Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gambling at the Hall of Fame: Part Three

In the last of this three-part series on gambling at the Hall of Fame (please read the first two parts if you haven't already), it's time to talk about gambling that goes on AT the museum every day of the year. I'm referring to fantasy sports, and if your reflex response is "gee, that's no big deal," I ask you this: if it's so harmless, why did Jeff Idelson, the President of the Hall of Fame, caution Hall of Fame employees not to disclose the fact that he was participating in one of the leagues?

The first baseball season I worked at the Hall of Fame was 2003, and it quickly became clear that many of my colleagues were obsessed with fantasy sports. Nothing since then has changed that first impression. During the season there were daily discussions on how everybody's team was shaping up, trade proposals, and plenty of razzing of anybody whose team was tanking. Naturally, I asked if I could be part of the league in 2004. Erik Strohl, the commissioner of the "big" league that involved about a dozen HOF employees, told me I'd have to wait until someone dropped out, since they didn't plan to expand the league.

In 2006, Strohl decided to expand the league to 16 teams, and I was brought into the brotherhood. The fee was $40. Part of that, I learned, was spent on a memorial for a friend of Strohl's (a non-HOF person and league member who had passed away), and the rest went to prize money. First place was around $200, second place was worth about $125, and the third-place finisher got his $40 back. An additional $40 went to the team that improved the most after the All-Star break (to give managers of second-division teams a reason to stay involved). That prize money has remained the same, as has the allocation for the memorial.

Few events on the HOF's annual calendar are as eagerly anticipated as Draft Day. It occurs on a weekday in mid-March, in the early evening. For various reasons, some of the managers choose to conduct the draft from their offices at the Hall. I did so that first year because I had a very slow dial-up internet service at home, and was afraid that I wouldn't be able to keep up with the rapid-fire draft. There were four of us in the museum after 6pm that evening, and it was fun to make a pick and zip around the other offices to compare notes with and harass the other managers.

I stayed in that league four years, winning it in 2007, for which I got the prize money plus a cute little bobble-head doll from Yahoo, the website on which the league was conducted. Like most of the managers, I spent a fair amount of time at work on league activities. I usually got to my office 10-15 minutes before my official workday began, and I'd check my fantasy teams before doing anything else. I'd monitor standings, see how everyone did the night before, make roster changes, lineup changes, and so on. If this spilled over into the start of my work-day, so be it. During the day, there were all those discussions with other managers, all those trades to consider, occasional visits to Yahoo to make roster changes, and all that razzing. Lots and lots of razzing. It was a blast. The majority of the managers were from the Curatorial and Research departments, but there were managers from the business part of the operation as well. Many of us participated in more than one fantasy baseball league, but the only important concern centered around how you were doing in the "big" league.

That's the league that Jeff Idelson joined in 2009. He said he had never participated in a fantasy league and wanted to find out what it was all about, so he ponied up his $40, drafted a team, and spent the season comfortably in the middle of the pack. But in August 2009, something happened. The HOF was having a problem with bandwidth and decided to do something about it. The employees were kept in the dark about the issues, but of course we heard things, and had to react to a change in policy which restricted internet access on HOF computers. We heard that the problem was too many people listening to game broadcasts; that some Visitor Services people were caught playing video games during work hours; that the HOF was too broke or too cheap to buy the extra bandwidth needed to conduct routine business; and so on.

What they did tell employees was that in order to use the HOF's bandwidth capacity more efficiently, our computer usage would be monitored. The upshot was that, for the first time, the HOF adopted a filtering service that prevented access to certain websites. The Barracuda program that they installed mainly targeted sites designated as involving gambling or pornography. Some of those designations proved absurd, as anyone knows who has dealt with such programs. Remember the words of the U.S. Senator whose committee was investigating pornography: "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it"? Well, the strangely endowed Barricuda program had a liberal definition of forbidden territory and was capable of barring a website like this one right here simply because the word "pornography" appears on it.

