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Burgeoning Mets scandal has baseball’s poohbahs fretting

It’s about the New York Mets and the highly unsavory mess that is brewing in their nest. No one is sure of where it’s going, but the potential is colossal. That clear possibility hasn’t fully registered yet, hence the somewhat tame treatment of the issue by the media early on. But it wouldn’t take much to kick the simmering controversy into high gear.

For this story has all the elements. Hollywood couldn’t have hatched a scenario that baseball might regard with greater fear and loathing because “gambling” is the game’s great unmentionable; more so than in any of the others because of what happened infamously way back in 1919. Maybe other games have been more deeply burned by scandal. But none ever got more bitterly compromised.

This much must be emphasized right off the top. As yet there is no implication in the Mets story of any wrong-doing by uniformed personnel, and that means, above all, the players. There’s not the faintest evidence so far of any game having been fixed or any effort to do so. It’s all about the money, of course, but we don’t know about anybody selling out anything; at least not yet.

But when indisputable wrong-doing and devilish chicanery get as close to the field of play as it has with the Mets, that is trouble. When the wise guys get their mitts on a fellow as close to the heart of the matter as Charlie Samuels has long been with the Mets, the danger is real and present. And to think, only a couple of weeks ago Czar Bud Selig was warbling like a songbird about this being “the golden age of baseball.” How silly!

You may never have heard of Charlie Samuels but he’s an important man. He went to work for the Mets in 1976 at the age of 19. Like many lads who make a lucrative career out of being an inside-guy on a major league baseball team, he started by picking up towels and undergarments in the steaming clubhouse and doing that grubby work with patience and dedication while keeping his mouth shut, pledging fealty to the players, and paying heavy dues.

No mere vassal, he was obviously good at all that as well as smart, crafty, and ambitious because by the summer of 2010, after 34 years with the team, he had become their clubhouse manager, equipment manager, traveling secretary, resident father confessor, and de facto aide de camp. This is remarkable. On most teams there would be at least two or three men playing these rather intense roles.

But on the Mets, and for many years now, all of them have been wrapped in the single and increasingly potent presence of Charlie Samuels. He is said to have enjoyed the total confidence of the players, regularly counseling them on all manner of matters in his own private office in the clubhouse, while of course also catering to their every last need and demand.

Charlie seems to have been a bit more lofty than the ordinary master sergeants of the locker room. But every major league team has a Charlie Samuels and if you are an outsider – like, say, a wretched member of the always suspect news media -- you are wary of trifling with them, and careful about staying on their right side.

You need to understand that a professional baseball team has its own sub-culture along with its own tribal code of ethics, traditions, and mores. All of which amounts, effectively, to its very own sociology. Baseball is not a mere game; it is a way of life. And in that context, the Charlie Samuels of baseball enjoy the stature of high priests whose power derives from knowing all the secrets and where they may be secreted. Managers come and go; general Managers come and go; but guys like Charlie Samuels are forever. They have the sort of gravitas and institutional clout that those lordly butlers had in the great houses of Great Britain, the ones who really ran the show while being smart enough to let the duke or baron think he was in charge.

This is what we know so far about the burgeoning Mets’ scandal, subject to further up-dating on very short notice.

Samuels has been taped by the Queens District Attorney’s office, which is working with the New York Police Department’s Organized Crime Bureau. They have evidence of him making a lot of football and horse racing bets, which he acknowledges. It’s not clear whether they have wiretaps of him making baseball bets. Reportedly, Major League Baseball officials believe (or want to believe) that he mainly bet on football. But late reports indicate he’s now admitting to having bet on baseball as well. It’s believed wagers were definitely made from the Mets’ locker room.

Authorities also have tapes of bookies associated with organized crime and wise guys associated with the Gambino crime family openly boasting of their nice connection with the Mets and their buddy inside the clubhouse. Such characters have been photographed sitting in $400 box seats at Citi Field, the Mets’ spiffy new playground, seats that could only have been provided by Mets’ personnel. All ball clubs, of course, have blocks of tickets available for the players or other such “friends of the family.” Clubhouse managers on all the teams have long been major providers of such “comps,” which at today’s prices have considerable value.

Samuels is also believed to have trafficked in the marketing of choice team memorabilia, including uniforms, balls, bats, autographs, assorted equipment and do-dads, which in sufficient quantity have huge value on the collector’s market. He’s also suspected of skimming travel expenses in his capacity as traveling secretary. In all his jobs he had access to considerable funds. He’s further suspected of granting himself loans from such sources to finance his various escapades.

Much of said antics are the stuff of white collar crime, a corporate nightmare that doesn’t always rouse the deepest passions of law enforcement. But where Major League Baseball is concerned, it is the gambling connections that are potentially far more explosive. How deeply all that is probed may depend on how ambitious the Queens district attorney, a certain Richard Brown, happens to be. So far Lawyer Brown’s interest appears to be acute, which is bad news for the Mets and even worse news for Major League Baseball and Czar Selig’s “Golden Age.”

Complicating the issue are the Mets themselves and their recent history. Only five years ago their head groundskeeper, Dominic Valila, was charged with being a member of a cozy little $360 million gambling ring allegedly connected with the Bonanno crime family and operating right inside Shea Stadium, then the playpen of the so-called “Amazins.” Yet another of the 36 people nailed by the Queens DA in that crackdown was Nick Priore, Samuels’ right-hand man in the Mets’ clubhouse. Valila and Priore got fired but the ever-clever Samuels skated.

Most interestingly, it was also Mr. Samuels who hired the infamous Kirk Radomski to serve the Mets as a clubhouse attendant back in 1987. History will have a ball with that one. In return, Radomski became the heavyweight champ of the steroid dealers and PED promoters and a star in the Mitchell Report that revealed the depth and scope of baseball’s devastating steroid nightmare. Rodomski was the Typhoid Mary of the steroid debacle. Isn’t it amusing to realize that Mr. Samuels was his mentor.

Obviously there is a huge crisis brewing here. The fact that someone of such dubious ethical merit thrived so long and so intimately with one of baseball’s flagship franchises is a scandal unto itself with consequences and implications that are potentially frightening.

The wise guys don’t need to fix games and don’t want to get players to dump them. Such colorful hijinks went out with Prohibition. Nowadays that stuff is too risky and too dumb. More importantly, there is no bloody profit in it.

All they need to do is get into the clubhouse and find a pal.

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