This bubbly's for you: Evolution of traditional champagne celebrations in baseball

ByArash Markazi ESPN logo
Monday, November 2, 2015

LOS ANGELES -- Matt Harvey knew what was coming. He fully expected David Wright to spray champagne on him and forMichael Cuddyer to pour it over his head while Harvey attempted to do an interview inside the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium last weekafter the New York Mets advanced to the National League Championship Series.

Following their NL East title party last month in Cincinnati, it was the second of what the Mets hope will be four champagne celebrations this year. No. 3 came Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, where the Mets completed a sweep of theChicago Cubsin the NLCS.

"I talked to David and Michael leading into our celebration in Cincinnati, and they both told me not to wear glasses," Harvey said after the Mets knocked off the Dodgers. "They told me to enjoy the burn."

While there are moments of spontaneity -- Mets pitcherJon Nieseusing the alcohol-soaked carpet in the DodgerStadiumclubhouse as a Slip'N Slide, for example -- there are few surprises left in the seemingly non-stop champagne celebrations in baseball this time of year. They are now as carefully planned and calculated as on-field strategies, complete with league regulations and mandated sponsorships.

Of course, that wasn't the always the case.

When the Brooklyn Dodgers celebrated clinching the NL pennant on Sept. 8, 1955, earlier than any team in history, Don Newcombe was furious.

The star pitcher got into a shouting match with center fielder Duke Snider, who had gotten beer on Newcombe's suit and poured beer into one of Newcombe's hats. "I told him, 'Duke, don't you throw that beer on me because I take care of my clothes," Newcombe said. "I spend a lot of money on my clothes, and I don't want them ruined."

The incident would lead to one of the most famous photos in team history one month later, as Newcombe and Snider stood side-by-side wearing hats and being doused with beer after beating the New York Yankees for the franchise's first World Series title.

"After we won the championship at Yankee Stadium, I said, 'OK, I have this derby and this sweatshirt on; let's pour beer on us," Newcombe said. "That's one of my favorite photos."

Back then, beer was the primary beverage of choice for postgame celebrations, and the Dodgers celebrated with Schaefer, which was the team's sponsor. champagne was served at the team's postgame dinner and reception at the Bossert Hotel in Brooklyn, but it was primarily used for sipping and toasting, unlike today.

"We couldn't afford to celebrate the way they celebrate now. That's for sure," Newcombe said. "It's vastly different from when I played."

Popping the cork

It's hard to pinpoint when the champagne or sparkling wine joined peanuts and Cracker Jack as baseball staples. Not even a call to Cooperstown offers an easy answer.

"This is a question the Baseball Hall of Fame Library has received on a number of occasions," said Matt Rothenberg, manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. "I tried to do a little digging and was unable to come up with much."

One of the earliest mentions of champagne being used in clubhouse celebrations was traced to the Milwaukee Braves, who won the World Series in 1957 and returned in 1958 before falling to the New York Yankees.

While keeping bubbly on ice for the winning team occurred in the 1940s and '50s, using the beverage for spraying instead of drinking didn't become an annual ritual until the 1960s. Champagne was splashed around in the clubhousewhen the Pittsburgh Pirates won the NL pennant and the World Series in 1960. The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals kept the tradition going in the ensuing years.

One of the earliest live televised celebrations that could be compared to today's over-the-top antics occurred when the Minnesota Twins won the American League pennant in 1965. After the Twins beat the Washington Senators 2-1 on Sept. 26, the players piled into the visiting clubhouse at D.C. Stadium and proceeded to grab bottles of champagne, spraying it around and pouring it over heads. "Hey fellas, the microphone won't work if you do that," Twins announcer Ray Scott cautionedas Harmon Killebrew was drenched during their interview.

"That's around the time when it started to be a regular occurrence," said Tommy Lasorda, who was a scout for the Dodgers when they beat the Twins in the 1965 World Series. "You knew if you won you were going to get some champagne on you."

Rules: Made to be broken?

Last month, according to multiple sources, Major League Baseball sent out a one-page memo to teams on the verge of clinching playoff berths, outlining the guidelines for postgame celebrations. It stated that teams must have non-alcoholic beverages for players and limit the amount of alcoholic champagne to two bottles per player; champagne should be used primarily for spraying; beer is the only other alcohol permitted in postgame celebrations; clubs should remind their players and staff to celebrate responsibly; and clubs should make sure transportation is available following celebrations to get players and staff home or back to the team hotel.

"Our policies regarding alcohol in the clubhouse have evolved over time," said Pat Courtney, MLB's chief communications officer. "We set out for these celebrations to be held in a private, controlled setting with limitations and safeguards in place."

Teams have also been told not to take any alcoholic beverages onto the field and spray fans, some of whom may be minors.

"Our policy explicitly states that no alcohol is permitted outside of the clubhouse or at any time on the field of play, and that all celebrations involving the use of alcohol must take place within the clubhouse," Courtney said. "We have MLB security on-site to enforce our rules. The commissioner determines the appropriate steps if any individuals violate our rules."

The problem is, teams have been violating the rules, leaving the commissioner's office to ponder those "appropriate steps." Images of players drinking on the field and spraying fans with champagne have become commonplace this postseason, leading the league to contact the guilty parties and warn them that future incidents will result in discipline.