What bothered the HOF fantasy league managers was that Barricuda barred access to the Yahoo fantasy league pages. We could no longer access our league or manage our teams on our work computers, even during non-work hours. Some guys got around the Barricuda censorship by bringing their laptops to work to access forbidden sites. Some of us tried instead to get an exception made to the policy. You could get exceptions made by going to the powers-that-be (chiefly the head of the Information Services department or Senior Vice President Bill Haase), and I succeeded one time with some innocuous site which contained a biography of some long-ago historical figure I needed to read for a fact-checking project. I was allowed access to the site but had to tell them the minute I was done so that Barracuda could flag the next person who tried to access it.

A couple of people made official requests to have access to Yahoo restored, but to no avail. The strange thing was that a half-dozen of us were also in a league on espn.com, and the commissioner of that league successfully made the case that full-time access should be granted--on the same basis which was advanced on behalf of the Yahoo league! The rationale was that these sites have up-t0-the-minute information (biographical and statistical) which is important to people whose job involves daily discussions with the public about who is doing what, and who have to base their writing/research/museum exhibits on thorough and accurate data. For some reason, it was deemed that it was okay to use espn.com, but not yahoo.com. You might think that this argument was nonsense, but the fact is that everything that happens in baseball, everything that other people write and say about the game, past and present, is relevant to the work that goes on in the HOF library. With an estimated 50,000 questions directed to the Research department every year, the people who work there have to know what is being posted and where.

I went to see Jeff Idelson in late August, to discuss the new censorship policy in general and its effect on the "big" league in particular. He listened but said there was nothing he could do to change the policy. He also told me that he was totally screwed in the league because not only couldn't he access Yahoo at work any more, but he couldn't access it at home either. I wanted to ask him how that was possible (had the HOF installed Barricuda on his home computer?), but didn't because I figured the answer would just make me feel sad.

That was that. The rest of the season bore out my worst fears as a manager. I now had to set my lineups at home before going to work, which was certainly possible. But it meant that if one of my starters wound up not starting a day game, I had no chance to adjust my lineup. I counted four times when this cost me strong performances by players I would have substituted, and that was enough to cost me third-place money. So I quit all my fantasy leagues in 2010. I didn't see how it could be worth all that time and effort if Barracuda's bias against one website could flush it all down the toilet. I wasn't the only manager who quit the league over that policy. At least two others did, including Jeff Idelson.

But here's the catch. Baseball isn't the only sport that has captured the fantasy enthusiasts at the HOF. They've had fantasy football and hockey there for as long as I worked there. Every Monday during football season brought a rehashing of Sunday's action, and I lost count of the number of times that Erik Strohl strolled past my desk to discuss hot goaltenders with the person I shared the office with, Bill Francis (otherwise known as "Bartleby the Researcher"). So there is fantasy action every day of the year at the HOF.

This next thing is what truly befuddles me. The hockey and football leagues are also conducted on Yahoo--and HOF employees are allowed access to those leagues on their work computers! But they're still not allowed to access their baseball league at work. Isn't that the screwiest logic? We've got people who are involved in baseball as their work, but let's not give them access to a site with a ton of baseball information. Instead, let's make it easy for them to monitor their football and hockey leagues at work.

When managers were being recruited for a new Yahoo baseball league starting this year, I was one of three HOF people (the other two still work there) who signed up. I did so as a favor to the commissioner, and of course because I now work out of my home and can access Yahoo any time I damn well please. But right after the season started, one of the HOF managers refused to pay his league fee. He hadn't realized it was a Yahoo league, and he explained, "I do all of my fantasy leagues at work." So he hasn't made a single roster change all season--and his team has been in the top three all season. I know. That doesn't say much for the rest of us.

