Did ‘Ballgate’ Burn Baseball Bettors?

Bombshell report got buried beneath frenzy of lockout and free agency news

As November gave way to December, Major League Baseball was consumed with a veritable drunken tizzy of multimillion-dollar free-agent signings and, soberingly, a lockout that some observers think might result in the cancellation of some regular season games.

Lost in this fog was a Business Insider report wherein MLB officials acknowledged using two different types of baseballs — one of which flew off the bat, in addition to a far less lively ball — without really telling anyone (namely, the players) about it.

This report should have been a bombshell, for reasons mainly related to the integrity of the game and, in turn, its betting product. Because of all the Scherzer, Seager, or (work) stoppage news making waves within the sport, however, it got relegated to a lower rung of consciousness.

“I think it will [erode confidence] once it becomes more publicized or mainstream,” former Vegas bookmaker and current sports betting media personality Dave Sharapan said of the story. “Right now, there was a report and it went out and it’s gone. The news cycle’s so fast. I think once it gets brought back up again, it might [have more of an impact]. But right now, I think baseball has a little more to worry about than balls.”

That may be, but as one scout told Business Insider, “The ball is the game.” And with that game on hold until the players union and owners decide to kiss and make up, there’s no better time than the present to explore what “Ballgate” might mean.

‘Do they know what’s going on?’

“There’s a fair amount of distrust between players in the league on certain topics, and this is one of them,” union leader Andrew Miller, who pitched for the Cardinals last season, told Business Insider. “I think now we know what we know about how small the change in the baseball can greatly affect the way it travels, the way it’s thrown, or its ability to be gripped or whatever it is — like, those parameters may be pretty wide. And if there’s room for manipulation, that is concerning.”

Long story short, with the help of a baseball manufacturing expert, Business Insider determined that there were two distinctly different baseballs put into play during the 2021 season. Few, if any, players knew of it. Major League Baseball pointed to production delays caused by COVID as the reason why it used both balls, while one anonymous player speculated — without any supporting evidence — that the league might have sent livelier balls to prime-time matchups “like Yankees-Red Sox and Mets-Phillies” while providing other games with deader balls.

An anonymous American League scout called the clandestine use of the disparate balls “a big breach … of competitive integrity,” while veteran reliever Sean Doolittle zeroed in on how this might impact gambling on the sport. 

“There’s a lot of money at stake there,” he said. “You know, like, setting odds and stuff like that. And, like, do they know what’s going on?”

According to John Murray, executive director of sportsbook operations for Las Vegas’ Westgate SuperBook, “they” — i.e., oddsmakers — should know what’s going on, provided they’re paying proper mind to certain trends.

“I think it’s our job to adjust accordingly as things change and as the market changes,” he told US Bets. “You should notice something’s different after a few games or a few weeks. You’ve just got to be paying attention.”

Baseball’s black eyes tend to heal swiftly

But Robert Kowalski, Murray’s Reno-based counterpart with ZenSports and Baldini’s, feels a bit burned.

“Everyone wants to ensure that we’ve got a square product,” he said. “If we find out much later down the line that we’re going to play with a different ball, I sure would have loved to have known about that.”

Major League Baseball, of course, is no stranger to scandal, be it in the form of steroid-enhanced sluggers, spitballs, or trash-can sign stealing. All of these incidents create a black eye for the sport, but those shiners tend to heal rather swiftly — especially in the eyes of bettors.

“People love to gamble,” said FOX Sports betting analyst Sam Panayotovich. “There was a little bit of buyer’s remorse after the Astros’ saga. But I talked to multiple bookmakers after they got caught and they said nothing really changed. It’s not gonna stop the general public from betting a little to pay a lot. They love to make futures bets and that’s never gonna change.”

Image: Shutterstock


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