Beer has long been
baseball’s beverage of choice. As a kid I listened
to Yankee games and sang along with the jingle: "Baseball and Ballantine...what
a combination, all across the nation..." The announcer, Mel Allen, referred
to home runs as "Ballantine Blasts."
With due respect to apple pie, nothing is more American than watching a baseball
game with a hotdog and a beer. But lately things have gotten out hand.
The problem’s epicenter this season is Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles,
where on Opening Day two unidentified Dodger supporters attacked a fan of the
visiting Giants, Bryan Stow, leaving him sprawled in the parking lot with critical
injuries from which he has yet to recover. One suspect has now been charged,
and while it's not clear what role alcohol may have played, the Dodgers saw a
direct link and immediately revised the stadium’s alcohol policies.
In recent years the Dodgers have been baseball’s most cavalier franchise
when it comes to pushing alcohol sales and tolerating the rowdy behavior that
resulted. Patrons were allowed to purchase two 24-ounce beers at a time – the
equivalent of four "normal" beers – and the Dodgers began selling
hard liquor as well. Following the Stow incident, the Dodgers cancelled plans
for six half-price beer days.
Rules regarding alcohol sales vary widely among the 30 Major League teams
and at the hundreds of minor league venues. Some stadiums, such as AT&T Park
in San Francisco, do not permit beer sales by vendors in the stands. At other
locations, such as Miller Park in Milwaukee – named after a beer company – vendors
do hawk beer.
Many minor league teams, such as the Fresno Grizzlies in California, have
special “one dollar beer nights.” At a stadium I visited in New
Jersey this month they call it Thirsty Thursday – an invitation to over-indulgence.
Research published recently by the University of Minnesota indicates that
roughly 40 percent of fans leaving pro baseball and football games have measurable
alcohol levels in their systems, and 8 percent of fans are legally drunk. The
proportion of drunken fans rises dramatically among two groups: those under age
35, and those who have tailgated before the game.
At Boston's Fenway Park, an increase in beer sales a few years back led to
complaints about intoxicated fans. This season, the Sox declared that alcohol-related
problems had subsided and obtained permission to sell hard liquor, but only after
agreeing to keep it away from the bleachers. Many teams seem to believe that
the best way to deal with alcohol abuse is to sell mixed drinks only in the “luxury” boxes
and “premium” seats.
This approach is part of a larger trend to aggressively segregate fans according
to economic considerations. True, box seats have always cost more than the bleachers.
But at newer parks the higher-priced sections are built in such a way that fans
with less expensive tickets can’t so much as set foot there, meaning they
can’t access the elite concession stands.
Such policies may make wealthy fans feel safer, but they often lead to unrestricted
rowdiness in the cheap seats, which, at Dodger Stadium were overtaken by beer-guzzling
Baseball’s drinking problem extends to the players as well. Already
this year six Major Leaguers from five different teams have been arrested for
drunk driving. The issue of drinking by ballplayers has been of concern since
the 2007 death of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, who was legally drunk
when he crashed his car following a game.
Major League baseball, still attempting to recover from the scandal involving
performance-enhancing drugs, is now said to be working on an alcohol policy for
players. But Commissioner Bud Selig needs to create an over-arching alcohol policy
for fans as well.
Tailgating should be eliminated, as should beer sales by roving stadium vendors.
Sales of alcohol should be halted after six innings, and reduced-price beer banned
entirely. Hard liquor policies need reevaluation.
Rather than leaving alcohol controls to individual owners, Major League baseball
should acknowledge its responsibility to act before there are other serious incidents.
In other words, Commissioner Selig, this Bud’s for you.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was orginally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.