Texas Rangers' Celebration Was Dry - Canada Dry, That is
The bubbly spilled and splattered all over players and anyone else in the Texas Rangers' locker room after they beat the Tampa Bay Rays last Tuesday to clinch their American League Division Series.
Such displays have long been a Major League Baseball ritual.
But there was something very different and very touching about the Rangers' celebration following their 5-1 triumph in the fifth and rubber game of the ALDS at Tropicana Field.
In deference to their teammate Josh Hamilton, who is a recovering alcoholic and the current AL batting champion, these winning Rangers sprayed bottles of Canada Dry ginger ale over everyone instead of showering them with Dom Perignon champagne, the usual MLB celebratory fluid.
The hoopin' and hollerin' was just as loud and happy a chorus from these young athletes as any such boisterous partying in a bath of champagne. Hamilton was delighted.
The 29-year-old native of Raleigh said, "Everybody yelled, 'Ginger ale!' and I just jumped in the middle of the pile and they doused me with it. It was the coolest thing for my teammates to understand why I can't be a part of the celebration and for them to adapt it for me. It says a lot about my teammates. I'm so happy to be here with these guys."
Hamilton's wife, Katie, said, "I love his teammates and they love him. They're family and I just think it is just so awesome that they're sensitive about the whole alcohol thing."
Hamilton's battle to recover from drug addiction and alcoholism has been well chronicled.
Picked first in the overall MLB draft in 1999 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Hamilton nearly destroyed his baseball career and life when he dove into the bottle and became a drug addict while in the minor leagues in 2001.
During a long and difficult struggle back, the 6-4, 230-pound excellent outfielder/slugger left baseball for two years before achieving a modicum of sobriety so he could return to baseball. He had been suspended numerous times by MLB after failing drug tests given to minor league players.
An alcoholic wishing to stop his or her addiction to the most prevalent drug in the world, alcohol, can seek help in many places. There is Alcoholics Anonymous. There are numerous psychiatric therapy services, also. Many alcoholics seek sobriety through a religious choice. Hamilton has apparently become a recovering alcoholic through "finding Christ." He often speaks to young people at church programs across the country.
Unfortunately, Hamilton suffered a "slip" in the winter of 2009 when he went to a bar in Tempe, Ariz. He admits he got drunk, claiming he can't remember much about it. But he says he has not had a drink since and that, as a recovering alcoholic, he could not tolerate a champagne shower -celebration in the locker room.
He had actually planned to get out of the Rangers' locker room before the party began last Tuesday night, just as he did in Oakland two weeks earlier when the Rangers clinched the AL Western Division title.
Hamilton made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007 after passing drug tests, which he continues to take weekly to this day. He was traded to the Texas Rangers in 2008, and his career took off as one of the AL's leading hitters.
He broke three ribs when he -collided with an outfield wall in August and did not play again until the last three games of this year's regular season. He was not one of the impressive hitters during the ALDS against Tampa Bay as his timing seemed to be off after the month-long layoff from the injury.
Alcoholism and baseball have a long association, although excessive drinking by MLB players is probably not any more prevalent than it is in the general population. But like any other group of celebrities, MLB players achieve notorious status if found drinking too much in public.
Babe Ruth was known to indulge quite heavily, although it is questionable whether or not he should be considered an alcoholic. Mickey Mantle, one of the men who succeeded the Bambino as a primary New York Yankees slugger, was an alcoholic during his playing days and long after. Although Mantle sought help in his later years, he suffered from liver disease caused by his drinking and died in 1995 at the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas two months after receiving a liver transplant.
One of Mantle's long-time drinking buddies and a Yankee teammate, Billy Martin, was killed on Christmas Day 1989, in a one-car accident in upstate New York. Martin was a passenger in the pickup driven by his friend, William Reedy, who survived the accident. Both men had been drinking heavily prior to the accident, according to witnesses and forensic tests.
Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, who is now 84, and Ryne Duren, a Yankee relief hurler who is 81, were pitching in MLB when Mantle and Martin played. Both of these big, hard throwing right handers had their careers shortened -considerably because they drank too much. But each of these recovering alcoholics has been sober for more than 40 years, and each spent his life after baseball helping other alcoholics in various programs for youth and professional athletes.
The St. Louis Cardinals were owned by August Busch of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, 1953-1989, and then by the brewery company itself until 1996. The team plays its home games in Busch Stadium in St. Louis and its primary radio and TV sponsor is Budweiser beer, which is produced at the Anheuser-Busch breweries across the nation.
Three years ago, two serious drunk driving incidents marred the team's image, including the death while driving drunk of the Cardinals' 29-year-old relief pitcher, Josh Hancock.
First, the Cardinals' -manager, Tony LaRussa, was arrested in Florida in March 2007 for DUI. Fort Lauderdale police found him asleep at the wheel of his car at a stop light with the engine running and his foot on the brake. Police became suspicious because the traffic light turned green a few times and LaRussa remained in place.
Only a month later, Josh Hancock was killed when the SUV he was driving ran into the rear of a flatbed tow truck about 12:30 a.m., April 29, 2007. He was intoxicated, according to police, who reported his blood-alcohol level was 0.157, about twice the legal limit for Missouri.
Tony LaRussa pleaded guilty in Palm Beach County Court in November 2007. He received a $250 fine and was sentenced to one year of probation and 50 hours of community service.
A few MLB teams have barred alcoholic beverages from locker rooms since some of these recent incidents involving drunken driving hit baseball. This is a particularly sound idea for the home team locker room because players -usually drive their own cars to their home stadium. While on the road, players are bused to and from the stadium and hotel.
Should the Texas Rangers beat the New York Yankees in the current ALCS, it will be a good and safe thing to once again see Canada Dry replace Dom Perignon.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
More like this story