What’s the word I want here? Inane? Asinine? Puerile? When the Mets clinched a berth in baseball’s post season last week, they celebrated by pouring champagne on each other. Vacuous? Same thing when the Yankees secured a spot in the playoffs. Moronic?
Oh, it’s an old baseball ritual, as predictable as the changing leaves of autumn. A team qualifies for the so-called “second season”—the World Series or league divisional series, even the one-game wild card competition—and its players engage in a liquid food fight. As delirious as if they had cured cancer or ended war.
They should be happy, of course. They have achieved a worthy-enough goal in their decidedly competitive profession. Woo hoo. But their tiresome, annual champagne-bath rite—wasteful, childish and ultimately far out of proportion to the accomplishment—spirals into embarrassment.
When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to reach Mount Everest’s summit, they did not pour adult beverage over each other’s head. Nor did Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they set foot on the moon. There was a poet named Ted Koosner who, after 35 years of plugging away, in 2006 won the Pulitzer Prize, the World Series ring of his chosen field. He marked the occasion by going to a local café and having a hot beef sandwich.
Then there is baseball, with its over-the-top, frat-house custom of pouring bubbly onto goofy teammates, coaches, other team employees and reporters. The whole exercise is choreographed—team attendants prepare for the event by hanging protective plastic sheets in the clubhouse and provide safety goggles for the players.
It’s an expensive mess, once reported to cost from $20,000 to $40,000 and requiring day-after steam-cleaning of carpets and replacing ceiling tiles ruined by the spraying booze. Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent once called the bedlam “silly” and tried to curtail it, but got no support from players or owners.
In 2009, the Los Angeles Angels took the idiocy down another notch, to insensitive crassness, when they doused beer on the jersey of Nick Adenhart, their teammate who had been killed during the season by a drunken driver.
There has been some effort by baseball to limit the champagne and, in some cases, replace it with Ginger ale. (Which also is dispensed incoherently.) But the tradition no doubt is fostered by witless media treatment: The wallowing player jubilation is quite visual, after all, just the thing for SportsCenter and sports-page photos.
Yet it may be worth noting that the most exaggerated sports championship of them all, the Super Bowl, is observed without such behavior. In the 1960s, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle decreed that no alcohol be permitted in locker rooms at any time—a rule that still stands—because it conveyed a poor image of the players, particularly to young fans.
Here’s the suggestion I have for giddy baseball celebrants—which comes from the late football Hall of Famer Andy Robustelli, who used to cringe when players punctuated their own terrific performances with wild look-at-me dances: “Act like you’ve been there before.”