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The Sunday Brief: Top Storylines to Follow This Week

All the stories you need to follow this week in the MLB.

It’s week three of 2022, and we’re already back to the most surprising storyline of 2021: baseball players making questionable moves with gambling sites! Let’s jump in and see if we can smell the (Pete) Rose(s).

 

Bet on Yourself

 

This week, Charlie Blackmon became the first active Major League Baseball player to endorse a sportsbook. That’s right! Charlie Blackmon bet on himself and his image by signing a brand ambassador deal with MaximBet. What’s MaximBet, you may ask? Now that’s a great question. I mean, even measly old EverywhereBlair, who mostly tweets about progressive metal music and bad coffee takes, has more followers than MaximBet on Twitter. I’ve also worked for and edited for some of the largest sportsbook-driven sites on this here Internet, and I’ve never heard of MaximBet. Yet, that little site (that’s MaximBet, so we’re clear) landed four-time all-star Charlie Blackmon as their spokes-batter.

The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) installed in early 2022 enables this player/sportsbook relationship, although players are still prohibited from gambling on games. In case you thought Blackmon might be going rogue on the CBA, here’s what MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said on ESPN’s SportsCenter: “We see it primarily as a form of increasing fan engagement. It’s an additional way for our fans to interact with the game.” In other words, Manfred loves the idea.

Of course, this new player/sportsbook relationship comes on the heels of the 2021 collaboration between the MLB umpires and FTX, a cryptocurrency platform. Additionally, MLB allowed Barstool Sports (which is also a major sportsbook) to show MLB games on their platforms.

Traditionally, formal relations between MLB and sportsbooks have been prohibited, with two scandals sticking out in the minds of even the most casual fans—the Black Sox scandal and the lifetime ban of Pete Rose from the MLB Hall of Fame (although there are credible arguments for Pete Rose’s ban actually stemming from sexual assault, and the gambling charge is just the public reason for his ban).

Recently, the advent of Daily Fantasy Sports/Sportsbook sites like FanDuel and DraftKings have changed the general landscape of sports betting in the United States towards a more permissible attitude. However, many fans—both new and old-school—are leery about active players having deals with sportsbooks of any size because there are easy tangential ways for sportsbooks to influence player on-field behavior in ways that aren’t easily trackable.

Rob Manfred’s public support for the player-sportsbook relationship will undoubtedly bring future “brand ambassadors,” so get ready for a new wave of baseball betting.

 

 

Slam or Slide? 

 

Luke Voit of the Philadelphia Phillies slammed (or slid?) into Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson this week. Voit is a big man and probably not the most graceful slider, but many agree that Voit slammed Stephenson while trying to beat a throw home. Stephenson left the game with a concussion and is on the Injured List at the time of writing. Former Padres outfielder turned current Reds outfielder Tommy Pham exclaimed, in more flowery language, that Voit’s slide was illegal.

Pham, who missed most of 2020 after getting stabbed in a strip club altercation, said—again using flowery language—that he would like to challenge Luke Voit to a martial arts showdown at any time. The video of Voit’s slide is below. What do you say—is it a slam or slide?

 

 

Nationals Scrambling

 

On Wednesday night, a pregame show where the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachuted into the stadium caused the U.S. Capitol to evacuate in preparation for an attack. The plane carrying the Golden Knights, which took off from Joint Base Andrews, apparently failed to report its flight plan to the necessary defense bodies that protect the United States Capitol. U.S. Capitol Police evacuated the legislative bodies in response to the flight, but surface-to-air missile sites were not activated, according to reports. More information on the event can be found on major national news sites like NBC.

 

The Lowdown on Leury

 

Tony LaRussa is irritating White Sox fans again! This week, White Sox manager Tony La Russa has been using outfielder Leury Garcia in multiple positions in the batting order. Unfortunately, Garcia is appearing in typically power hitting or on-base spots in the batting order, such as second or third. On a team that has both AJ Pollock and Andrew Vaughn, Garcia—who is hitting .069 on the year—is the player who is appearing at the top of the order.

This is strange, of course, because the White Sox traded elite setup man and possible closer Craig Kimbrell to the Dodgers earlier this year to acquire Pollock. Meanwhile, Vaughn is one of the White Sox’s most impressive rookies. And now, I don’t want to disparage Garcia, but a number of White Sox fans and baseball analysts believe that it would be better to bat Pollick or von earlier in the order.

The White Sox also have rookie Gavin sheets, who would be an ideal hitter in the third spot in the order, but when Garcia is taking the second and third spots, there’s no room for Sheets, Pollock, or Vaughn to bat in the first half of the order.

Here’s a typical fan reaction to Garcia batting at the top of the order:

With so much fan interest in Garcia’s slotting in the top half of the lineup, reporters asked LaRussa what he was thinking, and they received this cryptic response:

Last year, LaRussa made waves when he came out of retirement to coach the White Sox. LaRussa, who already had a Hall of Fame career, re-entered baseball in a post-Covid era where the rules and the nature of the game had changed drastically. Early in 2021, LaRussa admitted that he did not know the rules for extra innings and one time even made a managerial mistake with the roster that ended up having closer Liam Hendriks start on second base for extra innings.

Now in 2022, we see that LaRussa is again making waves early in the season by putting one of his weakest hitters at the top of the lineup while seemingly burying some prized prospects and sought-after hitters at the bottom of the lineup.

 

Miggy 3000

 

We’re finishing out the week with Miguel Cabrera joining the 3,000 hit club! Cabrera becomes the seventh player in MLB history with over 500 home runs and over 3,000 hits. Congratulations!

That’s all for this week! Have an awesome end to April, and I’ll keep you caught up on storylines to follow throughout the rest of the year.

 

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Blair Williams

Blair holds a PhD in Japanese history and is the author of "Making Japan's National Game: A Cultural History of Baseball." He's a fan of sci-fi, prog metal, and sipping rums.

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