OUT OF LEFT FIELD
Three Cheers For
A Great Column
(By Somebody Else!)
Baseball Doesnt Need
By STAN ISAACS
with the help of columnist
of The Philadelphia Inquirer
At a time when we will witness some more bacchanalia by baseball juveniles celebrating end-of-the-season successes, Left Field is given over this week to The Philadelphia Inquirers Frank Fitzpatrick. He wrote a column that eloquently put into perspective the revels that have implications beyond the innocence of boys being boys.
Fitzpatrick, 62, is an excellent writer, a shrewd curmudgeon with an irreverent wit. At The Inquirer since 1980, he combines coverage of current events with historical pieces. He has enlightened my awareness of Philadelphia sports and Pennsylvania history since I moved to Pennsylvania a few years ago.
Fitzpatrick dealt with baseballs champagne cocktails in his Giving Em Fitz column after the Phillies raucous celebration clinching first place in the National League East.
He wrote, No one is quite certain when these rituals began, though its likely theyre a hybrid of the triumphant players desire for an upgrade from beer and the champagne-spraying that long marked Grand Prix [auto] victory ceremonies.
For nearly a century, the games champions celebrated in a fashion befitting their modest incomes. Locker rooms were too cramped and smelly for serious partying. Owners were too cheap to spring for champagne. And beer was the accepted post-game drink of choice.
In the 1970s, just about the time free agency dawned, the televised champagne celebration got legs. With affluence came effluence and the congratulatory post-game beer devolved into a Niagara of carbonated craziness.
[These] bubbly, bacchanalian bashes mean less and less. Theyve lost their spontaneity, their meaning. They seem childish, clichéd, staged, and given the sports longstanding problems with alcohol, terribly ill-conceived.
Fitzpatrick mocked these outbursts. A division series?, he scoffed. A league championship series? How long will it be before we see first-place teams celebrating their standing at the all-star break?
These scenes have become an embarrassment on many levels. If nothing else, theyre sybaritic wastes of money in the midst of the worst recession in nearly a century. Televising them is akin to airing fraternity parties. Their authenticity has been diminished since theyve become vehicles to market newly-minted T-shirts and hats. And while we laugh at this testosterone-fueled behavior in Animal House, we cringe at it in real life.
Worst of all, watching the idols of American youth get drunk and stupid cant be good for anyone, not the game, not the players, and certainly not the kids who admire them.
Were not talking about 18-year-olds here. These are supposedly intelligent men in their late 20s and 30s. Men with wives and, God forbid, children.
What is baseball thinking? Are these sudsy spectacles producing the kind of image the multi-billion dollar business wants to project? Players pouring champagne down each others pants? Drinking it two-fistedly? Or, as happened in at least one instance a year ago, chugging it out of a protective cup?
And what about the more serious implications of all this public drinking? All the Roberto Clemente Awards and community service efforts wont whitewash the memory of Nick Adenharts alcohol-related death and Mickey Mantles alcohol-stained legacy.
Baseball, of course, is trapped in a conundrum. If it preaches alcohol-related responsibility too fervently, it risks alienating the beer industry, with whom the sport has long been joined at the lips.
Have you been to a game lately? Theres beer pong in the parking lots, beer guzzling in the grandstands, beer advertising in the outfield. In such an atmosphere, whats one good-natured clubhouse orgy going to hurt?
Once in a while it seems like change is coming. MLB [Baseball] last year urged clubs to try to limit the champagne at these celebrations. The 2010 Texas Rangers, in deference to star Josh Hamiltons past addiction problems, even substituted ginger ale.
And yet baseball continues to enable this foolishness. Lockers are carefully covered with protective plastic. Tubs of champagne are set out in the middle of the clubhouse to facilitate the fun. Cameras, normally banned from the immediate aftermath of games, are permitted to set up inside.
Fortunately, like all traditions, this, too, will pass. Someone will die in a post-party crash, or some team will get sued, or some unimaginable embarrassment will show up on YouTube.
[Eventually] well look back on these senseless rituals the way we now look back on public floggings or straw hats and wonder how we all could have been so stupid.
It is no surprise that many readers let Fitzpatrick know in no uncertain terms that they did not agree with him.
©2011 by Stan Isaacs. (The non-Fitzpatrick portions) The Fitzpatrick column is excerpted with the permission of Frank Fitzpatrick. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted in its present form Sept. 26, 2011.
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