When Joe Torre announced on Monday that Major League Baseball may ban drinking in big league clubhouses — with a slight backpedal on Tuesday — it seemed like blasphemy to many old-timers. After all, it’s not just the celebratory champagne that has often had a place in the locker room — boozing has also been part of the immediate post-game (and for more rowdy teams, the pre-game). What is winning a championship — as the Texas Rangers can do tonite with a win in Game 6 of the 2011 Fall Classic — if you’re not doused in champagne (or in sober Ranger Josh Hamilton’s case, ginger ale)? And what about winding down after a long game with a beer in the clubhouse?
Which is where they eventually got into trouble. If this is the end of clubhouse boozing, it can be blamed on the Red Sox’s historical fall of 2011, when Boston went from a sure thing to…nothing. Instead of rings, the team is left with the departure of boy genius GM Theo Epstein to Chicago and World Series-winning manager Terry Francona getting the axe, with management whispering about his alleged personal problems.
The only men in uniform who admitted to fault — though it will forever be debated if this was really an issue, especially in Boston, where baseball is religion — is the pitching staff. Jon Lester copped to having a few beers in the clubhouse on days when he wasn’t pitching, reasonable enough for a guy who goes every five days. In an interview with the Boston Globe, he said he’d been doing so all season — but it wasn’t noticed by fans or the media until the historical slide.
“There’s a perception out there that we were up there getting hammered and that wasn’t the case,’’ Lester told the Globe. “Was it a bad habit? Yes. I should have been on the bench more than I was. But we just played bad baseball as a team in September. We stunk. To be honest, we were doing the same things all season when we had the best record in baseball.’’
But Torre and many in baseball didn’t see it that way. He trotted out the usual role model speech, and hinted that the voluntary ban that many teams have in effect may become mandatory, shutting down the approximately 12 teams that still allow beers in the clubhouse.
If this is indeed the end, it will come after a long history of drinking in baseball clubhouses. Here’s a few more notable events that shaped drinking history in MLB — from good times to bad.
2007: In one of the most tragic accidents recent baseball history, Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock dies while driving intoxicated (and while texting, reportedly). As a result, numerous teams including the Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees ban drinking in the clubhouse – during home and away games. The grieving Cards’ organization admits that the ban would only go so far in encouraging players to make good decisions off the field. “”I think it’s a smart gesture, it’s an important gesture, but it’s not meaningful,” manager Tony La Russa, who has also had alleged issues with drinking and driving, tells the press. “Because guys just don’t stay around the clubhouse anymore.”
2006: After A’s pitcher Esteban Loaiza is busted for suspicion of driving under the influence, Oakland’s general manager Billy Beane bans alcohol from the clubhouse, beginning another debate around the league. For his part, Beane, a former player (now being portrayed by Brad Pitt in Money Ball), tells the media it was an easy decision. “I almost said to myself, Why didn’t I do this earlier? We’ve gone, what, 25 years here and nothing’s happened? Well, one (incident) would be too many. I don’t want to wake up in the morning and have to hear about something worse (than Loaiza) happening.”
2001: Miller Brewing Company buys the naming rights to the Brewers’s stadium.
1995: Coors Brewery Company buys the naming rights to the Rockies stadium, thus allowing for critics to point to hypocrisy anytime MLB addresses drinking – no matter how valid the point.
1986: First baseman Keith Hernandez is slammed for being in the clubhouse drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette as the eventual champs the Mets rallied back from two outs in the ninth to save themselves from elimination in game six of the World Series. Later, it’s revealed that not only is this common practice in the ’86 Mets’ clubhouse – but really the least of their problems (read Jeff Pearlman’s hilarious The Bad Guys Won for more on the debaucherous team).
1986: That same year, the Astros’ clubhouse isn’t a much more teetotaler-friendly place to be. In a post-game interview, Charlie Kerfield appears hammered – and then proceeds to chug some Busch Light on camera. Nolan Ryan is later interviewed — and is seen with a Coca-Cola in hand — and Kerfeld comes over and douses him with booze.
1974: In what seems to be a stroke of marketing genius, the Cleveland Indians offer 10-cent beer night to fans – who eventually force the team to forfeit to the Rangers because of uncontrollable rowdiness, including a brawl that remains infamous.
1973-84: While the mascot isn’t necessarily drunk himself, Brewie the Brewer turns Milwaukee baseball games into a frat party at times. Before the bleachers are replaced in 1984, the mustachioed mascot slides down a foam chalet into a huge beer mug to celebrate home runs.
1949-1960: The Casey Stengel area in the Yanks clubhouse means good times for boozers of all types. The colorful manager famously divides the clubhouse between “milk drinkers” and “Whiskey Slicks.” “They say some of my stars drink whiskey,” Stengel tells The Sacramento Bee. “But I have found that the ones who drink milkshakes don’t win many ball games.”
More baseball coverage on Food Republic: