Alcohol-fueled incidents at the ballpark: is it any worse than it has always been?

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There’s an AP story today about alcohol at ballparks leading to increased violence, drunkenness, drunk driving and otherwise boorish behavior, pegged to a study by the University of Minnesota. The results are, um, sobering:

  • Alcohol laws and guidelines at stadiums are poorly enforced, with research subjects pretending to be drunk being served 74 percent of the time;
  • Eight percent of people leaving ballparks who submitted to Breathalyzer tests were found to be drunk and 40 percent were found to have had some alcohol;
  • Lots of anecdotal evidence regarding bad, alcohol-fueled behavior and police activity necessitated by fights and stuff.

None of this is good of course, and it would be naive to think that there isn’t an increased amount of drinking at sporting events and increased problems as a result of that drinking compared to normal, day-to-day life.

But I also find these results (or at least the story reporting the results) to be of limited value, mostly because it doesn’t — and likely can’t, in all fairness — compare the state of drinking at the ballpark today to what it was 15 or 20 years ago or more. I think this is critical, because while this study presents anecdotal evidence of a problem today, the anecdotal evidence of yesterday is far more damning.

In his New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James wrote about his experience attending games.  He writes:

“Between 1977 and 1983, I never went to a major league game at which I was not seated near to a loud, obnoxious drunk.  I went to very few games in that era at which there was not a fight that broke out somewhere in the vicinity of my seat … there were frequent incidents of fans throwing things at players, pouring beer on players. Drunken fans would run out onto the field. Sometimes there would be a group of rowdy patrons — for our five guys together, maybe eight, maybe twenty, all drinking and screaming obscenities at the players or trying to pick fights with other fans.

His description went on and on like that, and ended with the observation that between that time and the book’s publication — 2002 — this kind of behavior was largely eliminated from ballparks.  How?  By all kinds of things ranging from checking IDs to making sure fans didn’t bring in their own bottles to a more proactive policing of the stands by ushers.  All of these things — and many more — are still in place at ballparks today.

So I guess what I’d like to know is the stuff being described in the AP article and the study evidence that we are in a backslide to the bad old days James describes, or is it really a situation in which things have gotten way, way better over time, but they were so bad to begin with that alcohol at the ballpark remains a problem.

If it’s the former, baseball probably needs to do something. If it’s the latter, well, we may be simply dealing with human nature and the limitations of anyone to control that when you throw 30,000 people together in one place and sell them beer.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.