His Golden Summer Was Turned to Brass : Gambling: The Legend was on a roll until the baseball strike of 1981 began. His Midas touch then proved elusive.
He piled on cash of epic amounts, betting beyond even his comprehension or anyone’s for that matter; but then, who can explain wagering more than a million dollars on an All-Star game?
With the baseball strike of 1981 over, having lasted 10 weeks that summer, The Legend had resurfaced in Las Vegas, believing that the whole weird season was some kind of omen for him to bet the house.
“I just thought, this is the time to take a real shot, the strike is over, we will see which side I’m on, whether I should continue gambling or give it up,” said The Legend, who, for obvious reasons, prefers that his name not be used.
“So, I used that game as a litmus test.”
The summer of 1981, like now, was a time without baseball. In both cases, labor strife had shut down the game and those who bet major league baseball. One such person was The Legend, whose exploits that season in the Las Vegas sports books did not go unnoticed.
The Legend had been up $1.5 million during the 1981 season when the players went on strike. He started with a $10,000 bet, a parlay of four underdogs that he figured couldn’t lose, and won $280,000. From that point, nobody quite did it like he did.
He spent about four hours each day charting teams and players on a legal pad and, until the strike, neglecting his regular job. Then, with either Juice Newton or REO Speedwagon cranked up in his headset, he would head for the casinos with thousands in cash stuffed into his knapsack or briefcase or both. The unusual thing was that he always came home with more.
He won about 75 of 100 games betting mainly on underdogs, studying teams and statistics so intently he felt he knew players better than their managers. He knew which pitchers were successful against which teams, which lineups worked well, and he never bet against a streak--he bet with it. It was the first time--and only time--in The Legends’ life that he gambled this way, and he found success had nothing to do with instinct or luck, but with strict methodology.
On the final game before the players walked out in mid-June, The Legend won $500,000, which proved to be his final triumph. The day after the strike, he flew to Las Vegas, cashed in $1.5 million in tickets, and flew home accompanied by a security guard, cash bulging from his clothes.
“In a way I was hoping the strike would go on at some level because I was getting into my work again and I thought, ‘I’m out of the rhythm, it’s not going to be the same,’ ” he said.
“I felt the strike was an interruption of my guaranteed wins, I felt I was on a permanent roll that year, that I would just keep going and going and I still feel it. I had the season psyched. Then in one day of baseball and three days of football, all the money went, but most of it in that one day.”
The All-Star Game was played on Aug. 9, and was the first game after the strike. The Legend took his cash from a vault and flew back to Las Vegas, piling up bets all over town. He bet more than $1 million on the American League, which had lost nine games in a row. He was betting against a streak, contrary to the method he had employed all season. But his thinking was that the American League was the underdog, and he believed it had a better lineup. His only hesitation was betting on a team managed by Jim Frey, then of the Kansas City Royals, because he “loathed” him.
“But I figured that the All-Star Game is one of those games that everybody gets in anyway, so the manager really didn’t matter,” he said. “I did feel a bit of a twinge about making any bet on Jim Frey ever, but I thought it was a great bet. Then, it hit me as an afterthought.
“I’m watching the game, which I had bet an astronomical amount on, and some of the players were in shape and some out of shape. Rollie Fingers had announced he was pudgy, fat, out of shape, had not thrown a pitch the whole time (of the strike) and announced that he was not ready to pitch and didn’t want to pitch. To this day, I believe Jim Frey wanted to use him to see if he could hurt his arm because the (Oakland) A’s were competitive with the (Kansas City) Royals.
“And I’m ahead, like 4-2 and I’m sort of in this euphoria because I’m going to win this huge bet and all of a sudden I get a flash in my mind that Jim Frey is going to bring in Rollie Fingers to hurt his arm. And Fingers is going to say forget this, ‘I’m not going to throw a pitch and if I get clubbed I get clubbed.’
“And that’s exactly what happened. I get the flash in the seventh inning and Rollie Fingers came in in the eighth inning and he was like a batting practice pitcher. He literally lobbed the ball in pitch after pitch and they beat the hell out of him, scored three runs in about 45 seconds and I lost the game, 5-4.
“To this day, I have fantasies of tomahawking Jim Frey. I don’t blame Rollie Fingers, he had announced that he didn’t want to pitch and wasn’t in shape. There were some players who had been assuming the strike was going to end and they had been keeping in shape, but there were others who were assuming they had eight months off, and he was one of them.”
The Legend returned home, having more than a quarter of a million left, and he put it back in the vault. His work took him out of the country, and when he returned, the playoffs were starting. He considered it another omen.
“I borrowed so I could bet more than I had--I don’t remember what my unit (usual bet) was,” he said. “I also had (football) parlays hooked up--I just didn’t bet them straight. I had two-team, three-team, four-team, five-team and a six-team parlay with these six games and I won one straight bet, that was it. I had about 20 combinations and I won one single bet. And I just said, this is my run. I had my shot and this was it.
“I had that fantasy, just for that baseball season, of playing on the level of the big guys. But those other guys started by accumulating their wealth in other areas and then gambling became excitement and a shrewd investment on the side. They wouldn’t do it for just any game.”
Having started with $10,000, The Legend ended the season $25,000 behind, owing it to a man who hounded him for it. Since then, The Legend says he has only bet sporadically, and says he has no inclination to ever go wild again.
“The weirdest thing is that it took me a long time to pay off the $25,000 and I thought, ‘This is crazy, here I had all this money and now I’m spending six months paying off $1,500 this week, $2,000 next week,’ ” he said.
“I borrowed it from a guy who was not charging me interest but was on my case because I told him I would have it back to him in a week or two, and then I had to tell him I was totally wiped out and it would take a while to get it back. And he said, ‘What do you mean, a while?’
“The absurdity of paying off a $25,000 bet over a period of months when $25,000 was money I wouldn’t have noticed if it had fallen out of my pocket. This was like almost overnight. It was like, all of a sudden, a total transformation.
“When I gamble now, I look to turn $25,000 or $30,000, that would be a score for me. I earn good money, and if I lose $10,000 or $15,000 I say ‘Oh, (well).’ But the idea of again starting with a reasonable amount of money and turning it into some huge sum isn’t part of some realistic thinking. It isn’t even part of a fantasy anymore.”
His adrenaline rush, though, wasn’t fantasy. It didn’t take long for The Legend to develop a following in Las Vegas and across the nation. He rarely lost, and he soon dictated the baseball line all over the country. He did most of his betting at the Barbary Coast, cranking up his Walkman--a rare accessory in 1981--to tune out distractions so he could concentrate. He sometimes bet $200,000 on an individual game, and overall bet up to $1 million per day. He would play blackjack until the baseball games were over, keeping an eye on the sports book for results. Then he would fly home--he rarely stayed overnight--with a briefcase full of cash, only to return the next day.
“There are guys that bet between $500 and $2 million a game, they are there, but nobody talks about it,” he said. “I was considered a big player by the standards of the rinky-dink players, but I was a non-existent player by the standards of the guys with real money.
“These guys are not going to do it the way I did, they are going to make one phone call. I did it with cash, theirs becomes cash, but it becomes cash quietly and secretly. It was the flamboyancy of the way I did it, not the amount.”
The Legend says he follows sports only mildly now, saying he doesn’t even know the names of half the players.
“I used to know everything and thought I knew more than a manager or a coach in every sport I was following,” he said. “Particularly in baseball, I went beyond just knowledge--I went into these really precise chartings and analysis. Anything you figure out that way and learn and know how to do, is exciting, because you are better at it than anybody else.
“But now, I wouldn’t give a (rip) . . . even if it worked, who cares? It was there for that one baseball season. It was never there before or after. And I was conscious of it.”
* ALL BETS ARE OFF: Sports books hope for a postseason to make up for losses on games eliminated by the baseball strike. C10