But it does say a lot about the waste of time and resources at the HOF. I know fantasy baseball isn't illegal, but it is gambling (make no mistake--if there were no money at stake, these leagues wouldn't exist), which the HOF should be more sensitive about than other institutions. [Can you say "Pete Rose"?] That is, the HOF is sensitive about gambling when other people are doing it. It must be okay if a member of its Senior Staff, Senior Director of Exhibits and Collections, Erik Strohl, is still the commissioner of the big league. Then again, if it's nothing but harmless fun, why didn't Jeff Idelson want anybody to know that he was part of it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gambling at the Hall of Fame: Part Two

Are you ready for the bizarre story I promised you last time, about gambling AT the Hall of Fame? If you haven't read "Part One" please do so before reading this one. In it, I told about the Hall of Fame refusing to hire me in the mid-1990s because of my background as a Las Vegas poker dealer, telling me that they were afraid of employing someone with a gambling background at the same time they were being criticized for excluding Pete Rose because of his gambling indiscretions. You have to read that story to appreciate fully the irony of what happened a decade later.

Between the time the Hall of Fame snubbed me and the time they finally hired me in 2002, I left Las Vegas, spent nearly five more years dealing poker in California, and published two books of baseball history (VICTORY FAUST and UNHITTABLE!) which gave me enough credibility as a baseball historian to get hired as a researcher in the library. There I peaceably went about my business and limited my poker involvement to playing in the same once-monthly, 25 cent-limit, friendly game I had enjoyed during my first Cooperstown tenure a decade earlier.

In 2005 the Hall of Fame folks decided to launch a new program: a fantasy camp. Many major league franchises were running these popular camps, and it made sense to stage one at the Hall of Fame. In addition to the baseball fun and publicity, the Hall's aim was to find a bunch of fellows rich enough to spring for the $8,000 price tag, gather them in Cooperstown, and possibly persuade them to become substantial museum donors. Here is the announcement released to potential attendees:

"For an experience that will never be forgotten, lovers of baseball will flock to Cooperstown, NY, to spend five days with some of the greatest names in baseball history.

Baseball’s First Annual Hall of Fame Fantasy Camp

For five glorious days in October, baseball fans from around the country will share the field with some of the greatest sluggers the sport has ever known. From October 5 through October 9, you can play baseball each day on historic Doubleday Field, walking the same ground as the greats of baseball history at the first annual Hall of Fame Fantasy Camp sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame Fantasy Camp gives baseball enthusiasts a chance to experience the atmosphere of a real major league-style locker room as they practice and play the game using professional bats and equipment provided by the Louisville Slugger company. You can share laughs and stories with some of the greatest players in baseball history, while making friendships with other lovers of the game. The camp managers will be:

* George Brett, three-time batting champion with 3,154 hits, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999
* Lou Brock, Hall of Famer inducted in 1985 with 938 stolen bases and 3,023 career hits
* Phil Niekro, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997 with 318 career victories and 3,342 strikeouts
* Duke Snider, Hall of Famer inducted in 1980 with 407 career homers and 11 World Series homeruns

Other Hall of Famers who will be on hand as camp coaches to offer professional tips include Mary [sic] Wills, Joe Niekro, Jamie Quirk, Carl Erskine, Dave Bergman, and Jon Warden. You can watch the season’s playoff games at night with Hall of Famers, get their autographs, and have your picture taken with them, so you can bring your camp experience home with you. Play golf with the Hall of Famers on the lush Leatherstocking Championship Course of the Otesaga Hotel, where you’ll be pampered in luxury for four nights. A private behind-the scenes tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will be conducted exclusively for camp attendees. The camp week will conclude with a private, candlelight dinner in the Hall of Fame Gallery where fantasy camp accomplishments will be recognized and honored.

Only 48 places are available, and the package includes lodging, ground transportation, all meals, and special gifts. The cost is $7,995 for individuals and $7,495 apiece for groups. Cost for Friends of the Hall of Fame Benefactor members is $6,995, and the cost for Friends of the Hall of Fame Benefactor members coming with friends is $6,495. To reserve your spot on the roster, call 1-607-547-0327 or register online. The fantasy camp is open to both males and females, and you can bring along a non-playing guest for a small fee. Come live your baseball dreams, or honor a friend or loved one by giving them this once-in-a-lifetime experience. All you need is a love of the game."

