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On Beer and the Baseball Clubhouse


While we're waiting for the Theo-Go-Round melodrama to play itself out, I recently had the opportunity to perform my first pilgrimage to the Second Church of Baseball in Chicago. While there were many sights to see in the "Friendly Confines"-and I certainly hope that the Sox will force the locals to throw many a baseball back onto the field when they return to Chicago for interleague play in June-there was one particular image that stood out in a way that got me thinking, and somewhat raging. However, the problem is that I'm not sure toward whom my rage should be directed.

The issue at hand was the sight of the fridges in the clubhouses. If you take a peek at the drinks in the home team's clubhouse, you'd have seen many bottled waters, some fruit juices, a smattering of Red Bulls, and perhaps an iced coffee drink or two. (And okay, there's might be a soda. Horrors.) Nothing too crazy, I suppose, and nothing that would suggest anything other than a prim-and-proper home team. Move over to the visitors' clubhouse, on the other hand, and you start getting those wonderful Animal House vibes. In lieu of the "wholesome" offerings, there were all manner cans of soda (all high sugar, high calories, high caffeine, no nutritional value), and nary a water in sight. But the largest contingent of beverage? Beer. Beer regular and light, beer bad domestic and worse domestic, beer cheap and cheaper. But half of that refrigerator was more suited for a sixth-inning run to the nearby concession stand than for a professional sports team's locker room.

Now I know that beer is a part of the culture of baseball. We've all seen the beer flowing freely in clubhouse celebrations, right alongside the obligatory bubbly. In 2007, I remember watching players giving interviews while getting completely soaked, courtesy of their teammates. And, of course, who can forget the sight of chief idiot Jonathan Papelbon wearing an empty 12-pack box carton on his head as he pranced around the ballpark? I don't think this is particularly controversial there: we'll allow brief moments of utter stupidity in the midst of the ecstasy and euphoria of victory.

On a more mundane basis, however, it’s tougher to argue in favor of beer. I suspect many people wouldn’t mind a beer at lunchtime, if they could get away with it. But to see someone who’ll make in a day the equivalent of what we’ll make in a year pounding down a few while "on the job," on a day that might not involve any "real" work? That’s probably sure to raise a few hackles, and it might even lead to a charge or two of unprofessionalism. 

That said, I still can’t figure out what to make of that booze-filled appliance in the bowels of Wrigley. If offering up beer is a common practice in the clubhouses around MLB, it’s a really dumb one. Even in the name of competitive advantage, it’s a sophomoric move, betraying a sense that a team feels it can’t win on its own merits, but needs to tempt its opponents into a stupor to improve its chances at a win. If the home team’s fridge was "scrubbed clean," and cleared of damning evidence to project a better image, then it’s a fundamentally dishonest portrait of the home team as virtuous paragons in muck and mire thicker than the grime on a Dustin Pedroia uniform post-game.

Of course, a certain amount of hate has to go to the players consuming those brews. As I mentioned above, getting drunk on the job just isn’t cool. No matter how much some of us might fantasize about this (and I can’t really say that I’ve ever been one), we all realize that it’s just wishful thinking. It’s a letdown of giant proportions when a player renders himself unfit for service by tying one on before the game gets started—even if there’s absolutely no chance that the manager will be calling upon them during the course of the game. It sets a bad example, and does nothing to help the team. (Postgame, do what you will within moderation. But until that final out is in the books? The only contribution to BAC should be through cold medicines in people who are genuinely ill.)

But, in the end, my thoughts keep turning back to the responsibility of the media in covering this situation. The average "journalist" today has more in common with an ambulance chaser than H. L. Mencken or Upton Sinclair. The raking of muck is still popular, but it’s more in the form of sensationalism rather than the reporting of events. We’ve all heard the stories about the pitching staff, and I won’t rehash those here. However, getting lost in all of these reports was any sense of how prevalent a problem this is in baseball. What was presented as a uniquely Red Sox problem may be far from reality. It might not—it might be a problem in a dozen clubhouses on any given day. It’s also possible that the sharpening of knives was entirely appropriate, as this was a brand new situation not previously seen. I don’t know which is true, but I find it hard to believe that this is the first time in history that such poor decision-making has been witnessed in the annals of professional sports.

Unless the reporters were brand new faces—and it’s obvious that people like Jackie MacMullen and her peers are not new names—it’s tough to make the argument that they can’t comment on what’s gone on behind the scenes on other teams (including Red Sox of older and loftier vintage). Comments from the media, moreover, indicate their own sense of complicity: had the Sox won, they claimed, these stories would never have been dispersed across the electrons flowing through the interwebs. So, this is either something they’ve already seen, or they decided it only became newsworthy because the team collapsed. If they thought this was a serious issue, why didn’t they make a stink of this as the collapse was ongoing? Did they feel that they were risking further access by breaking a story that cast the team in a bad light? It’s hard to give them that much credit, especially when we consider the notoriously sharp knives the Boston media has shown towards their own teams over the years. 

In the end, then, we’re left with a "pox on all their houses" scenario. Everybody shares a little bit of the guilt: the players for getting drunk, the teams for providing conditions that promote poor decision behavior, the media for leaving us all in the dark about what’s really going on, and how big a problem this may or may not be throughout professional sports. It leaves a foul taste in the mouth, and makes everybody look bad—and makes me wonder if fans should continue to subsidize such behavior with their own hard-earned dollars. (And, in my more pessimistic moments, I worry if the average fan even cares.)