Traditionally, the odds against certain things happening are such that it's not worth looking up the actual, real life, numericals, much less the betting line.
The odds against winning the lottery, the odds against getting fried by lightning in a top hat, the odds against having all or large portions of yourself swallowed by a Great White Shark, and the odds against the Pirates winning the pennant or the World Series fall into the same general category of not worth worrying about.
So why was I on the phone Wednesday with Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports operations at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino SuperBook?
Because the Pirates, who commonly start the baseball season at 100-1 or 200-1 or 250-1 against winning the World Series, are today listed at 25-1. Even more startlingly, they are 11-1 to win the pennant and 5-2 to win the division.
"There are four teams that we don't want to win the World Series; the Pirates are one of them," Kornegay said. "The Cubs would be the worst-case scenario, which is usually the case every year. The Cardinals are another, and the Mets.
"Personally, just so you understand, I would love to see the Pirates win despite us taking a bath at this time. By that time we'd adjust [the odds] to balance our liability as much as we can. But it doesn't mean we'll get out of the hole."
The Vegas sports books got some action on the Pirates at 200-1 at the start of the season from people just taking a flier, and took on some more exposure when the Pirates dropped to 150-1 and 100-1, but since the beginning of last month, serious money has begun to arrive.
"A lot of the adjustments are made due to money that's coming in, and some of it is based on our opinion," Kornegay said. "Do the Pirates have a chance? Do they have the depth to continue their success from the first half? We have a few opinions on that, and different ones. Just like with all the other sports, I have five or six oddsmakers at SuperBook and we never agree. That makes a true solid line. There are some guys I respect more than others. Other guys I know follow baseball more than others and they've been right in the past."
Say what you will about Vegas, but it's one of the few places that throws a dispassionate light on things the rest of the country chooses to get passionate about. The people who drove the Pirates' World Series odds down to 25-1 aren't the people tweeting madly about JMac, A.J., Jay Hay and Cutch and flashing the sign of the Zoltan, nor are they people yammering 24/7 on whether the Pirates need to "add a bat."
These are people trying to make money the old fashioned way, by not burning it.
These are people not terribly impressed that the national media used much of the All-Star break catching up on the Pirates, who spent most of April and May in the well-worn obscurity of low expectations, then morphed into one of the best teams in the game despite the apparent failure to "add a bat." There may have been a bit of an overcorrection among the coast-to-coast punditry on the issue of Pirates competence, but it still has been fairly amazing to see the national media talk Pirates without having to highlight the map of Somalia.
I don't pretend to know what destiny awaits Clint Hurdle's 2012 edition, but I'll admit that I've mentioned to a number of people over the years that when we refer to 1979 as the year of the Pirates last World Series title, we don't mean the most recent.
At least I don't. But now Vegas is making me uncomfortable with that statement.
I was first startled by news the Pirates were 30-1 to win the World Series. I mean 30-1; that's something that could actually happen, like finding a parking spot downtown after 9 a.m.
"Pittsburgh opened at, I believe 200-1, yes that's the highest they were," said Kornegay. "Currently to win the World Series they are 25-1. That makes them the 12th favorite; 11 teams have lower odds, and that kind of shows you where they are, probably a little lower than they should be.
"For the pennant, we opened them 100-1, and they're currently 11-1, the seventh choice. As far as for the division, they were 25-1 to open, currently 5-2. The Pirates don't have a huge fan base, so most of the money coming in is looking at value and a team that has healthy odds. It's not correct to say wise guys, but seasoned gamblers looking for value, along with some baseball fans out there who'll bet on any team that might have a shot."
Of course, all of this is for bemusement only, and none of it should suggest the Pirates won't end the baseball season at their earliest convenience for the 20th consecutive year. Let it serve only as a bit of refreshment, a real world confirmation that some other ending is a real possibility.
Gene Collier: email@example.com. First Published July 12, 2012 4:00 AM