It sounds great, and it was great for those who didn't flinch at the cost. Illness prevented Duke Snider from making it, and Robin Roberts took his place. Nearly all the available places were sold, and the other spots on the four rosters were filled by Hall of Fame staffers, including President Dale Petroskey. Everyone had a great time, and only one thing went wrong: it rained. The rain began Friday morning and continued through the weekend, preventing them from finishing the two-games-a-day schedule. For some reason, however, the people running the fantasy camp hadn't considered the possibility that it would rain, and when it became apparent late Friday morning that they suddenly had the whole afternoon to fill and nothing besides ballgames scheduled, a Plan B was necessary.

What do you think they did? Pause a moment to think about what you would have done in their place, with more than 40 men sitting around the five-star Otesaga Hotel, having ponied up $7,000+ to play ball with Hall of Famers at Doubleday Field, and suddenly with no ballgames on the dark gray horizon.

Shortly after noon my office phone rang. It was Greg Harris, the Hall's Vice President of Development. "Hey Gabe," he chirped. "Our fantasy campers have been rained out and we need to come up with something for them to do. How would you like to deal a poker tournament this afternoon?"

A chill ran up and down my spine when I heard this. I couldn't believe that the Hall of Fame, which had once considered my poker background poisonous, was actually asking me to contribute that expertise to an officially sanctioned Hall of Fame event. Greg knew I could run a tournament because earlier that year, I had been asked to run a couple of little tournaments at Cooperstown's exclusive men's organization, the Mohican Club. Those had gone smoothly, and he wanted me to do the same thing for the fantasy campers.

"I don't know," I told Greg. "In light of the Hall of Fame refusing to hire me in the 90s because I was a poker dealer, I would feel extremely awkward dealing poker FOR the Hall of Fame. Are you sure that you want to sanction gambling here?"

He thought for a moment and replied, "Well, suppose the money all goes to charity and not into somebody's pocket. Would that be okay with you?"

It was my turn to think for a moment. There was no escaping the absurd hypocrisy of the basic request, but making it a charitable enterprise would remove it from the realm of gambling. I found three other reasons to go for it: it would be an entertaining change of pace from sitting at my desk; I would be coming through for the big boys when they needed me, which might be rewarded down the road; and, like the campers, I would get to hang out with some Hall of Famers. So I said yes.

Twenty minutes later I was at the Otesaga, where a terrific locker room had been set up in a basement conference room. The campers had everything a quasi-ballplayer could ask for: lockers, couches, a big-screen television, boxes of cigars, two barrels of beer, and a handy poker table. It was a great place to hang out during a rain delay, and most of the participants drifted through during the afternoon. About a third of them participated in the poker action; the rest used the free time to explore the museum or the memorabilia stores lining Main Street.

I set up one-table, Texas hold'em freezeouts that would take about an hour apiece. Nine or ten guys would buy in for $20 apiece to play no-limit poker, getting eliminated as they ran out of chips, and continuing until one player had all the chips. I had run similar tournaments at the Sam's Town poker room in Las Vegas, and it's a foolproof format. The campers loved it, because at worst they would be eliminated early, grab a beer, hit the couch, and watch ESPN.

And the winner. . .well, the winner kept the cash. I can't say that I was surprised when the first winner, one of the campers, stuffed $180 into his pocket and wandered off to see which souvenir store would get his windfall. I wondered if Greg had even run the notion of donating the buy-ins to charity by the campers before getting them to sit down at the table. You don't get to be a vice president of anything without knowing how to pull legs. But it was too late for me to do anything about it. I had already participated in gambling AT the Hall of Fame, and I wasn't going to cause a scene and storm off, refusing to entertain them further. So I kept dealing.

