Alex Rodriguez, who’s arguably the greatest player of his generation, has done a poor job of maintaining a clean reputation. After admitting to steroid use, receiving the nickname “A-Fraud” from his teammates, cheating on his wife, and enduring the perception that he’s “unclutch,” he’s made things even worse by participating in illegal high-stakes poker games.Of course, plenty of athletes have tarnished their reputations and careers due to their penchants for gambling. Conspiracy theorists, for example, like to claim that Michael Jordan’s first retirement was “forced” by David Stern because MJ allowed things to spiral out of control. The sometimes shady activities of these ultra-competitive, testosterone-laden jocks can produce fascinating stories. Here are 10 guys who serve as proof.
1. Pete Rose
From 1989 forward, all major sports gambling scandals have evoked and will evoke the name of Pete Rose, who remains banned from baseball and the only living person ineligible for the Hall of Fame. His activities as the manager of the Reds compromised the integrity of the game, even though the infamous Dowd Report indicated there was no evidence that he bet against the Reds — years later, investigator John Dowd stated that he thought Rose may have bet against his team. To date, Rose’s biggest admission is that he bet on the Reds “every night.”
2. Denny McClain
Rose’s coauthor of the 1969 instructional booklet How to Play Better Baseball shared a similar interest, one that contributed to his downfall just as he was reaching the prime of his career. After winning the Cy Young Award in 1968 and ’69, his interest in betting on horses eventually prompted him to invest in a bookmaking operation with members of the Syrian mob. According to an article in Sports Illustrated, a foot injury suffered by McClain in 1967 was caused by mobster Tony Giacolone, who bet on the Twins and Red Sox to win the pennant and the Angels in McClain’s last start of the season. McClain, certainly no golden boy, was suspended from baseball on three occasions and has lived a turbulent life since he left the game.
3. Alex Rodriguez
Major League Baseball’s biggest concerns with A-Rod’s involvement in the poker games is the presence of cocaine, the amount of debt he may have incurred and whether or not his activities have led him to betting on baseball. The Pete Rose ordeal has encouraged MLB to nip such issues in the bud — suspicions of Rose’s gambling problems arose in 1970, but, prior to the late ’80s, few could have imagined him being so reckless. A suspension may not be in the cards for A-Rod, but at the very least, he’ll have to suffer through a stern scolding from the commissioner.
4. Michael Jordan
As with your typical type A personality, Jordan always has to be in the middle of the action. In 1993, an eventful year for MJ, he was spotted gambling in Atlantic City the night before a game against the Knicks, he admitted to losing $165,000 due to the vice, and Richard Esquinas, a San Diego businessman, claimed MJ owed him $1.25 million after a game of golf. Now retired for almost a decade, it’s not uncommon to find him participating in high-stakes games or going 18 holes with another celebrity, adding to the veritable library of MJ gambling stories that have been collected through the years.
5. Charles Barkley
Long-time friends with Jordan, Barkley has been just as dedicated as a gambler. In 2006, he told ESPN that he lost $10 million due to the habit — including $2.5 million in six hours while playing blackjack and $700,000 during a Super Bowl weekend — stating that “It is a problem for me,” though he said he would continue gambling. Two years later, The Wynn in Las Vegas sued him for $400,000 for unpaid gambling markers, causing him to publically declare “I’m not going to gamble anymore” on TNT’s NBA playoff pregame show. Not exactly known for his willpower, it’s doubtful that Barkley has stayed the course.
6. Paul Hornung
During the early ’60s, gambling was a major problem in the NFL , as evidenced by the suspensions of its biggest star, Hornung, and All-Pro tackle Alex Karras, both of whom missed the 1963 season for betting on NFL games and associating with gamblers. Hornung bet up to $500 on games, but never bet on the Packers, according to Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Hornung, the league leader in scoring from 1959 to 1961, led the Packers to the 1961 and 1962 NFL championships —the team wouldn’t win another until 1965, a year after he was reinstated. His forthrightness about his gambling ensured the punishment wasn’t too severe and his reputation remained intact.
7. Art Schlichter
A year before the Colts drafted Elway and subsequently traded him away, they made the mistake of drafting Schlichter, whose questionable associations in college foretold the problems that would plague him for much of his life. His signing bonus was gone by midway through his rookie season, and by the end of the 1982 strike, he was $700,000 in debt. Eventually he became the first NFL player suspended for gambling since Hornung and Karras. With his NFL career over, he was arrested in 1987 for his involvement in a multimillion-dollar sports betting operation. Having committed more than 20 felonies during his lifetime, Schlichter has essentially resorted to fraud and forgery for his livelihood.
8. Wayne Rooney
Just 25 years old, it’s difficult to imagine that Rooney has been an international soccer star for several years. It’s even more difficult to imagine that he’s gambled away almost £1 million. As a 20-year-old, he accumulated £700,000 in debt while betting on football (also known as soccer), horses and dogs with a business associate of teammate Michael Owen, a dispute that was eventually settled. Two years later, it was reported that he lost £65,000 in just two hours in a Manchester casino. Rooney has pledged to control his gambling, but with weekly earnings surpassing UK’s gross annual median salary, it’s clear that he has the resources to maintain the habit.
9. Rick Tocchet
Since the versatile Tocchet hung up the skates in 2002, he has pursued careers as a coach, television analyst and bookmaker, the latter of which resulted in two years probation and leave of absence from the NHL. According to a criminal complaint, he was one of the primary funders of a nationwide sports gambling ring out of New Jersey used by several current NHL players. Also operated by ex-New Jersey State Trooper James Harney and a man named James Ulmer, it averaged more than five bets per day worth a total of more than $5,000. Overall, more than $1 million circulated through the ring.
10. John Daly
Barkley’s surprising admission that he lost $10 million to gambling was spurred by Daly’s even more astounding revelation that he lost between $50 million and $60 million during a 12-year period, an estimate that Barkley thought was exaggerated — after all, Daly had an autobiography to sell. With Daly’s unique personality and many vices, stories of his extracurricular activities are abundant. For example, after narrowly losing a match at a World Golf Championship, he lost $1.65 million in just five hours while playing the $5,000 slots. Fortunately for Daly, he can maintain a steady stream of income because of his legendary off-the-course status.
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