What happened to Josh Hancock and the St. Louis Cardinals was a tragedy felt throughout the sporting world. The fact that alcohol played a role in his death certainly raises questions about the relationship between drinking and baseball. However, the Major League Baseball clubs that have since banned alcohol from their visiting and/or home clubhouses – while having good intentions – should rethink their reasoning for such change.
I have a problem with how MLB has handled the situation because teams are prohibiting alcohol simply as a way to limit their liability. Negative publicity is the last thing any club wants and there is no greater way to attract negative attention than being mixed up in a drinking-related incident. Teams are trying to give the public the impression that they are looking out for their players, but in reality they are only trying to protect their own skins. I understand why baseball seeks to avoid these kinds of headlines, but this is laughable.
In the book Moneyball, there is a pre-draft meeting between Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, and a few of his scouts. As they are going down the list of potential picks, a scout pipes up that one player is fundamentally anti-drinking. Beane’s response was that he should have another career in mind because it’s pretty difficult to survive in the baseball world with that attitude. The bond between beer and baseball is undeniable.
The ban on clubhouse drinking is a sad attempt at solving this problem. Now a ballplayer who wants to have a few beers after his team just got pounded will head down to the local bar with a couple of buddies instead of kicking back in the clubhouse. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the potential for trouble is much higher if a drinking session takes place at a pub instead of at the stadium.
If I were the parent of a professional baseball player, I would rather have my son do his drinking in the clubhouse. There he would be surrounded by 25 guys who most likely wouldn’t let him drive home if we were falling out the door. The same simply cannot be said if the festivities occurred at a bar, or even at a player’s house. MLB thinks they are making the clubhouses safer, and maybe they will be, but banning booze increases the likelihood that unfortunate events like Hancock’s death will occur outside of the clubhouse.
If clubs really wanted to clean up this problem – and I’m not at all convinced they do – they should learn a lesson from the NFL and NBA. Roger Goodell and David Stern have been slamming athletes who act like deviants with heavy fines and long suspensions over the past few months. Nothing gets to an athlete like having their fatty wallet emptied out and this is the approach MLB should take if they do care about the health and well being of the players.
Major League Baseball is trying to save face by prohibiting grown men from using their own judgment. However, it is the clubs that are showing the lack of judgment as they try to cover their own asses instead of truly looking out for their players.