I ran four or five freezeouts that afternoon, and everybody had a lot of fun. The majority of the players were campers, but some of the ex-major leaguers played. The life of the party was Jon Warden, who looks and sounds like John Goodman. His performance at that initial fantasy camp has made him a staple at all such Hall of Fame events since then, including the present "Hall of Fame Classic" exhibition games, a nice gig for a guy whose major league career consisted of 28 games with the 1968 Tigers. He could make a living as a full-time baseball clown, and he was a hoot at the poker table.

Joe Niekro, Dave Bergman, and Jamie Quirk all played at different times, but the other celebrity star of the afternoon was George Brett. I've seen him at other Hall of Fame events, and his ebullience is always a crowd-pleaser; he was the liveliest player of the afternoon. When I've told this tale to people, I've emphasized my belief that the guys who played in those poker freezeouts got the most genuine major-league experience of all: "they drank beer in the locker room," I explain, "smoked cigars, played poker, and got to have George Brett call them 'fucking dickheads' when they beat him out of a pot!" How can you beat that?

My afternoon ended at 5pm, when my workday ended. I went home and told my wife-to-be Linda all about it, and we shared our amazement at the Hall of Fame's willingness to break the law when it suited its short-term purposes. Late the next morning, we were about to have lunch when the phone rang. It was Greg Harris. It was still raining. It was still impossible to play ball at Doubleday Field. And they still hadn't come up with an alternative activity. He added that after I had left at 5pm, the campers had run another freezeout without me, and it was a fiasco. "How would you like to deal some more freezeouts this afternoon?" he asked. "You'll get paid for working, and we'll throw in a free buffet at the Otesaga."

All I could do was laugh. The only reason they'd be willing to count this as work time was that the Hall of Fame wouldn't let me work more than 35 hours a week to begin with. That was my limit for the last seven years I worked there. I was like a researcher on the equivalent of a pitch-count, as if that extra five hours a week would cause my brain to deteriorate or blow out my annotator cuff. By paying me for dealing five hours on Saturday, they could get me up to 40 hours without having to pay me overtime. Don't think they didn't take this into consideration! Greg had checked with the Inhumane Resources Department, and I was advised how to make the entry on my time-sheet.

So I spent a second afternoon at the Otesaga. The buffet was plentiful and tasty, the campers treated me like a comrade in arms, the freezeouts went smoothly, and a fine time was had by all. Once again, the winners pocketed all the $20 buy-ins. Shocking! During the year that followed, Greg and I talked about making the freezeouts an official part of the program, to be played during the evenings if it didn't rain. That never happened. I learned later that when the campers saw the poker table, they arranged to play a dealer's choice, high-stakes game instead of piddly $20 freezeouts. That's how it went during the remaining few years of the
Annual Hall of Fame Fantasy Camp, and I was just as glad. It was still illegal, and they didn't con me into participating any more.

It still strikes me as absurd and hypocritical that the Hall of Fame staged a gambling event--but not surprising. It goes hand in hand with Major League Baseball officially banning gambling while accepting revenues from gambling entities. Watch baseball on television and you'll see ads for casinos flashing on the front of the grandstand behind home plate. When I went to a ballgame in Montreal--remember when baseball was played in Montreal?--there was only one billboard on the whole expanse of the outfield wall, and it was for a casino. When the Arizona Diamondbacks played the first home game in franchise history, the largest ad on the center field scoreboard was for a Las Vegas casino. New York Yankees broadcasts are sponsored by one of the New England casinos. The list goes on and on. Apparently it's very BAD for players to gamble, but it's okay to take money from the casinos that fans might frequent. And it was just fine in the eyes of the Hall of Fame to let their fantasy campers--and potential major donors--gamble as much as they wanted to. But after getting conned into it that first year, I was happy that they opted to--in the words of Yogi Berra--include me out.

So that's the story, and it turns out that there will be a Part Three to this series. This one has gone on long enough, but I still have to tell you about the gambling that is still going on AT the Hall of Fame. Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gambling at the Hall of Fame: Part One

I want to tell you an amazing story about gambling at the Hall of Fame, but to appreciate the irony of the story fully, you need the background to put it in context. For that, I have to take you back twenty years to my first tenure in Cooperstown.

