After Stretch-Run Collapse, Beer-Gate Consumes Beantown

Jacob Eisenberg explains the growing problem with alcohol and baseball… 

Alcohol is not just prevalent in baseball; it’s become a part of the sport’s culture. The opening game of the World Series was played at the St. Louis Cardinals’ Busch Stadium, named after the company that manufactures and distributes Budweiser. The first game of the National League Championship Series was played at the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park, named after the company that manufactures and distributes Coors. When watching a World Series game on FOX, you will likely see at least one beer advertisement per each half-inning commercial break. When all is said and done in October, the championship team will proceed to its clubhouse where the players will douse themselves in champagne to celebrate. For a sport that produces heroes and role models for children around the world, it’s unfortunate that alcohol is so ingrained in its culture.

Maybe the Boston Red Sox’s historic September collapse will finally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back with regard to banning alcohol from Major League clubhouses across the country. For a team that garnered a 7-20 record in the final month of the season to surrender a nine-game lead and playoff spot to their division rival the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the few scapegoats the team has found is alcohol.

After suffering the collapse, the Red Sox were quick to point fingers. Team captain Jason Varitek blamed injuries and inconsistency. Ace pitcher Jon Lester claimed manager Terry Francona lost control of the team. The front office evidently agreed with Lester and subsequently worked out a termination agreement with the longtime manager, ending Francona’s eight-year tenure with the team. As reporters delved deeper into Francona’s season, rumors surfaced claiming Francona abused painkillers and was distracted because of marital issues. A week later, after Francona defiantly denied any allegations to abusing drugs, stories emerged regarding Red Sox players drinking beer in the clubhouse and dugout during games. Once the report was made public, players stayed silent.

As word continued to spread about beer in the locker rooms, it raised questions about how far baseball has really come with regards to dealing with alcohol. Major League Baseball (MLB) officials claimed that the league was light-years away from the night Lenny Dykstra drunkenly drove his car into a tree following teammate John Kruk’s bachelor party in 1991 and was eventually applauded by fans for being a “lovable frat-boy.” Based on recent reports, it appears baseball has made minimal progress.

When the Cardinals’ relief pitcher Josh Hancock died in a car accident in 2007 driving with a blood alcohol concentration of nearly twice the legal limit, the MLB promised to tighten up regulations and educate its players about dangers with alcohol. Still, as of October 2011, 12 teams permit alcohol in the clubhouse, and the MLB has yet to mandate a policy regarding alcohol in clubhouses.

In defense of MLB in May after the league’s sixth player was arrested for DUI, Orioles’ Manager Buck Showalter told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, “My first year in New York [with the Yankees in 1992], we used to have beer on tap. You could put a beer in a cup and walk right out with it. There’s a reason why it’s not in the locker room now, or on the plane coming home. The culture is changing.”

News to Showalter: beer is still allowed in nearly half the locker rooms. So much for a changing culture.

If MLB is trying to present itself as anti-alcohol, it is failing miserably. In May of 2011, then Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was fined $20,000 by the league for criticizing umpires through his Twitter account. Meanwhile, that same week, Atlanta Braves’ starting pitcher Derek Lowe and Cleveland Indians’ outfielder Shin-Soo Choo were arrested for DUI, and neither were fined. If the league is truly passionate about preventing future alcohol related disasters, they would at least fine or suspend these players for breaking the law.

In Boston, all parties within the organization have vehemently denied the consumption of beer in the dugout while some of the accused perpetrators confirmed the allegations of what went on in the clubhouse. Clay Buchholz told WEEI in Boston that he drank on his days off. Jon Lester also admitted to drinking and called his drinks “rally beers.” Lester tried to defend the antics by telling The Boston Globe, “There’s a perception out there that we were up there getting hammered, and that wasn’t the case … Most of the times it was one beer, a beer. It was like having a Coke in terms of how it affected you mentally or physically.” In trying to defend himself, Lester actually admitted the real problem: “Beer has been part of baseball forever … [the Red Sox are] not the only ones doing it.”

Just because drinking in baseball has become the norm, it doesn’t mean it is right. MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre is finally looking into banning alcohol from Major League clubhouses altogether. Torre told USA Today, “I can’t drink at my work either. … We’re supposed to be role models for youngsters.”

Telling these men how to live their lives would be acceptable because they are compensated for their play with millions of dollars and are signed on the basis of performance — something alcohol can hamper.

Yes, it is true that we probably would not be having this discussion about banning alcohol had the Red Sox not collapsed. Yes, it is also true that alcohol was probably not the blame of the team’s September woes. However, we should all take this as a blessing in disguise. We should be thankful that the issue of alcohol has grown to the forefront of controversy in baseball because a team potentially derailed their postseason hopes by drinking beer and not because a player derailed his life by drunkenly driving his car off the road.

Originally Published in The Emory Wheel from 10/24/2011

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