Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Putting the cork in baseball champagne baths

Dodgers champagne celebration--by Josh Suchon

While reading a story this morning about Dodgers pitcher Jamey Wright, who expressed how much he wants the opportunity to get champagne sprayed in his eyes and feel that burn for the first time in his career, it got me thinking about the champagne protocol in light of baseball’s new postseason.

Under the new rules this year, a second wild card team was added. The two wild cards will meet in a one-game, winner-take-all showdown to advance to the best-of-5 division series.

Will the teams that “win” a wild card berth spray each other with champagne to celebrate reaching a one-game playoff? Will the teams that win the one-game playoff pop the bubbly to celebrate winning a single game?

I’m in favor of neither. If I had to pick one, I originally thought that clinching the wild card berth would be better, since it’s a reward for a 162-game season. My friend and colleague Jeff Fletcher point out on Twitter that the one-game playoff is essentially game 163 in the season, and the celebration should take place after winning that game. I still want neither, but I agree with Fletch.

Overall, this year is the perfect time for baseball to overhaul its champagne celebration tradition.

The Oakland A's after winning the '72 World Series.
Back before I was born, it was pretty simple. Two leagues. One champion each. You celebrated winning the division/pennant. Then if you won the World Series, you celebrated again.

Then came division play in 1969 and the League Championship Series’. This led to a third celebration: division, pennant, and World Series.

Then came the wild card and another round of the playoffs in 1995. This led to a fourth celebration: winning the division (or wild card), winning the division series, winning the LCS, and winning World Series.

Now, are some teams really going to celebrate five times?

Champagne celebrations are definitely a baseball thing. In basketball and football and hockey, teams don’t celebrate advancing to the next round of the playoffs with champagne. 
The only time you spray each other with champagne is if you win the whole thing.

Baseball’s love affair with champagne celebrations has led to some odd occurrences, especially with the Dodgers.

In 1996, the Dodgers clinched a playoff berth. They held a three-game lead over the Padres with three games left, which would be head-to-head. Both teams were going to the playoffs no matter what. If the Dodgers won once, they’d be the division champs. Even if they were swept, they’d still be wild card winners. They didn’t celebrate clinching a playoff spot. They were swept by the Padres, and even though they were the wild card winners, champagne didn’t seem appropriate. Then they were swept in the division series. They never sprayed champagne at all.

In 2008, the Dodgers clinched the division title in the middle of the day, about five hours before their game. They watched the Diamondbacks lose, and went around the clubhouse hugging each other in celebration. Then they played their game. They lost the game … and celebrated with champagne anyway.

In 2009, the Dodgers clinched a playoff berth in Pittsburgh, but it remained to be seen if they’d win the division or merely the wild card. Manager Joe Torre made the decision that a champagne toast was fitting. They’d save the real partying for winning the division. Then they lost five straight games and panic set in. Not panic about reaching the playoffs. That was assured. It was panic about not being able to spray champagne and party. The Dodgers finally clinched the division on the penultimate day of the season and got very wet.

The decisions on when to celebrate, when to toast, and when to shake hands, are made on a team-by-team basis. It’s not like Major League Baseball sends out an edict. If the Commissioner’s Office did, surely they’d be lambasted for getting involved, or curtailing some fun.

In 2012, with five potential celebrations in less than a month, it’s time for individual teams to take a stand and reverse the ridiculousness.

You should get two celebrations. That’s it.
If you clinch the division, go ahead and celebrate. It took you 162 games. That’s your reward.

If you reach the playoffs and win the one-game playoff in Game 163, and you really feel the need to celebrate, I guess I’m OK with it.

If you win the World Series, it goes without saying, go nuts. You earned it.

But please, no more champagne baths for winning the division series and league championship series.