A landmark week for the ‘fastest field game in the world’ — and for one of the slowest, writes Larry Ryan
The people at UNESCO were unable to say no to probably the most evangelical lobby they have ever encountered — and hurling is now a protected cultural activity. One grand old game locked in.
The United States hasn’t adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, so baseball must take its chances without the UN stamp of approval. Undoubtedly another constant worry for baseball people, who have not been nearly as sure of themselves lately as hurling people.
With crowds and TV ratings shrinking, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has been adamant that games are too long.
The pitchers might match the speed of any 21-yard free, but an average MLB game lasted 198 minutes in 2017, up from 166 in 2005.
“Pace of the game is a fan issue,” Manfred reiterated, earlier this year, pushing through new rules to cut delays. It has been the defining theme of his reign, concern for the boredom endured in the bleachers.
Until this week, when the MLB signed its first ever gambling partnership — with casino giants MGM Resorts. And everyone involved realised they’d been a little hasty coming down so hard on the boredom.
“Baseball is perfectly suited for this,” said MGM Resorts chief executive Jim Murren. “People will be talking about the next pitch, the next out, the next inning… regardless of the score.” And the leisurely pace, Manfred noted, “gives an opportunity to be creative with respect to the types of wagers” between plays.
The traditionalists will be heartened to have found an ally in their efforts to protect the cultural heritage of the game. They can give thanks to the bookies for keeping the dreaded pitch clock off the mound.
And since they have a lot on their plates at the moment, it is nice to see the Yanks so excited. As all of American sport has been since last May when the US Supreme Court reversed a 1992 ban on sports betting operations.
The NBA and NHL have already cut deals with MGM, but the arrival to the party of baseball is regarded as the gamechanger.
Yahoo sportswriter Jeff Passan described the possibilities when “the dream of tapping a phone to bet $1 on one pitch being called a ball or strike becomes a reality”.
“Its ability to be broken down into plays and sub-plays and other branches still of that same play, is a gambler’s dream. Care to wager on the exit velocity of a batted ball?
“In this new world, where a $50 billion economy is set to blossom, every pitch, every swing, every moment that seemed meaningless otherwise matters.
“Thirty teams, 15 games a day, 162 games a year, 300 pitches a game. It’s a gambler’s paradise.”
Americans have long been able to bet offshore, but the arrival of legal domestic gambling is widely regarded as the panacea to make America’s pastime great again.
This excitement brings to mind the great jubilation described in the book
as Tony O’Reilly’s first bet came together — a £1 double on Patrick Kluivert to score the first goal and Holland to beat Argentina 2-1 at the 1998 World Cup. A 45/1 shot that brought in half a week’s wages.
“The sense of being utterly alive, a feeling he hadn’t thought was available to him anywhere else in this world. And that was just the start of it.”
Tony 10 brilliantly charts how Tony went from there to gambling €10 million and stealing €1.75 million from the post office he managed. To the loss of his family, his home and to a jail sentence. A journey chillingly captured in one sentence.
“To tell the story of Tony O’Reilly in cartoon form, you could go for the simplest image of all: a man walking into the sea and continuing to walk despite the fact that the water is rising all the time and he is slowly being consumed by it, yet still walks, as if unaware of his predicament.”
Along the way, there are little insights into the kind of scope there might be in paradise, during a boring 198 minutes in the bleachers.
“In a space of just over two hours one afternoon, there are 16 transactions — most of them no more than a fiver or tenner, but still a significant amount of activity, a lot of boredom there to be killed.”
The baseball people must feel for the hurling people now, with their fast game, leaving no time to feel utterly alive between the plays.
It may still interest baseball people that, despite the pace of hurling not being ideal, the GAA has seen a version of paradise in operation here and has decided to walk away, banning all sponsorship deals with betting companies, having seen too many hurlers and footballers and fans take journeys like Tony’s. From the dream of tapping a phone to bet €1 deeper and deeper into the sea.
But they won’t want to hear those stories right now, as they work to put solutions in place ahead of the 2019 MLB campaign, incidentally the 100th anniversary of the Chicago White Sox match-fixing scandal.
They won’t want to hear them either at the nine Premier League clubs sponsored by betting companies, or the the 17 in the Championship.
It is not possible to sit in a stadium or watch a match on television without being offered an opportunity to find true meaning of the kind that first sucked Tony O’Reilly in.
And as the bookies work tirelessly to make every single moment that seemed meaningless matter, we will see some wild lurches in reason familiar to anybody on a gambling journey.
We will hear of men who thought that slow play was a problem suddenly see slow play as the solution.
Just as a man from Carlow who set out betting carefully on what he knew eventually found himself holding on for Lokeren to beat Standaard Wetteren in the Belgian Cup to win 300 grand.
This week, Tony 10, written by Declan Lynch and Tony O’Reilly, was shortlisted for the eir Sports Sports Book of the Year.
The only dissenting voices came from those who wondered if a book about gambling was really a sports book.
That’s a good one.
Life after Fernando
It was the only fitting way to end an eventful and entertaining week: with word filtering through that Ballybrack too have been spared.
That there will be life after the Fernando LaFuenta Saiz affair. Just as there is, thankfully, for Fernando.
The Leinster Senior League has charged the club with bringing the game into disrepute but there will be no expulsion from the league.
Ballybrack return to action today against Kilbarrack United, in a match that will presumably have to be played at the Aviva, if there truly is the link between publicity and attendances we are led to believe.
Given that the risen Fernando took the global news of his resurrection in good spirit, and the club’s swift and magnificent admission of a ‘grave mistake’, who could really be too hard on them?
After all, football men have long had it drummed into them that football — and accordingly the danger of losing three precious points — is a much more serious matter than life or death.
And anyway, nobody died.
Will Fifa play it cool in Qatar?
Amid all the disgraceful stories around the Qatar World Cup, the rotten details of migrant workers earning less than €50 per week to build stadiums in the world’s richest country, there was some good news this week.
The outdoor air conditioning is working.
“It has been a huge amount of work, for me and a team of researchers, but you can feel it now; it’s not a trick or an idea any more, it’s reality,” pioneering scientist Dr Saud Ghani told the Guardian’s David Conn, showing him around a cooled Doha bowl.
It might be too late now to switch the tournament back to summer, as originally planned.
But on the off chance we qualify, Stephen Kenny, surely haunted forever, like all of us, by the sight of fellow Louth legend Steve Staunton melting at a World Cup, will doubtless have an important question for Fifa — Who will be in charge of the thermostat on matchdays?