I arrived here in April 1991, intending to spend five or six months doing research at the Hall of Fame library for a novel based on the adventures of Charles "Victory" Faust. I wound up spending exactly one year, setting a record that still stands for the longest continuous research visit, and by the time I was done I had abandoned the novel and embarked on what wound up being a nonfiction book about Faust. I did complete my planned research by the end of September, figuring I'd head back to my home in sunny Las Vegas rather than sticking around for the upstate New York winter. Instead, I was hired to do the research for a very fine book by Richard Scheinin titled "Field of Screams". It was a long, cold winter, but I survived and didn't return to Las Vegas until April 1992.

By then I was firmly established as part of the Hall of Fame library's family, a close-knit group of seven employees. Mostly I hung out with the two full-time researchers, Bill Deane and Gary Van Allen, arriving with them when the doors opened at 9AM and staying until they kicked me out at 5PM. By mid-summer they allowed me to fetch my own files, located in the large room on the second floor where visiting researchers sat across from each other around a large central block of tables. That's where I met Bob Davids, who had founded SABR in that room two decades earlier. That's where I met Danny Peary, who recommended me to Richard Scheinin, and where I met Dan Heaton, who later served as editor of my book on Victory Faust.

Most days I was on my own, eventually going through well over 1,000 clipping files, and some days I was completely on my own. When they had staff meetings, they literally left me alone in the library, suggesting that I answer the phone if it rang and answers inquiries if I could. Looking back, this seems like quite an odd practice, since that was the era when a lot of material was stolen from the library. They apparently had no concept of security and preservation, as they do now. They're still paying the price for those lax practices. But I enjoyed having my run of the place and not having to impose on them to fetch all those files, and I did answer the phone a couple of times.

Eventually I dead-ended on the Faust novel and my money ran out, so it was time to go back to Las Vegas and start dealing poker again, which I had done on and off since 1980. While continuing my Faust research and getting sidetracked writing a screenplay about him (four drafts, two years), I dealt at tournaments from 1992-95, eventually putting in five years as a dealer at the World Series of Poker. Along the way, I realized that researching and writing about baseball history was what I enjoyed most, but that was easier said than done.

Sometime in the year after my exit from Cooperstown, Bill Deane alerted me that the library had gotten the authorization to hire a third full-time researcher. He urged me to apply, and I jumped at it. He wasn't sure how long the hiring process would take, but that didn't matter to me. I felt that researching at the Hall of Fame was my destiny, and I was prepared to wait. Little did I know that the wait would amount to a full decade.

In June 1993, I returned to Cooperstown to deliver a paper (on Faust as an early example of the media creating a celebrity out of thin air) at the third Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. Librarian Tom Heitz suggested that this would be a good time to interview me for the prospective researching job. That interview was conducted over lunch at the Doubleday Cafe, with Bill Deane sitting in. Heitz told me, "We like you and we'd like to have you working at the library. But there's one problem. The people in charge are concerned about your poker background."

For the past year, he explained, the Hall of Fame had been the target of much criticism in the press for the change in policy that prevented Pete Rose from being elected. He would have been eligible for election in 1992, but was barred from inclusion on the BBWAA ballot because he was on MLB's "Ineligible List". Heitz mentioned one Cincinnati writer in particular, Tim Sullivan, who was regularly raking the Hall over the coals for excluding the popular all-time "Hit King". I had attended the 1992 induction ceremony, after which a crowd gathered to chant "Where's Pete? Where's Pete?" at Commissioner Fay Vincent as his car left the site. The whole issue was painful for the Hall of Fame officials to deal with.

Heitz asked for permission to have MLB's Security Chief, Kevin Hallinan, conduct a background check on me as a condition of my application going forward. I said fine and provided a list of two dozen figures in the Las Vegas gaming industry they might interview, including the folks who ran the World Series of Poker. I had nothing to hide.

