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.

Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich win MVP Awards

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Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich were announced on Thursday evening as the winners of the 2018 Most Valuable Player Awards as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Betts, 26, led baseball with a .346 batting average, a .640 slugging percentage, and 129 runs scored. He also put together a .438 on-base percentage with 32 home runs, 80 RBI, and 30 stolen bases while ranking among the best defensive outfielders. According to Baseball Reference, Betts was worth 10.9 WAR, the highest total by a position player since Barry Bonds in 2002 (11.8). It was the 21st time a player compiled a 10.9 WAR or better since 1871. The others to do it along with Betts and Bonds: Cal Ripken, Jr., Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner.

Betts is the first Red Sox player to win the MVP Award since second baseman Dustin Pedroia in 2008. Other members of the Red Sox to win the award include Mo Vaughn (1995), Roger Clemens (1986), Jim Rice (1978), Fred Lynn (1975), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Jackie Jensen (1958), Ted Williams (1946, ’49), Jimmie Foxx (1938), and Tris Speaker (1912).

Angels outfielder Mike Trout and J.D. Martinez each received one first-place vote with Betts receiving the other 28. Trout finished in second place with 265 overall points, Indians infielder José Ramírez finished third with 208, and Martinez finished fourth with 198. They were followed by Alex Bregman, Francisco Lindor, Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, Blake Snell, Justin Verlander, Mitch Haniger, Aaron Judge, Xander Bogaerts, José Altuve, Blake Treinen, Andrelton Simmons, Whit Merrifield, Edwin Díaz, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Jed Lowrie, Trevor Bauer, Aaron Hicks, and Chris Sale.

Trout is now one of four players to finish second in MVP Award voting four times, joining Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Albert Pujols. Trout was the runner-up behind Miguel Cabrera in 2012-13 and Josh Donaldson in 2015.

Yelich, 26, led the National League with a .326 batting average, a .598 slugging percentage, and a 1.000 OPS. He also put up a .402 on-base percentage with 36 home runs, 110 RBI, 118 runs scored, and 22 stolen bases while playing above-average defense in the outfield.

Yelich is the first member of the Brewers to win the MVP Award since outfielder Ryan Braun in 2011. The other Brewers to have won the MVP Award are Robin Yount (1982, ’89) and Rollie Fingers (1981).

Nearly a unanimous choice, Yelich was voted in first place on 29 of 30 ballots with NL Cy Young Award winner getting the other first-place vote. Cubs infielder Javier Baéz finished in second place with 250 points and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado finished in third place with 203 points. They were followed by Freddie Freeman, deGrom, Paul Goldschmidt, Lorenzo Cain, Trevor Story, Matt Carpenter, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Ronald Acuña Jr., Aaron Nola, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Jesús Aguilar, Anthony Rizzo, Nick Markakis, and Eugenio Suarez.

Coincidentally, both MVP Award winners hit for the cycle this season. Betts achieved it on August 9 while Yelich did it twice, on August 29 and September 17. Yelich also finished two home runs and one RBI short of the Triple Crown.

The BBWAA voters submitted their ballots before the start of the postseason, so the fact that the Red Sox won the World Series and that the Brewers made it to Game 7 of the NLCS had no impact on the award results. That the Red Sox won a franchise record 108 games during the regular season and the Brewers won the NL Central tiebreaker over the Cubs certainly could have been factors for many voters, however.