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.

Fans allowed at NLCS, World Series in Texas

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Fans can take themselves out to the ball game for the first time this season during the NL Championship Series and World Series at new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Major League Baseball said Wednesday that about 11,500 tickets will be available for each game. That is about 28% of the 40,518-capacity, retractable-roof stadium of the Texas Rangers, which opened this year adjacent to old Globe Life Park, the team’s open-air home from 1994 through 2019.

The World Series is being played at a neutral site for the first time in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It will be played at one stadium for the first time since the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Browns at Sportsman’s Park in 1944.

Some of the seats will be included in presales for Texas Rangers season ticket holders on Friday and subscribers on Monday, and others are set aside for MLB and players.

Tickets are priced at $40-250 for the NLCS and $75-450 for the World Series, and 10,550 seats in the regular sections of the ballpark and 950 in suites will be sold in “pods” of four contiguous seats.

Each pod will be distanced by at least 6 feet and a checkerboard pattern will be used, with alternating rows of seats in the middle or rows and at the ends. Unsold seats will be tied back.

No seats will be sold in the first six rows within 20 feet of the field, dugouts or bullpen. Fans will not be allowed to the lowest level, which is reserved for MLB’s tier one personnel, such as players and managers.

Masks are mandatory for fans except while they are eating or drinking at their ticketed seats. Concessions and parking will be cashless, and the team’s concessionaire, Delaware North, is planning wrapped items.

The NLCS is scheduled on seven straight days from Oct. 12-18 and the World Series from Oct. 20-28, with traditional off days between Games 2 and 3 and Games 5 and 6, if the Series goes that far. The Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series all will be being played at neutral sites because of the coronavirus .pandemic.

MLB played the entire regular season without fans and also the first round of the playoffs with no fans. For the first time since spring training was interrupted on March 12, club employees and player families were allowed to attend games this week.

While Texas is allowing up to 50% capacity at venues, MLB did not anticipate having government permission for fans to attend postseason games at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles or Petco Park in San Diego, where AL playoff games are scheduled.

Globe Life Field has been the site of more than 50 graduations, but the Rangers played their home games in an empty ballpark.

The Rangers will recommend to MLB that the roof be kept open when possible, executive vice president of business operations Rob Matwick said, but the team understands it will be closed in the event of rain. Matwick said MLB made the decision not to sell seats for the Division Series.

Other than 1944, the only times the World Series was held at one site came in 1921 and 1922, when the New York Giants and Yankees both played home games at the Polo Grounds. Yankee Stadium opened in 1923.