After lunch, I delivered my paper and then went right back to the Hall of Fame for two more interviews. The first was with the #2 man in the operation, Bill Guilfoile. I had spoken with Guilfoile many times during my one-year visit to his domain, and he had been very friendly to me. I had even interviewed him for an hour or so about his earlier posts as publicity director for the Pirates and Yankees. But on this occasion he was clearly on edge and not in a smiling mood. He was candid about his concerns, telling me about Tim Sullivan and others who had been hypercritical of everything the Hall of Fame did. His chief concern was, as he put it, that these writers "will accuse us of being hypocritical if we hire someone with a background in gambling at the time time that we're barring Pete Rose from election because of his gambling."

I like the response I made, though I can see now why he didn't. "I think it would be a feather in the Hall of Fame's cap," I told him, "to show that you can make the distinction between a self-destructive, low-life law-breaker and someone who has spent over a decade in the industry while maintaining his integrity." That was the end of that subject, though the interview lasted most of an hour.

After Guilfoile was done with me, I moseyed down the hall to be interviewed by Hall of Fame Director Howard Talbot. This was a strange, short conversation, no more than ten or fifteen minutes, in which Talbot asked me no questions about baseball history, research, the library, or anything possibly related to the job for which I had applied. As I departed, he made the only relevant remark made in that office, saying, "maybe you can teach me to play poker." Sure, Howard, any time.

Back in Las Vegas, I resumed work on Faust and awaited my Hall of Fame fate. Bill Deane told me that after the interview, Tom Heitz consulted with him and Gary Van Allen, telling them, "We have six candidates for the job, and these are the top three. Please rank them--and it will help if you don't rank Gabe first." Bill and Gary went off to neutral corners, did their rankings, and both placed me first. I will note here that in retrospect, I would have ranked myself third. The other two top candidates were more qualified. Tom Shieber had already been a high-ranking SABR officer and done significant research, most prominently on baseball photography. Rob Neyer was the protege of Bill James, the sabermetrics guru who had changed the way researchers approach baseball history. The only advantage I had over them was that Bill and Gary knew me personally, liked having me around, and could more easily picture working with me than with a couple of guys they hadn't met.

Heitz saw their preference and said, "Okay, if that's who you want, I'll support you. But it will take time." Two factors might delay the date when a third researcher might be allowed to report for duty. One was that the Hall of Fame was midway through a massive renovation in which the library--a separate building since it opened in the late 1960s--would finally be joined to the museum itself. Since late 1991, the library had been housed in the old movie theater down the block from the museum; in fact, as part of the library family, I had helped them make the move. The new library was slated to open in 1994, and it was possible that the new researcher might not be needed until the larger facility opened. The other factor, I was told, was that both Talbot and Guilfoile were nearing retirement and simply might not want to deal with the repercussions of hiring me. So I was advised to be patient.

Within a few weeks, however, the whole situation changed. I forget the order in which two events combined to make the situation seemingly clearer. One was that Rob Neyer took himself out of the running after accepting a job with ESPN. The second was that Gary Van Allen died suddenly. This was in July 1993, not long after my interviews. Now the arithmetic was easy: there were two research jobs available, and two preferred candidates.

The logical course of action, even from the viewpoint of Talbot and Guilfoile, was simple: hire Tom Shieber to replace Gary Van Allen, and either hire this Schechter guy when the new library opened or at least okay his hiring after they were out of the picture. Did they do any of this? Nope. They didn't hire anybody, not even after Bill Deane left early in 1994, creating a vacuum with no full-time researchers. The powers-that-be were willing to let the library's service deteriorate to a scandalous state--part-time interns answered the phones the rest of that year and let unanswered research inquiries pile up--rather than hire anyone. It wasn't until Tim Wiles arrived in January 1995 to fill the newly created post of Director of Research that a qualified researcher joined the staff.

