Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Joe Torre Managing With 'House' Money

Ballplayers probably don't gamble much anymore, knowing full well their exploits will end up on YouTube or Deadspin.

Yet there's a quirky phrase in the clubhouse that brings to mind pockmarked pit bosses and leggy gal-pals clinging to the arm of whoever's got the hot hand in baccarat. (Uh, do you actually have a "hand" in baccarat? I honestly don't know.)

The phrase is either "playing with house money," or "playing with the house's money," and it suggests one is blessed enough to be extending one's career longer than one might have hoped or expected. It's like "gravy," or "bonus time."

I first heard "playing with the house's money" from Al Leiter, I believe, five years ago when he was somehow still getting Red Sox out while with the Yankees. (Funny Al Leiter note: I once saw Al, one of the worst hitters ever to play baseball, do the butcher-boy fake bunt play while with the Mets and actually slap a single through a hole. He then tried it just about every time up after that for the rest of his career, not because he might actually fool the third baseman into coming in for the bunt, but because it worked for him that one time.)

After signing with the Yankees, Leiter used the "house money" metaphor to say that he'd essentially earned the free mini-golf game by acing the 18th hole. He thought his career might be done--he would turn 40 that season--but in fact was still wearing a uniform and drawing a giant paycheck each day.

Joe Torre and Tom Verducci described Torre's long Yankees stint in the same manner in their Torre bio, The Yankee Years. Torre was all but done with baseball, having managed the Mets, Braves and Cards, before interviewing with the Yankees in 1995. When he got the job, he saw it as gravy.

"Torre saw the Yankee job as playing with house money," reads the book. "He called Steinbrenner 'George.'"

It's notable that both Leiter and Torre invoked "house money" when it came to their time in the House That Ruth Built. If ever there was an owner who did not give out money for nothin', it was the late George Steinbrenner.

While we're on the topic of house money, I don't gamble much...not at all, in fact. But are casinos really giving out a lot of money to gamblers? I know the high rollers get rooms and drinks and probably some other things that may or may not be legal, but are they getting actual cash in hand from the house?

I'll call Foxwoods and see what I can find out.

Better yet, I'll call Mohegan Sun, because of the cheesy "My Sharona" commercial ("M-m-m-my Mohegan!) that's been stuck in my head since I saw the spot 12 days ago.

A Cal Tech website dedicated to robotics, of all things, offers a variation of house money, saying it's not money given to the gambler by the casino, but money won legitimately from the casino.

"The 'house money' concept boils down to saying, "All the money I still have invested in X is pure profit I got from investing in X. Thus even if X goes to zero, I'll still be better off than if I never invested in X at all, thus I won't feel too bad about it."

Joe Torre is, of course, still plying his managerial trade out in Los Angeles, earning $13 million worth of house money over three years. The Dodgers' owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, are locked in awful and well-publicized divorce proceedings--which some believe may cloud the team's payroll picture in the future. (For all the sleazy details, check out DodgerDivorce.com.)

So Torre is still playing with house money--only it's a house divided.

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