BRONX, NY – Yesterday I started reading ESPN’s piece on disgraced former NBA ref Tim Donaghy, and how he most likely fixed a whole mess of NBA games. This was a revelation only in that the NBA wanted everyone to believe that he never did (yeah, right) and that he was merely a guy with a gambling problem who fell in with the wrong people and did some stupid things. Even the most Pollyanna-ish of sports fans would have trouble swallowing that. Anyway, it got me to thinking. What if certain sports games and events HAD been fixed. What would that mean? Let’s look at a few.
Miracle on Ice. What if the Russian mob told the USSR National Team to take a dive against the American kids in the 1980 Olympics? It’s not a completely far-fetched concept. That team was a powerhouse. In fact, they destroyed the US in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden to the tune of 10-3 before they met in the Olympics. You take away this victory for team USA and you end up taking away arguably the greatest moment in the history sports in this country. The Upshot: If Russia wins this game, the US stays in its post-Iran Hostage depression for a whole lot longer, the “love it or leave it” bravado stays in check, and maybe Donald Trump never happens. That last part would almost make it worth it. Good bar argument fodder.
Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King. Bobby Riggs was a degenerate gambler, and who’s to say that he didn’t bet on Billie Jean King in their “Battle of the Sexes” match in 1973. Well, some people actually have thrown this suggestion around, but it’s pretty much been universally dismissed. Anyway, if Riggs wins that match he probably just loses another one a year later to Chris Evert or someone. The Upshot: King would still have a Hall-of-Fame career, Riggs would still be fondly remembered for his excellent appearance on The Odd Couple, and women would still be unfairly underpaid in just about every walk of life.
Super Bowl III. But this game really was fixed, wasn’t it? I mean, c’mon! Baltimore was an 18 1/2 point favorite to beat Joe Namath and the Jets. Even Colt defensive lineman, and future Police Academy recruit, Bubba Smith thought the outcome smelled fishy. As he recounted in his excellently-titled autobiography Kill, Bubba, Kill: “We were inside the 20 five times in the first half and came away with no points.” The Upshot: Don Shula adds another Super Bowl win to his résumé, Joe Namath rightly never gets into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Jets fans lower their expectations and alcohol intake for generations to come.
1986 World Series. This one is crazy. John McNamara, Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley, and Bill Buckner in cahoots to blow Game 6 of the 1986 World Series?
The Red Sox were one strike away from winning the Series twice, but clearly not smart enough to pull off such an elaborate fix. Bob Fosse himself couldn’t choreograph this exquisite a Red Sox death spiral. But if it was, and the Sox had instead won, it feels like the historic reverberations would have changed the course of everything. The Upshot: The Mets rampant drug problems get exposed and the entire team gets blown up. Queens boy Trump buys them at a fire sale price, and they somehow win it all in 1994 (baseball strike never happens) as their roided-out lineup takes down the Seattle Mariners in 7 games. Then they go bankrupt, natch. The Sox break “The Curse of the Bambino” early and never win another Championship. Steinbrenner goes ape and tries to buy his way back to glory at any cost and the Yankees never develop, though Clemens to the Bronx is inevitable. The Berlin Wall doesn’t come down. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t and it’s because of the 86 series. Seinfeld never happens. OJ doesn’t kill Nicole, but instead wipes out all of the Kardashians. The Knicks inexplicably win a title. John Stamos becomes the most bankable movie star in the world, and flying cars happen but iphones don’t. That’s a lot to sort through.
OK, that’s all for today. We’ll try to fix it so that DJ Eberle doesn’t do his spot and is replaced by… Replacement Matt. Adios!