National Columnist

Party's over -- baseball's champagne celebration is tired cliche

The Rays celebrate their wild-card playoff win over Texas with champagne showers. (USATSI)
The Rays celebrate their wild-card playoff win over Texas with champagne showers. (USATSI)

Baseball players are still doing that stupid champagne thing in the clubhouse, and every year it bothers me, and every year I let it go. Because who wants to be the curmudgeon complaining about those silly young men and their rascally celebration? Not me. Not until this year, when the Tampa Bay Rays did it twice in 48 hours.

This happened Monday: The Rays beat the Rangers in the 163rd regular-season game to win a wild-card spot, and celebrated by spraying champagne all around the plastic-covered visitors' clubhouse.

And then this happened Wednesday: The Rays beat the Indians in the one-game wild-card playoff, and celebrated by spraying champagne all around the plastic-covered visitors' clubhouse.

So this happened today: I'm writing about the tired, unoriginal way baseball teams celebrate. If this is my church-lady moment, a column of infamy that's going to follow me around the rest of my life -- if this labels me as that guy -- so be it. Because enough's enough. That champagne celebration, surely a special moment wherever it first happened spontaneously, isn't a special moment anymore.

Nor is it spontaneous.

Let me take you behind the curtain and into a major-league clubhouse in the hours the team is gone, playing a winner-take-all game out on the field. The clubhouse is neither empty nor calm. It's chaotic as clubhouse personnel scurry about, moving everything that can be damaged by spraying liquid and stashing it somewhere dry. After that they cover every stall, every piece of stereo equipment, everything of any value at all, with see-through plastic tarps. They cover stuff and they tape it down, and then they move onto the next thing to cover and tape down. And on and on they go, turning a vibrant clubhouse representative of that team's unique personality into something antiseptic, anonymous.

While a couple clubhouse guys are doing that, another one gets the champagne. A hundred bottles or more -- enough for all 25 players to go through two or three bottles each, plus the manager and the coaches, plus any front-office guys. Plus the clubhouse guys themselves. All of this champagne is brought into the center of the room for easy access.

Someone else is getting the goggles.

No, really. The goggles. The team buys several dozen in bulk and places a pair in front of locker stall. Some teams put the goggles in a big tub next to the champagne. Kind of like one-stop shopping for that well-prepared player who wants to celebrate and protect his eyes, all at the same time.

It takes a lot of planning to make this spontaneous celebration go off just right.

And the players, they do it. They think it's great. Why do they think it's great? Because they're not much on thinking. They're fully grown kids, is what they are, and they celebrate like children by doing the same thing everyone else has always done. Why? Because everyone else has always done it.

Here's where I wish I had a legitimate reason for being so bugged by this practice. If only the Nationals were in the playoffs with Bryce Harper, that dainty little pure soul who is 20 years old. You can't be spraying champagne around a 20-year-old! That's illegal or immoral! Or something!

But alas the Nationals aren't in the playoffs, and I don't much care about that anyway. The innocence of a major-league ballplayer is a comical reason to complain about the champagne celebrations, and it would never be my reason.

A better reason would be to hide behind the alcoholism, or potential alcoholism, of any players. You can't be spraying champagne around a recovering alcoholic! That's evil! Or something!

But alas if there are any alcoholics (recovering or otherwise) on the Tampa Bay Rays, I don't know about it. And anyway, while I do care about that -- it would be inconsiderate, even cruel, to spray 100 bottles of champagne around a player battling such a difficult disease -- I wouldn't be moved to write about it. Don't know why. Just wouldn't.

One thing that's cool, though, is how the Detroit Tigers stock their pre-celebration clubhouse with alcohol-free sparkling wine and beer -- out of respect for Miguel Cabrera, who has had drinking issues. Don't get me wrong, the celebration itself is not cool. But being considerate of Miguel Cabrera? Very cool.

Still, baseball players aren't much for thinking outside the box when it comes to stuff like this. And when someone does think outside the box, someone else in baseball doesn't tolerate it. Case in point: The Dodgers were playing at Arizona when they clinched a spot in the 2013 playoffs, and they celebrated by scaling the outfield fence and hopping into the Chase Field swimming pool.

The Diamondbacks got angry, of course. They said it was disrespectful of the Dodgers to use the swimming pool for what it was designed. It would've been more respectful, apparently, to use the visitors' clubhouse for what it was not designed -- a frat house kegger.

Individual baseball players are smart. I know they are. But together, as a group? They're stupid little children who do what everyone else does -- chewing tobacco, spitting sunflower seeds, gobbling greenies, shooting steroids, spraying champagne -- for one reason, and one reason only: Because that's what everyone else does.

And if I'm the bad guy for pointing this out, fine.

But stay off my lawn.

 
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