Common sense driving MLB alcohol bans

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — So the Boston Red Sox decided to ban beer from their clubhouse.

So former Red Sox manager turned ESPN analyst Terry Francona proclaimed it a public relations stunt.

So former ESPN analyst turned Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine snapped back.

So what?

Can the baseball world just take a deep breath?

The Red Sox unraveled like a cheap suit last September. They needed to find a scapegoat for the failed bid for a postseason that resulted in general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona fleeing town.

So they leaked the story last fall that starting pitchers Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and John Lackey would frequently drink beer and eat fried chicken in the clubhouse when they weren’t pitching.


Just understand it is not like the Red Sox are breaking new ground.

To the contrary, the Red Sox, like usual, are a bit behind times. They are merely catching up with the neighbors.

The Red Sox are believed to have become the 20th out of 30 major league teams to ban beer in clubhouses. That’s a two-thirds majority of the teams with beer bans, but of course, none of them got the attention that the Red Sox demand.

Prior to Game 4 of the World Series last October, in fact, Joe Torre, at the time the executive vice president for baseball operations for Major League Baseball, said a ban in all clubhouses was under consideration by MLB.

“We are supposed to be role models for youth,” he said.

The alcohol-free movement has been going on for more than 30 years in varying degrees, although at times teams will take a step back and reevaluate their alcohol-in-the-clubhouse policies.

And want to know the truth? These alcohol actions aren’t about any self-righteous need to create a proper image.

Nobody is up in arms over Coors Field or Busch Stadium or Miller Park, all facilities carrying the name of prominent breweries. And vendors are not being forced to eliminate alcohol sales.

This isn’t like tobacco, where clubs now have no-smoking areas, have banned use of smokeless tobacco at minor-league parks, and have eliminated the dispersal of free smokeless products in big-league clubhouses.

The alcohol ban in clubhouses comes down to dollars and cents leading to common sense.

It was at the start of the 1979 season that the late Buzzie Bavasi, general manager of the team that was then known as the California Angels, eliminated all alcoholic beverages from the press room at Anaheim Stadium.
Like so many media rooms in the old days, it would frequently be the scene of dawn-breaking sessions where writers, scouts and team execs would sit around talking baseball and enjoying a few more cocktails than were necessary.

There was an outcry from some members of the media that Bavasi was merely cutting corners, trying to improve the profit margin for the Angels because his contract included a profit-sharing clause.

Truth is Bavasi was ahead of the game, which was his trademark. The previous offseason, a local establishment was found liable for the actions of a drunk driver because an attorney argued that the establishment had provided the alcohol that led to the driver being drunk.

“If the lawyers can see a value in suing a bar,” said Bavasi, “can you see the dollar signs in their eyes if someone leaves (Anaheim Stadium) drunk and gets in a wreck? The lawyers are going to sue Gene Autry (the Angels owners) and major league baseball. They will be racing to get to court and file the lawsuits.”

Over the years, alcohol has pretty well disappeared in press boxes across the country, and slowly the movement has hit the clubhouse.

It has even carried over to team travel.

While most teams allow alcohol to be served on charter flights for road trips, there are few, if any teams, that will allow the alcohol to be served on the charter flights home. Why? It’s simple. On the road, players get off the planes and onto buses and go to the team hotels. When they arrive at home, however, players drive home, setting up the possibility of an alcohol-related incident and, as a result, opening the way for a lawsuit against not only the player, but the team for having provided the alcohol.

There have periodic reminders that have prompted additional teams to add alcohol bans.

The incident with the Red Sox last year is the latest, but it is no isolated moment. And to be honest, none were as severe as the incident in 2007, when St. Louis pitcher Josh Hancock died in a car crash on his way home from the ballpark and was found to have been under the influence. The Cardinals, Baltimore and New York Yankees all enacted clubhouse alcohol bans at that time.

The year before, Oakland general manager Billy Beane handed down a ban when pitcher Esteban Loaiza was charged with driving under the influence on his way home from the ballpark.

Now, because the Red Sox have gotten in line, it’s in the headlines again.

It is, however, yesterday’s news that has been given a new spin because Francona spoke up in what most likely was an effort on his part to defend himself. He was, after all, the manager of the Red Sox when the starting pitchers were finishing off brews while games were being played.

Or as Valentine put it: As a television analyst “you’re getting paid for saying stuff. You get paid (as a manager) for doing stuff.”

And Valentine knows of what he says.

“I’ve done that,” he admitted.