On the road in Atlanta, the Pirates learned they were among 10 teams to make it to baseball’s postseason. Reporter Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described what followed:
“The center of the visiting clubhouse turned into a fountain of champagne and beer. Everyone wore science-class style glasses, except (star outfielder Andrew) McCutchen, who donned ski goggles. Cigar smoke filled the air. No coach or broadcaster was safe from flying alcohol.”
Baseball welcomes these celebrations, which seem to get more raucous and contrived every season. They’re also more frequent, now that the postseason has been expanded to include more teams.
The World Series winner will stage five such bashes along the way. The Pirates and A’s on the other hand wasted all that champagne before getting knocked out in a single “wild card” game.
Overblown clubhouse celebrations are another of baseball’s tired - and sometimes dangerous - traditions that live on for no good reason. For example, at the slightest sign of an altercation during a game all 50 players plus their coaches storm onto the field, following decades-old protocol. The NBA forbids players from leaving the bench in such situations; baseball, on the other hand, seems not to care.
In 2010 Major League Baseball did take the step of banning beer in post-game celebrations, limiting the alcohol to champagne. But the rule is ignored, as was evident when Madison Bumgarner chugged four beers at once following the Giants’ wild-card win over the Pirates.
Totally lacking in spontaneity, the celebrations are planned far in advance. Heavy duty plastic is affixed to all players’ lockers. Teams purchase roughly 100 bottles of champagne along with protective goggles for each participant. The result is like a bad reality show: no formal script, but every move sanctioned by a wink from the producers.
During the Giants’ two celebrations so far this fall, many of the players were intent on dousing cable-TV reporter Amy Gutierrez, who smilingly conducted live interviews while wiping her eyes and giggling as one might at a sorority party. This was accompanied by a profanity-laced speech from outfielder Hunter Pence, for which the cable channel apologized the following day.
There’s nothing wrong with men who are paid to play a kids’ game having license to act like the boys of summer in occasional celebrations. What concerns some fans - and even baseball veterans - is the stagecraft, the volume of alcohol, and the frequency of the events so early in the long post-season process.
Former pitcher Jim Bouton, who literally wrote the book on clubhouse behavior (“Ball Four,” 1970), told the San Jose Mercury News, “There was a time when drinking some champagne and sliding into potato salad had some real fun in it.” His current view: “Teams are over-celebrating...trying to think of what new gimmick will get you on the cover of Sports Illustrated.”
Maybe these spectacles wouldn’t prompt concern were it not for the fact that the several pro sports are finding it increasingly difficult to control off-field behavior by players, and in-stadium behavior by fans. In both categories, excessive drinking is too often a contributor.
Even the NFL, which seems incapable of doing anything right when it comes to policing its players, has banned alcohol in post-game celebrations.
What’s the takeaway for young fans when they watch on live TV as Andrew McCutchen smokes, Hunter Pence drops f-bombs and Madison Bumgarner drinks four beers at once?
Perhaps the solution is to simply close the clubhouse door and bar all media while players exercise their right to blow off steam and rejoice as they see fit. That won’t happen because it’s not really players who are in control. It’s team owners, PR people and MLB itself. They won’t curb this spectacle because it’s not personal - as a true celebration should be - it’s just business.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker