Wagering associated with baseball has been an aspect of human frailty predating the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal and stretching past the end-game of Pete Rose's career. Gambling in any sport when it involves team personnel is, of course, damnable. When it's just between fans, betting is considered desirable by some, essential by many.
Unfortunately for the latter, the one-time consensus National Pastime doesn’t conveniently lend well to betting. Football and basketball afford point-spreads, over-under lines, etc. About the only obvious measurable stat for baseball is — duh — the final score.
The baseball-wagering challenge during the early years of the Seattle Mariners franchise led to a creative solution by a friend who was then an MBA student at the University of Washington. He and I and another guy from our Portland-area high school had adopted Seattle and thus the M’s.
It requires little in the way of memory skills to be able to recall that, during the late 1970s and '80s, the Seattle Mariners weren’t exactly the pride of the American League. About the best that could be said was that the Kingdome always featured room-temperature baseball and plenty of space to spread out while, six or seven times out of 10, the M's lost.
How, then, amid the futility of expansion baseball, to pass the time in a way to make the product on display seem worth watching? "Threebies" was my buddy's solution. Often it was more fun than the game on the field.
It’s a diversion best suited for American League games because the addition of a nominal designated hitter means all nine in a batting order are expected to contribute to the offense.
With Threebies (which also can be played away from the ballpark), each of a trio of spectators randomly pulls from two containers the names of three offensive starters for each team. Let's say it was an M's against the Yankees in late May of this year. A threebies player could have blind-picked three from among Ichiro, Figgins, Smoak, Olivo, Cust, Peguero, Ryan, Kennedy, and Saunders. The player also would have gotten a random three from the New York lineup.
The object of the game-within-a-game is simply to tote up and compare offensive numbers compiled by each of the six players picked by a threebies competitor. Scoring can be calibrated any way mutually agreeable; for example, four points for a home run, three for a triple, two for a double, one for a single or walk, none for a ground out, fly-out, or fielder’s choice, and minus one for a strikeout. At the end of the game, each threebies player would simply take the total number and compare it with the other two combatants.
Let’s say Player One would have drawn Ichiro, Smoak, and Kennedy. Ichiro would've had one base hit, two groundouts and a strikeout for a net zero. Smoak’s output would have been a home run, a double, a fly-out, and a strikeout for a net total of five. Kennedy would have posted one hit, two walks, and a fielder’s choice: net three. Player One, then, would have “scored” eight points from his three M’s players. We’ll say his three Yankee guys got another net two, leaving him with 10 total points for the game.
Player Two’s six random picks would have only totaled three points.
Player Three (aka “I”) would have wound up with Peguero, Figgins, and Saunders. Peguero would have been replaced after whiffing twice, leaving me with minus two. Figgins would have played the whole game, fanning four times (and then getting tossed for griping after a swinging strike three). Saunders also (of course) would have registered four strikeouts but they couldn't really be called "whiffs" or "fans" because he would have set a major-league record failing to flail at 12 straight strikes.
With two out in the ninth inning my game-trailing Yankee players also would have betrayed me. Suddenly I’d realize I was the only in the ballpark pleading for my guy A-Rod to get me some points back with a dinger. Alas, for the game, my point count would be minus 20 (also thought to be a record, albeit only in major-league “threebies”).
At a buck a point I’d owe Player One $30 and Player Two $17. Player Two also would owe Player One $7. The latter’s total winnings of $37 would have covered a cheap-seat ticket, a hotdog, and a beer.
Granted, the above money is low-roller stuff compared with what some wager. But jack up the action by several decimal points ($100 for a single? $400 for a home run?) and suddenly threebies could pose an interesting side bet: tempting enough, perhaps to bring Pete Rose out of gambling retirement.