Meanwhile, Tom Shieber and I were left to twist slowly, slowly in the wind. In 1995, during my next visit to Cooperstown, Tom Heitz showed me a copy of the "background check" compiled by Kevin Hallinan's crack staff. It was a joke. They had not interviewed a single person on the list I had provided. All they did was go to City Hall to check public records, establishing that I didn't have a police record or any blotches on my credit history. That was all. The biggest joke in the report was the notation that I was residing on "an empty lot". That's right. Talk about wishing that I'd vanish into thin air! In reality, I was living in a new condo that had been built in 1991, but the blueprint the "investigators" checked two or three years later identified it as an empty lot, and that was good enough for them. Obviously the whole notion of the background check was a smoke screen, and I realized that they had no intention of hiring me.

I took that personally for a long time, until years later when I met Tom Shieber, who was hired by the Hall of Fame in the late 1990s as a curator. We compared notes and discovered that we had been treated the same, i.e. totally ignored. Nobody representing the Hall had informed either of us that our applications had been rejected, or were dormant, or that the whole hiring process had been put off. The only news I ever got was from Bill Deane, and that had usually amounted to "hang in there, we haven't heard anything yet."

I never heard anything until 2002, when I returned to Cooperstown to do research for what I planned as my third book, and to keep showing up at the library until they hired me. Six months after my arrival, I was hired. Tim Wiles interviewed me, and I don't recall being asked anything about poker, gambling, or the gaming industry, even though it was only two years since I had dealt my last hand of poker. I'm not sure he was even aware at that point of my application for a research job nearly a decade earlier. This interview was job-related, and I got the job.

So it seemed that with the new regime and with the passage of time, nobody cared about my poker past. Howard Talbot and Bill Guilfoile were long since retired, and Talbot's successor, Donald Marr, had given way to Dale Petroskey. It was a new century, a new library, and a new life for me. I wouldn't even have to think about dealing poker again--or so I thought.

[NEXT TIME: Gambling AT the Hall of Fame]

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Somewhat Less Diabolical Hall of Fame Quiz

Last month I posted what I billed as the "most diabolical" Hall of Fame quiz ever. Apparently it lived up to its billing, and I am now convinced that the quiz was not only diabolical--it was impossible to solve. The person I thought most capable of solving it spent several hours on it, came up with only six of the 20 matches, and gave up. That was good enough for me.

Here is a revised version which I believe will give you a fighting chance of coming up with a solution, or at least will be more fun to attempt, especially if your mind was boggled the first time around. I'm still offering the first person who submits a correct solution signed copies of the three books available through this website. I'm also still requesting that you e-mail your solutions to me at gschechter@nycap.rr.com.

Here's how it works. There are two sets of 20 names which you must match together. One set consists of Hall of Famers, and the other of quasi-Hall of Famers. That is, the last names are all names of Hall of Famers, and most of the first names are as well (in fact, two of the 20 are actual Hall of Famers as well). I've combined them into full names (in the previous version, I had separate lists of first and last names, which you apparently had to be psychic to combine successfully). All you have to do is match them up. The connections are still fairly diabolical, many involving character traits of the Hall of Famer and others involving wordplay or the mere sounds of the names. Here are the two lists, in alphabetical order: good luck--and have fun!

HALL OF FAMERS
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Walter Alston
Wade Boggs
Mordecai Brown
Ed Delahanty
Joe DiMaggio
Dennis Eckersley
Charlie Gehringer
Lefty Gomez
Harry Heilmann
Rogers Hornsby
Reggie Jackson
Tony Lazzeri
Rube Marquard
John McGraw
Gaylord Perry
Kirby Puckett
Branch Rickey
Albert Spalding
Don Sutton

QUASI-HALL OF FAMERS
Robin Banks
Raul Bender
Manny Brouthers
Juan Chance
Ban Combs
Burleigh Feller
Hack Fingers
Andy Flick
Catfish Hunter
Dizzy Keeler
Rich Lemon
Ty Mathewson
Bid Nichols
Heinie Palmer
Josh Ruffing
Warren Slaughter
Curt Speaker
Waite Traynor
Luke Wright
Early Wynn