1999 Rob Crowne & Assoc, Inc., all rights reserved

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore”  — From the movie, Network


 Rob Rants

Question:  When do you win a bet and the bookmaker is allowed to not only refuse to pay you but to keep your original stake? 

Answer: When the rules allow the game to be fixed.

In baseball there is a rule that I call “The Game-Fixing Rule,” because its only apparent purpose is to make run-shaving easy.  The rule says that in order for a home run to count, the batter must touch all the bases, including home plate.  I defy anyone to tell me a logical reason for this rule, other than to give to the batter the option to fix the game.  Once the ball goes over the fence, it is a home run.  For the sake of tradition, it would be nice if the rules allowed a “victory run” around the bases, but why is the player required to make this run before the score will count?  Is some skill required to walk around the diamond?  Is there some reason why the batter might not make it all the way around the bases, besides his own desire to manipulate the score?  A home run is a home run.  There is no reason to touch the bases except to allow the player the option of intentionally nottouching the bases. It’s a rule the sole purpose and result of which is to permit game-fixing.  Pure and simple.

Game-fixing is defined as the intentional manipulation of a game in such manner as to create an artificial result.  In the fifth game of the pennant series between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves, in the bottom of the 15th inning, a Mets player made history by openly and publicly fixing the outcome of the game. 

The score had been tied at 2-2 from the 4th inning all the way to the 15th.  In the top of the 15th inning the Braves scored to make it 3-2.  In the bottom of the 15th the Mets again tied it up at 3-3.  The bases were loaded and Met Robin Ventura was in the batter’s box.  Not coincidentally, the posted total in Las Vegas was 7 ½ runs.  Millions of dollars were riding on the results of this at bat.  Tens of thousands of “over” bettors prayed for a home run, while tens of thousands of “under” bettors prayed for a hit or a sacrifice fly.  Ventura swung the bat.  It was a rocket line drive that sailed over the fence at the 371 mark so fast that the announcer had no time to prepare the listeners.  It was a grand slam home run!  Or at least it was grand slam before the result was intentionally changed and manipulated.  Mets bettors and “over” bettors celebrated along with Mets fans.  The final score was 7-3, it went up on the score board.  Then suddenly everything changed. 

This game was different from every other playoff game in the history of the sport.  This game was about to be fixed.  In every other game in playoff history, when a grand slam was hit, the players all waited at home plate for the triumphant batter to return from his victory trip around the bases.  As he touched home, his teammates would pile on, congratulate him, and carry him off on their shoulders.  There is a reason why they do not mob him immediately after the ball flies over the fence.  It’s the “game-fixing rule.”  If the batter does not round the bases and touch each one, the grand slam won’t count.  It will go down in the record books as a sacrifice fly.  Instead of four runs scoring on the grand slam, only one run will score.  Besides, it would be unseemly to interrupt the player’s moment of glory or steal his spotlight.  Ventura began to round the bases. The game was not over until he got back to home plate.  As Ventura rounded first, one member of the Mets organization, no doubt an “under” bettor, bolted onto the field toward Ventura.  This was an act that was the equivalent of the chorus line mobbing the star during his bows and applause.  It just isn’t done.  Nevertheless, when one person started toward Ventura the rest of the prematurely-rich rabble followed like lemmings.  They mobbed Ventura between 1st and 2nd.  When they were done congratulating him, Ventura, exhibiting all the maturity of a little leaguer, opted to leave the field with them and before completing his jog of the bases.

But all was not lost.  The score was still 7-3.  The rule does not limit the time that the batter can take to round those bases.  He can bask in the glow of victory as long as he likes.  All that is necessary is that he eventually round the bases.  After the initial  celebrations, the announcer for NBC Sports brought Ventura over near home plate for an interview.  He pointed out to Ventura that the grand slam would not count until he touched all the bases.  Then the announcer, appearing for all the world like an “over” bettor, told Ventura to go back and round the bases while the camera followed.  Ventura started to back away like someone was trying to hit him with a lead pipe.  The announcer, either looking for the NBC news exclusive or hoping to collect his bet (it’s hard to know which) actually reached over and pushed Ventura toward the bases.  As Ventura backed out of reach he mumbled something along the line of “I’ve had enough.”  Enough what?   Enough of being asked to manipulate the score first one way and then the other?  Enough grand slams in his career.  Enough home runs?  Enough RBI’s?  Enough history-making plays? 

Where are the investigators?  The score was not changed until it became clear that Ventura was intentionally refusing to round the bases, and would never do so.  When Ventura left the field, then score became official at 4-3.  In this case, instead of a grand slam home run, Ventura was credited with a single because he had touched first base.  In the records of a sport that lives and breathes records, Ventura got only one RBI instead of four.  The Mets got only four runs in the game instead of seven.  The “under” bettors got paid.  The “over” bettors got a shave. 

Why would Ventura’s buddies on the Mets want to cost him credit in the record books for an historic grand slam?  Why would they want to steal Ventura’s spotlight?  What could have induced people from the Mets organization to suddenly bolt onto the field of play and stop the game while it was still in progress?  Why didn’t Bobby Valentine, the Mets manager, who was also on the field, order everyone off?  Why didn’t Valentine tell Ventura to continue around the bases for the proper recording of team records, and more important, to maintain the integrity of the game?  Why, after the celebrations were over, did Ventura absolutely refuse to go back and finish walking around the diamond?  What was it that concerned Ventura more than his own record?  All these questions need to be asked.