"Things have gone beyond where they're supposed to," said one league source. "You just have to turn on the TV and can see it."

While each player is only supposed to have two bottles of champagne, clubhouse managers will usually pad the totals to account for coaches, executives, family members and others when buying the bubbly. The Dodgers, for example, had 220 bottles of sparkling wine and 50 cases of beer in San Francisco when they clinched the NL West in September. The Dodgers prepared for the celebration by shipping the bottles of Chandon from Los Angles to Denver and then to San Francisco during their road trip and picked up the beer locally.

Budweiser products are the only beer allowed during postgame celebrations, a distinction reserved for the official beer sponsor of MLB. In addition, Budweiser logos have been plastered all over the plastic covering the lockers for the last decade.

Setting up the postgame celebrations, which entails moving out furniture, covering up the floor and walls with the plastic and setting up the drinks, can take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. That's fine if the game is a blowout, but there have been times when the plastic had to be taken down and the alcoholic beverages hauled out of the clubhouse in minutes when things suddenly went south.

In Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Texas Rangers twice came within a strike of winning the first championship in franchise history, in the ninth and 10th innings. Each time, the St. Louis Cardinals rallied. The Rangers' 10-9, 11-inning loss at Busch Stadium was so sudden the clubhouse attendants didn't have time to pull down all of their preparations. Some players did postgame interviews in front of locker stalls that were covered by tarp.

"That's in the past. We're going forward," said Richard "Hoggie" Price, who became the Rangers' clubhouse manager in 2010 after 22 years of being the umpires' attendant. "It's like when you have a bad meal, you never want to go back to that restaurant."

The Boston Red Sox also experienced a "champagne jinx" during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Mets. The bottles were set up in the visitors' locker room at Shea Stadium when things unraveled for the Red Sox during a 10th inning, capped by Bill Buckner's infamous error.

'It might be a goggles controversy'

The most recent additions to celebrations have been swimming and ski goggles, which are now as much a staple of the festivities as the alcohol itself. While individual players were seen wearing them sporadically over the years, beginning with Bobby Ojeda after the Mets won the World Series in 1986, the 2004 Red Sox were the first team to wear eye protection while celebrating. It has become an annual tradition, but there's a dispute as to which player on the Red Sox did it first.

Johnny Damon claimed Orlando Cabrera was the first one to sport swimming goggles postgame, but David Ortiz also has been credited for the innovation.

"It might be a goggles controversy," said Kevin Millar, who was on the 2004 Red Sox team. "I would've guessed Orlando Cabrera ... might've been Ortiz. I wasn't a huge goggle guy at that point. ... I remember in '03 when we clinched something, sitting here blinking. So when he broke the goggles out [I thought]: 'What a great idea! Get the ski goggles going. Anything you can think of to protect your eyes from champagne.' If we were the guys that brought it out for everyone else, I'm proud of that."

While the sight of 25 or so players in a clubhouse wearing Oakley or Nike ski goggles might be jarring to traditionalists, it's more than just a fashion statement. The alcohol content in champagne can actually cause corneal abrasions for 48 hours, and that's not even taking into account flying corks.

"When we celebrated, we had a good time, but we didn't have goggles," Lasorda said. "We didn't do anything crazy, but I love what the guys are doing now, too."

Oversaturation of celebration?

There are now more opportunities than ever before for cork-popping. Teams have gone from getting the opportunity to celebrate twice in a year, after winning the pennant and the World Series, to as many as five times: clinching a playoff berth, clinching a division title or winning a wild-card game, winning a division series, winning a championship series, and winning the World Series.

But is that too much?

"Basketball and hockey have an 82-game schedule, the NFL has 16 games, but there are 162 games in baseball and about 30-odd games in spring training," said Los Angeles Angels analyst Mark Gubicza, who won a World Series with the Kansas City Royals in 1985. "You're around these guys more than you are your own family. I don't have a problem with it.

"I guess it's tough when you celebrate clinching a playoff spot and a couple days you celebrate clinching the division. I could see the argument there, but anytime you can bring the guys together to celebrate at the end of a long season, I see no problem in that."

More important, perhaps, is that there are now more ways than ever before to celebrate.

When the Rangers clinched the AL West this year, they celebrated on the field with ginger ale and water so their fans could share the experience and out of respect for outfielder Josh Hamilton and his well-chronicled issues with drugs and alcohol.

It's a tradition the Rangers started in 2010 because of Hamilton and pitcher C.J. Wilson, who doesn't drink. The Angels did the same last season when Wilson and Hamilton played for their AL West-winning team.

After the on-field celebration, Hamilton changed in the training room and headed home while his teammates broke out the bubbly in the clubhouse.

"I was out of here so fast I could dang near watch the interviews on TV," he said. "To be a part of it is pretty special. It's always exciting and allows me to feel like 100 percent part of the team and everything that's going on when they include me in that part of it."

While the methods of celebration will continue to evolve, the emotions evoked by winning as a team are timeless.

"We had a great time hugging each other and being proud of each other and proud of what we accomplished," Lasorda said. "It was great. Those are the moments that you never forget. That hasn't changed. Maybe it's bigger now, but the feelings you have with everyone in that clubhouse after you win is the same."'s Jean-Jacques Taylor and Johnette Howard contributed to this story.

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