So Willie, Mickey and Pete walk into a casino …

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   I should offer the disclaimer upfront that I really like casinos. Not necessarily from a morality perspective, but simply as entertainment that is wildly popular with the masses and will exist with or without state-sanctioned, tax-gulping support.

   Here in Wisconsin, we have casinos run under the auspices of the Native-American tribes that still reside here, and I like that delicious irony even more than my fondness for casinos themselves.

   But disclaimers aside, I really wonder about the recent announcement that the Milwaukee Brewers have inked a deal with the Potawatomi Bingo Casino that makes the gambling behemoth a “presenting sponsor” for the 2009 season.

   My squeamishness stems not from outraged morality, but rather from the seeming hypocrisy of Major League Baseball suddenly being able to disavow its historic aversion to gambling now that the pressures for additional revenue have become so, uh, intense.

(An ersatz 1954 Topps Mickey Mantle card created by Keith Conforti is shown here)

   I know, MLB’s response was that legalized gaming has sewn itself into the national fabric so widely that shunning potential sponsorship money simply didn’t make economic sense. True enough, but the more candid answer might be that economic pressures have prompted the grand old game to embrace partners that they almost certainly would have turned up their nose at only decades ago.

   About 30 years ago, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays from the game for simply glad-handing at Atlantic City casinos, a mercifully short-lived pronouncement that seems almost quaint nowadays.

   In the years since Pete Rose came forward and finally admitted that he had bet on baseball after 15 years of denials, he has been scolded from various corners about continuing a long-running affiliation with Las Vegas that included weekly autograph signings and public appearances.

   Maybe MLB officials can insist that the new welcoming mat for “casino gaming” doesn’t alter Pete’s status on that permanently ineligible list, but I’ll bet (whoops!) for a lot of baseball fans, the seeming contradiction may be terribly significant.

   Let’s see, 1989-2009. Hmmmm. Nice round number. If Pete can’t be considered for the Hall of Fame, can he at least sign autographs at the casino in Milwaukee?

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