Ex-Astros Player Banned For Betting On Baseball, Including On His Own Team

Written By Phil West on June 5, 2024
Michal Kelly, ex-Astros pitcher, receives year ban for violating MLB gambling policy

June 4, 2024, will forever be linked with betting on baseball. It included:

– The first Major League Baseball player to receive a lifetime ban for betting since Pete Rose in 1989.

– The interpreter for star player Shohei Ohtani pleading guilty to bank and tax fraud charges connected to gambling debts.

– A lesser-known former Houston Astro receiving a yearlong ban for gambling activity.

Former Astros reliever Michael Kelly bet on Astros playoff games

According to the Houston Chronicle, Oakland A’s pitcher Michael Kelly received a one-year suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s gambling rules. Texas sports betting is not legal nor would its legalization have nullified MLB’s gambling policy.

The article notes that Kelly bet on Astros playoff games while he was in the club’s minor league system. He finished the 2021 season with the Astros’ AAA affiliate in Sugar Land, Texas.

The investigation revealed that Kelly made only modest gains on the bets that landed him in hot water. The Chronicle reported,

“Kelly’s wagers included bets on the outcomes of the games, over/under bets on the number of runs scored, and on an individual pitcher’s strikeout total. Kelly wagered a total of $99.22 and won five bets for a net win of $28.30.”

The Astros issued a statement saying, “While we will not comment on a matter involving a former member of the organization, we fully support MLB’s sports betting policy and the obligations that players have under Rule 21.”

The Chronicle article notes that “Major League Rule 21, posted in every clubhouse, declares betting on any baseball game in which a player, umpire, league official, or team employee has no duty to perform results in a one-year suspension. Betting on a game in which the person has a duty to perform results in a lifetime ban.”

Kelly placed 10 bets on nine 2021 playoff games, including three Astros games from Oct. 5-17 when the team won the American League pennant, only to lose the World Series to the Atlanta Braves in six games.

Kelly’s ban dwarfed by Marcano receiving first MLB lifetime ban in 35 years

By contrast, Tucupita Marcano, the Padres player who received the league’s first lifetime ban in 35 years, bet “more than $150,000 on baseball, mostly parlays, including 25 games involving the Pirates while he played for Pittsburgh’s major league team,” according to the Chronicle‘s account.

The Washington Post‘s coverage included quotes from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who said that legal sports betting has made it easier for the league to screen for players betting on baseball. He said,

“Since the Supreme Court decision opened the door to legalized sports betting, we have worked with licensed sports betting operators and other third parties to put ourselves in a better position from an integrity perspective through the transparency that a regulated sports betting system can provide. MLB will continue to invest heavily in integrity monitoring, educational programming, and awareness initiatives with the goal of ensuring strict adherence to this fundamental rule of our game.”

The silver lining in the Marcano case is that a legal sportsbook operator raised the red flag back in March. Per the Associated Press, new monitoring measures by MLB led the operator, who remains anonymous, to flag Marcano’s activity as irregular.

Mizuhara pleads guilty to fraud

The guilty plea from Ippei Mizuhara adds another dimension to the shocking revelations about Ohtani’s longtime interpreter. According to the Associated Press’s account of the plea,

“Mizuhara’s winning bets totaled over $142 million, which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani’s. But his losing bets were around $183 million, a net loss of nearly $41 million. He did not wager on baseball.”

As a result of that investigation, allegations surfaced against another former player, LA Angels infielder David Fletcher, who reportedly placed bets with Mathew Bowyer, the illegal bookmaker who took wagers from Mizuhara.

The three other players receiving yearlong bans from baseball on Tuesday are Padres minor league pitcher Jay Groome, Philadelphia Phillies minor league infielder José Rodriguez and Arizona Diamondbacks minor league pitcher Andrew Saalfrank.

Photo by Jeff Chiu / AP Images
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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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