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.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.