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The mavericks who remade sports, part I: Charles McNeil, father of the point spread

Who could blame him? The team was bad, the days were long, the future was bleak. It had been decades since the Cubs had won the World Series, mired in a stretch of just three first-place finishes in 10 years.

It was the middle of the Great Depression. A lot of people were drunk, broke, bored, scared. They were looking for diversions of any kind.

He wasn’t kidding. Charles McNeil was in his 30s, a pole-thin, six-foot, football-obsessed mathematical genius with a degree from the University of Chicago. He had been gambling most of his life, parlaying a gift for numbers, a confidence in himself and an obsession with sports, into a side hustle.