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Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit died on December 1, 1990, at the age of 90.

December 1, 2018

Every year, I make one sports bet. If I’m in Las Vegas, I make it myself, and if not, I have my Dad — who usually makes at least one trip out there a year — make it for me. I put $100 on the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series. That’s it. I put the betting slip under a magnet on the side of the fridge, and I don’t think about it again until the baseball season is over. If the Cardinals win the World Series, I go out there and collect. If they don’t, I throw it away. In 2011, it actually paid off, and I won, at +2050 odds, about two thousand dollars, which came in handy considering I became a father about a month later. Winning that year allows me to go another decade and a half without a Cardinals title and still break even.

Otherwise, though: I don’t gamble on sports. I might just like sports too much to gamble on them. I know intellectually that money runs sports, just like money runs everything. But that’s the last thing I want on my mind when I’m watching a game. I am pleased when my team wins; I am sad when it loses. That sort of simplicity, I’d argue, is half the point of being a sports fan. Introducing money into the equation, having a profit or financial loss ride on the actual outcome of the game you’re watching, turns it just as craven as everything else in this world. Which of course it is, I know. But it doesn’t have to be for me. The amount of time and emotional investment I put into a team I care about vast exceeds whatever money I might have on the line. All money does is turn something I love very deeply, something that focuses and calms my mind, if not necessarily my heart rate, into just another transaction. And the world has enough of those.

When I find myself in Vegas during baseball season, I usually go put $20 on the Cardinals to win that night’s game, not because I care about the money or I think they’re going to win, but because if you bet on a game you can just sit and watch it and occasionally get a free beer or two out of it. That’s how much of a Vegas party guy your narrator is: His ideal bachelor Vegas night out is indistinguishable from his ideal night out anywhere else on the planet. (Though I’ve found the food has gotten awfully good there in the last decade.) My father loves Las Vegas, and I encourage that: I like it when my Dad has fun. But the place always makes me feel emptier when I leave.

The last non-Vegas sports bet I made was in March 2000. My Illini had made the NCAA Tournament — the first of eight consecutive appearances for the Illini, which is proof this was a very long time ago — as a No. 4 seed, playing Ivy League champion Pennsylvania. An older friend of mine knew I loved Illinois and asked me if I wanted to make a wager on the game while he was in Vegas. Without thinking much about it, I told him, “sure, go Illini!” I discovered shortly before gametime that he had put $100 — $100! — for me on the Illini to cover an eight-point spread. This was March 2000, two months after I’d moved to New York with only two suitcases and a cat carrier at my side, on a one-way bus ticket from Effingham, Illinois to Port Authority; a hundred bucks, at that point, was a terrifyingly large percentage of my total net worth. I spent the entire game in a panic. If Illinois lost, I had no idea how I was going to pay up. Illinois led almost the entire game, but they could never quite pull away. With three minutes left, Illinois was up by nine, a comfortable margin that assured they’d advance to the next round. I should have been joyous — go Illini! — but I was instead petrified. An Illini tournament victory is among the pinnacle of Sports Things that make me happy, and all I was worried about was whether they sneaked ahead of the eight-point line. It was horrible. A pair of Frank Williams free throws late ended up securing a 10-point victory. I had won. But it sure didn’t feel that way. I vowed never to make serious wagers on sports again. It has been an increasingly easy vow to keep.

Part of the Deadspin origin story is that, initially, after seeing my work at The Black Table, the folks at Gawker Media contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in running a new gambling blog they had a sponsorship for called “Oddjack.” I told them I think gambling is decadent and wrong and more than anything destructive, so I probably am not the best guy for their gambling site, but, hey, had they ever thought about a sports site? (They ended up launching Oddjack anyway, with some guy I never heard from again as editor.) It secured my status as a gambling hard-liner for life. I think gambling should be more illegal, not less. I am truly dreading what increased legalizing gambling, with sports leagues actively embracing it and even getting into business with casinos, is going to do the sports I love so much. I think there is going to a major gambling scandal in the next decade, and our sports leagues will have zero moral ground to stand on when it does. I want nothing to do with it. I just want my little games. Count me out. I fold.

(You can hear me complaining some more about gambling on NPR’s “Only a Game” this week as well.)

A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT GEORGE H.W. BUSH AND PUBLIC MOURNING

George H.W. Bush, our 41st President, died yesterday at the age of 94. I was too young to ever vote for or against George H.W. Bush — I had just turned 17 when he lost in 1992 — but my first ever political act was playing Michael Dukakis in an eighth-grade mock debate. Like Dukakis, I got smoked, but I felt like I was nonetheless on the side of the angels. George H.W. Bush seemed to be a good man, with flaws like any other human being, and his death reminded me, once again, that I am always unsettled by public reaction to a widely known, and complicated, person’s death. There is an ugly performative nature to social media after a celebrity’s death, whether it’s to deify them or to unequivocally lambast them. I wrote about this after Robin Williams’ death a few years ago, but we are terrible at reacting to death in real time ... I think it brings out the worst in us, really no matter what we say. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a family member, or even a close associate, of someone famous who dies, to see all these people who have Incredibly Strong Feelings about someone that they didn’t even know at all. Death is so personal. The collective is the opposite.

My suggested reading on Bush would be this fair Jonathan Chait piece from 2014, these incredible excerpts from Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes and, if we’re being thorough, this look at the explosion of the AIDS crisis under his watch. He has sons and daughters and grandchildren and friends who are mourning today, and one can only wish them some peace and solace in an impossible time.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. Georgia Can Beat Alabama (And You Should Be There), WSLS Podcast. My annual Georgia football piece brought this newsletter a lot of new subscribers around here. It’s usually just laments about the inexorable nature of time and pictures of the kids, everyone.

2. Dwight Howard, Twitter Rumors and the Sports Closet, New York. This was an extremely tricky piece, and, frankly, I’m still not quite sure I got it right.

3. Craggs & Leitch: Illini Basketball Update, 26 November 2018, Smile Politely. Anytime anyone can get Craggs to write anything, it’s a good day.

4. Josh Donaldson Is a Perfect Fit with the Braves, MLB.com. Should have been you, Cardinals.

5. The New Orioles GM Has His Hands Full, MLB.com. We’ll check back in, uh, six years?

6. Debate Club: Must-Own Genre DVDs, SYFY Wire. Brundle Fly!

7. The Thirty: An Extension Candidate For Each Team, MLB.com. This piece is guaranteed to look silly ... soon.

THE WILL LEITCH SHOW

We’re on hiatus until February! Get caught up with the ones you missed on Amazon or on SI TV.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, “Creed II,” “The Favourite” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, reviewing the Georgia Tech win, previewing today’s massive SEC Championship Game, which I will be at.

Seeing Red, no show this week.

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

I got some of your letters! They were fantastic. Continuing dialogues on their way. Be a part by sending me letters, about whatever you’d like, at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

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Uncle Tupelo’s “Graveyard Shift.” On an understandable Tweedy kick right now: Newsletter about Wilco is forthcoming, to be warned.

Also, sorry, your kid is awesome, but he or she is not as awesome as my kids.

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Have a great weekend, all.


Best,
Will