I know what you are saying.  Baseball is just a game.  All that is important is the win.  Gambling is illegal and, therefore, no one cares about maintaining the game’s integrity for the gambler.  Well don’t tell that to the 18 and 19 year old kids whose lives are ruined and who sit in our federal pens as a result of point shaving and game fixing charges.  Gambling on sports is legal in Nevada.  Our lawmakers have passed laws aimed at maintaining the integrity of the results of sporting events on which gambling takes place.  You never saw anyone arrested for shaving points in a school yard pick-up game did you?  The laws against game fixing and the act of sports betting are inextricably entwined. 

If this was a college game, the FBI and investigators from the federal prosecutor’s office would be all over the campus the next morning asking the exact questions I asked.  They would be looking into player associates, agents, and any trips to Vegas.  Is it simply that our children are easy marks?  Going up against OJ Simpson or the Mets organization is quite a different matter.  Our prosecutors seem incapable of picking on someone their own size.  Our lawmakers have chosen to pass laws for the purpose of maintaining the integrity of games.  To maintain game integrity, we must have consistent enforcement of that intent.  As a gambler, I, too, am concerned in maintaining the integrity of results.  It is that integrity that allows the continuation of sports betting.  Every time a gambler fixes a sporting event, he is plunging another knife into the goose that is laying the golden eggs.  Is there any doubt that, if left to his own devices, Don King will soon turn betting on professional boxing into something akin to betting on professional wrestling?  There will not be any betting on professional boxing if Don King is left to continue along his merry way.  It is time we be consistent.  If these are just games, nothing more, let’s stop prosecuting and jailing college kids for point shaving.  Are we a nation of spiders who like nothing better than to eat our young? 

What is the difference between a player who intentionally strikes out at the plate because he is in a hurry to go out on a hot date, and a player who does the same thing in order to collect a bet?  The result is the same.  There is no integrity to the result.  I am sick of watching coaches decide sometimes to kneel down and demonstrate “sportsmanship” while, other times, pulling out all stops to make the final score which is meaningless to the game but all-important to the spread.  I get tired of watching the same player throw the ball half court at the buzzer trying to make the meaningless basket in one game, while dribbling out right under the basket and disdaining the lay up in the next.  Those actions, however, inconsistent as they may be, can nevertheless be excused as part of the game.  It is part of the game to protect a lead.  Running a play or shooting a basket might result in a turnover.  Kneeling down can be excused as part of the game, and going for the unnecessary score can be excused as part of the game.  What Robin Ventura and the Mets did last night is not part of the game.  There is no reasonable excuse for it.  It is about time we started to investigate the Don Kings and the Robin Venturas. 

It has been suggested that if Ventura were intentionally trying to fix the game he would not have hit the home run in the first place.  My answer is “How do you know when the intent to fix the game was formed?”  Has there been an investigation?  The most likely time of any desire to fix the game was not necessarily at the time Ventura swung the bat.  The most likely suspect is the first person to interfere with the game result by running on the field.  Any undue influence upon Ventura could have come afterward.  Do you have some better explanation for his refusal to put the grand slam in the record books?  Personally, I hope this keeps Ventura from breaking some record some day, or that this haunts him and casts suspicion on him for the rest of his life.   

The fix came not when Ventura hit the ball, and not when he left the base line, but when he intentionally created an artificial result in a sporting event by later refusing to round the bases and record the score.  That refusal is game fixing and point shaving by definition.  To make matters worse, the media has spun this story to turn Ventura into some sort of hero.  One reporter described him as someone who “unselfishly sacrificed his own record for the good of his teammates’ celebration.  That reasoning is akin to praising a jailed post game rioter as someone who unselfishly sacrificed his freedom to help his buddies party. 

The League should be brought to task for the rule that allows blatant fixing to occur.  I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the fans broke through security and ran on the field instead of the team.  Would the runs have been scored, or can any disgruntled bettor assure himself a winning bet by hiring rowdies to jump onto the field of play and body slam the base runner or chase him off the field? 

Write to the Commissioner of baseball.  Tell him you are concerned with the integrity of the game.  Tell him you are tired of being shaved.  Ask him why baseball has a rule that allows a player to decide to shave points with impunity.  Ask him to investigate.  Tell him you want the rule abolished.  While you are at it, write to the US Attorney in the Eastern District of New York located in Brooklyn and suggest an investigation.

Unfortunately, you will have to mail complaints to the appropriate people and places (although phoning the Mets offices may act to make them aware of public sentiment in the matter)..  Here are the names and addresses that you will need:

To contact Allan H. Selig, Commissioner of Baseball; Paul Beeston,

              President and Chief Operating Officer; Dr. Gene A. Budig, American League

              President; and Leonard S. Coleman Jr., National League President, you

              can send letters to:

              Office of the Commissioner of Baseball

              245 Park Avenue

              New York, New York 10167

               New York Mets

               Shea Stadium

              123-01 Roosevelt Avenue

              Flushing, N.Y. 11368

              Phone: (718) 507-METS

              Fax: (718) 639-3619

              United States Attorney

Eastern District of New York

              225 Cadman Plaza East

              Brooklyn, New York | October 22nd, 1999

– – – – – – – – – – – –About the writer
Rob Crowne is a professional level sports bettor and owner of the Crowne Club. His free pick line was the impetus for the creation of our site. 

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