DID YOU catch the raucous St. Louis Cardinals locker-room celebration after they clinched their third consecutive division title in the final days of the regular season?
Yeah, I know – I hate ’em, too. The Cardinals, as comedian/Cubs fan Bill Murray put it, are “Satan’s messengers on earth. “
But you have to give them credit, for, in a little-noticed gesture, the team took a big step toward ending a despicable tradition that has plagued baseball for more than a half-century.
Instead of popping the cork on bottles of Champagne, they celebrated their victory with beer.
Beer! Not wine. Not the seeping excrement of crushed grapes. Not corked bottles labeled with foreign words and les accents aigu. Not the bourgeois symbol of pretension and privilege.
Finally, an end to the defilement of our American pastime.
I’ve been seething about Champagne in locker-room celebrations for years, horrified at the sight of ballplayers openly bathing themselves in French bubbly.
Need I remind you? Baseball is mom and apple pie, not Moet & Chandon.
Yet, old newspaper accounts show that baseball has toasted its champions with Champagne since at least the early ’40s. By the 1954 World Series, the tradition had become so ingrained that New York Giants outfielder Dusty Rhodes – a good ol’ boy from Alabama who wouldn’t know a grand cru from a grand slam – would be quoted in the New York Times, complaining that owner Horace Stoneham had failed to stock the winning dressing room with magnums of Champagne.
Baseball didn’t invent Champagne celebrations, of course.
In his 19th-century treatise, A History of Champagne, British author Henry Vizetelly wrote:
“We cannot open a railway, launch a vessel, inaugurate a public edifice, start a newspaper, entertain a distinguished foreigner, invite a leading politician to favour us with his views on things in general . . . without the aid of Champagne. “
Still, you don’t see other sports celebrate with Champagne. Super Bowl champs don’t spray the stuff; they douse themselves with buckets of Gatorade. Indy 500 winners chug down a quart of milk.
The only other sport that routinely toasts with Champagne is Formula 1 racing, and, well, they’re a bunch of scarf-wearing Europeans.
I blame the Yankees for baseball’s embrace of the Dark Side. Of course, I blame the Yankees for almost everything. But in this case, there’s no other explanation.
Champagne is big-city booze. It’s bright lights and Broadway. It’s Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford at the Copacabana. It’s A-Rod and Derek Jeter canoodling with supermodels. Champagne could’ve been introduced to baseball only by fat-cat New Yorkers.
Surely the pin-stripers’ 27 world championships – and, more important, the 27 Champagne-soaked celebrations that followed – are responsible for befouling the game.
We saw signs of the disgraceful tradition crumbling last season, after San Francisco clinched the National League pennant. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner – himself a good ol’ boy from Hickory, N.C. – celebrated by simultaneously chugging six bottles of beer.
Then, St. Louis went all in, popping cans of Budweiser as they celebrated their 2015 division championship.
It was a thing of beauty.
A paradigm shift.
Baseball had thrown off the shackles of Champagne.
And, yet, it passed with little notice.
Rather than recognizing its importance, sportswriters and other commentators sniffed about the contrived nature of postgame celebrations, about Anheuser-Busch’s branding of the festive event, about the “mixed message” of responsible drinking in the midst of so much alcohol. Some even complained about players wearing goggles to protect their eyes from the spray of suds, as if it were somehow unmanly.
So, it is left to us, the beer-drinking baseball fans of America, to toast the occasion:
The Champagne Sham is dead! Long live baseball and beer!
(Lot of good it did the Cardinals. )