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It's time to ban booze in all clubhouses
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Cabrera may have a terrific season in 2010, but it won’t be an easy one. Temptations will be there in the hotels and restaurants on the road.
Every day, it will be a struggle.
And yet, every day, there will be alcohol available in the home clubhouse after games at Comerica Park.
There’s something very, very wrong about that.
I’m not trying to single out Cabrera or the Tigers. His case is fresh in our minds because he publicly acknowledged his alcohol addiction last week. He is one of many players who have abused alcohol, and the Tigers are one of the 15 or so major league teams that continue to provide it after games.
But the irony in Detroit underscores the need for a broader policy. A universal ban on alcohol in major league clubhouses is long overdue. Until every team removes beer from the working quarters of its employees, each day on the baseball schedule will include the most unsettling of possibilities – that alcohol consumed in a clubhouse could contribute to injury or death on the road.
I struggle to think of a good reason why baseball clubhouses should be viewed differently than all the other workplaces where alcohol is forbidden. The NFL gets this. Roger Goodell has a simple, easy-to-remember policy: If you’re in the locker room, bus or airplane of an NFL team, you can’t drink. Period.
It’s time for Major League Baseball to do the same thing, rather than continue leaving the decision to individual teams.
In fact, the moment to make a major change came three years ago – with the death of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock.
Hancock’s blood alcohol content was over the legal limit when he crashed into a tow truck on a St. Louis interstate. Reports said he had been drinking at a restaurant – not in the Cardinals’ clubhouse – but his death prompted many teams to reevaluate their practices.
Still, a survey and interviews this week by FOXSports.com revealed that roughly half of the 30 teams still make some alcohol – generally beer, not liquor – available to team personnel after games.
This isn’t a lecture about how players should spend their free time. Grown men are entitled to drink beer. (You may have heard that those of us in the sportswriting business tend to be fans of it.) But I’m astonished that more teams haven’t made the obvious liability and public relations connection here.
What if the unthinkable happens? What if one clubhouse beer contributes to the drunken state of a player involved in a fatal accident? What could the team possibly say in that case? Well, we have had alcohol in the clubhouse for years. We never saw a reason to change. Maybe we will now.
There would probably be a lawsuit. There would certainly be public outcry. There would be condemnations about how careless the organization had been. If you think Tiger Woods and Mark McGwire have had it bad lately, I would like to remind you of something: They didn’t kill anyone.
In many cases, teams that changed their policies in recent years did so in reaction to a specific event. But why wait until something awful happens?
The Oakland A’s removed alcohol from both clubhouses at their ballpark in 2006, after pitcher Esteban Loaiza was arrested on a drunk driving charge.
After Hancock’s death, the Cardinals stopped providing beer in the clubhouses at Busch Stadium. And they no longer serve alcohol on homebound charters following the last series of a road trip.
Other teams – such as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks – took notice of the tragedy in St. Louis and eliminated alcohol from their clubhouses, too.
But others did not, for reasons that remain unclear. This is the sort of issue that is forgotten about … and forgotten about … and forgotten about … until happenstance and poor decisions bring about a disaster that the decision-makers can’t explain away.
And for what? Camaraderie? Tradition? Sorry. That’s not worth it.
MLB has worked with the TEAM Coalition to promote responsible alcohol consumption among fans during games. That’s an important step, because it’s more vital to reach 50,000 paying customers than 25 players. But shouldn’t the people on the field be held to an even higher standard?
Baseball needs a leader on this issue. It could be commissioner Bud Selig. It could be a club president. It could be a general manager. It could be a star player. But someone must step forward, realizing that the game’s reputation is at stake.
Naturally, the politics of baseball will make that difficult.
The commissioner’s office must choose its battles carefully, because only two seasons remain under the current collective bargaining agreement. The union, under the new leadership of Michael Weiner, probably doesn’t want to appear paternalistic. Teams may worry about upsetting their players by taking away an adult privilege when they are at the stadium.
But this is a common-sense issue – particularly for clubs, like the Tigers, that are otherwise doing an admirable job of helping an employee afflicted by alcoholism.
You might say that organizations can’t watch their players 24 hours per day. And you would be right. Still, team decision-makers have a responsibility – to themselves and their communities – to reduce the likelihood that their players will become part of a societal problem that kills.
Between budgets and agents and injuries, club executives have enough to worry about. They should do themselves a favor by removing one item from the list. They might save a life in the process.
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