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Oct 28, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; MLB commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at a press conference regarding Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel (not pictured) before game four of the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball continues to evolve, slowly, and so does the vision of the Office of the Commissioner, which has changed its tune in recent years regarding gambling, as individual states have made it legal.

In a parallel world, commissioner Rob Manfred said he also dedicated himself to exploring ways to quicken the pace of the game. While experimentations with new rules and procedures in the minor leagues continue, MLB already has (at least for now) truncated its doubleheaders into 7-inning games, and has made other changes that have shortening the time of game in mind.

None of that really matters, though, because of gambling, which can bring an estimated

$1.1 billion in new revenue to MLB. That’s the real pet project, and it doesn’t necessarily go well with a quick pace. Professional baseball is a favorable environment for gambling because its pace is naturally slower than other sports.

Manfred reminded everyone of this Monday speaking at a webinar hosted by Sportico. He recalled the story of a conversation he had a few years ago with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who told Manfred that MLB’s slower pace gives it an advantage when it comes to placing wagers:

“I’ll tell you a funny story; I don’t think he would mind. One night, I was coming back from an event and the phone rang; it was Adam Silver. He said: Rob, you gotta stop talking about the pace of game because your pace of game is going to be absolutely perfect for sports betting. And he’s right; he usually is. And he was right about that. So we see it as an opportunity to make everything we do… better for our fans. It’s an opportunity that our fans clearly want.”

Manfred told the Silver story as if he were breaking news, but it’s one he’s told before. What has become clear since Manfred became commissioner is: MLB games are going slower and taking longer.

The time of game does not necessarily equate with pace of game, but it’s worth noting that games so far this season take an average of 3 hours, 9 minutes — three minutes slower than 2020 and faster, by just one minute, the all-time slow time of 2019. Enforcing a pitch clock would help, but since Manfred is heeding the wisdom of a fellow commish about gambling, why would MLB shorten the time that fans have to make in-game bets and sacrifice all of that new revenue for the sake of a brisker pace that gamblers don’t need?

It used to be that Major League Baseball wanted nothing to do with legal gambling. The collective attitude stemmed from the Black Sox era, when members of the Chicago White Sox were found to have taken bribes in exchange for losing the 1919 World Series on purpose. At the scandal’s peak, club owners hired Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be the league’s commissioner and charged him with cleaning up MLB’s reputation. That meant banning eight White Sox players and creating Rule 21(d), which is posted in every MLB clubhouse. The most infamous part reads:

“Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

That’s how they got Pete Rose.

Legal gambling means big money for MLB. The economics of recent years, altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, have only sped up the league’s philosophical turnabout. Part of MLB’s reasoning in throwing caution to the wind about gambling is because of how it’s regulated these days. The typical bettor doesn’t have to deal with emissaries of Sport Sullivan or Arnold Rothstein, or the bookie down the block, to make their wagers. If they don’t want to. Plus, given how much modern players are paid, it’s much less likely that the Chick Gandil of today is going to be as easily tempted to play dishonestly.

So when you hear Manfred say something about quickening the pace of ball games, remember: That was 2018’s big cause. The days of quickie baseball games are over.

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