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.

Video: J.D. Martinez hits league-tying 23rd home run

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox and Mariners left nothing on the table Friday night, going head-to-head in a series opener that eventually ended 14-10 in the Sox’ favor. Led by Steven Wright and Wade LeBlanc — neither of whom made it past the fifth inning — the teams combined for 34 hits and four home runs, including two moonshots from Seattle’s Nelson Cruz and a five-run rally that gave Boston the edge in the seventh.

In the sixth inning, however, the Red Sox were still scrambling to make up a four-run deficit. Left fielder J.D. Martinez cut it in half with one swing, pouncing on an 89.5-mph fastball from Seattle right-hander Nick Vincent and posting it to dead center field for a two-run shot.

The 427-foot blast was Martinez’s 23rd of the season, tying Mike Trout for the most home runs in the league this year. While he still has a ways to go before eclipsing the career-best 45-HR mark he set in 2017, he’s off to a strong start this season: Entering Friday’s game, the 30-year-old slugger was batting .315/.386/.623 with a 1.009 OPS and AL-leading 55 RBI in 308 PA. He finished Friday’s game 4-for-5 with five RBI, just one triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Heading into the All-Star Break, both Martinez and Trout still have some competition for the home run title. Jose Ramirez is sitting at 22 homers, while Nelson Cruz and Khris Davis are tied at 20 apiece.