Hartnett: Regarding The Epidemic Of Booze And Drugs In Baseball
‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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If clubhouse drinking was as widespread as various reports are stating, the MLB has a big problem on their hands. Baseball is meant to be a progressive sport that adapts with the times and this kind of behavior is straight out of the ‘Dead Ball Era.’
There was an old legend about a fictional baseball player named Mel Famey who pitched in the late 1890s. Mel played for the strongest team in all of baseball that had the fastest of runners, the surest of fielders and most powerful of bats. Around the turn of the 20th century, drinking beer while participating in professional ballgames was a commonly accepted practice.
Mel, an immortal hurler in his own right was every bit as legendary for his consumption of vast amounts of alcohol while pitching as he was for his mighty fastball. It was a boiling summer day when Mel took the mound on one particular occasion. Between the sweltering hot temperature and the heat generated by the fans packed inside the ballpark, playing in this sort of weather was unbearable for any starting pitcher.
As the temperature would rise, Famey indulged himself in more and more beer. In those days, starters would pitch the whole nine innings. Mel was on the mound in the bottom of the ninth trying to put the finishing touches on the inning with the score tied and the home side coming to bat.
By this point, Famey had consumed an unprecedented amount of ale. Bottles were littered around the pitcher’s mound. He proceeded to allow the first three batters to reach base and demanded another beer from the dugout to ‘clear his vision.’ Mel took one big swig of the bottle and unleashed a thunderous pitch. “Ball!” the umpire beckons. Two more pitches cross the plate with the same result.
With the count 3-0, the hometown crowd goes into a frenzy. Mel grabs the bottle and guzzles it dry and aims it at the opposing bench. The crowd goes silent as Mel stares down the batter. Famey’s gaze was so intimidating that an old lady in the first row of seats behind home plate fainted. Mel checks runner and throws himself into a high leg kick. The ball is delivered from his hand with the power that ten men together couldn’t muster.
“Ball four!” the umpire shouts as the crowd erupts in joy. Famey walks off the mound with his head hung down as the victorious opponents celebrate. Mel and his teammates depart to the visiting locker room and two figures remain on the ballfield after the stadium had emptied. The winning manager and his pitching coach walk out onto the field and the manager picks up the bottle that Famey hurdled near their dugout.
As the manager tucks the bottle into his pocket, the youthful pitching coach asks why he’d want a worthless empty bottle of beer. The manager explains, “You see, son. It’s a piece of history. That’s the beer that made Mel Famey walk us!”
How does this old tale relate to the problem today in modern baseball? Well, back in the ‘Dead Ball Era’ beer wasn’t seen as the inhibitor it is today. In 2011, we live in a society that understands alcohol changes reaction time and coordination.
As The New York Daily News reported today, clubhouse sources revealed that former members of the Yankees and Mets would guzzle booze during games. They revealed what many suspected in that players continue to drink beer dugouts during games. We already know about the exploits of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey.
The concept of players drinking ‘rally beers’ before stepping up to the plate is only acceptable in non-competitive beer league softball. We’re not talking about Sunday softball but in fact major leagues where players earn eight-figure salaries.
These sources cited Jason Giambi and Roger Clemens as players who drank what they called ‘protein shakes’ (beer passed back and forth) in the dugout. A Mets’ source revealed that there would be three or four cases of beer in their clubhouse on most nights and players would go into clubhouse and pour beer into Gatorade cups during games.
This along with other problems inside baseball shows that player power is out of control. I remember reading The House of Representatives Report study that cited Baltimore Orioles players putting amphetamines into a struggling teammate’s coffee to end a bad hitting streak. All of this stuff went on and everyone turned a blind eye.
Whether it was players shooting up steroids inside or outside the confines of the clubhouse, players taking ‘greenies,’ BALCO shipments being delivered inside the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse or players drinking during games everyone ignored this problem. Managers refused to interfere with their players’ disgraceful habits because player power was too strong for managers to reprimand their subordinates. They needed these guys to be happy and supportive to save their own managerial jobs.
Again, this is 2011. Players are still drinking in clubhouses. I don’t mind a player grabbing a beer or two out on the town with teammates if the next day is an off-day but what’s going on is ridiculous. We still don’t have a HGH testing in the major leagues and many prominent players have likely continued to use human growth hormone throughout the entirely of their careers.
It’s up to players to understand that they are being paid a lot of money to represent prestigious organizations and for teams to adopt stronger clubhouse policies. The time has come for those responsible to take a more prominent stance before the game we love becomes a sham and fans begin to turn away from ‘America’s pastime.’
What do you make of drug related problems continuing in baseball today? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.