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Alcohol-fueled incidents at the ballpark: is it any worse than it has always been?

May 24, 2011, 1:34 PM EDT

Budweiser sign

There’s an AP story today about alcohol at ballparks leading to increased violence, drunkenness, drunk driving and otherwise boorish behavior, pegged to a study by the University of Minnesota. The results are, um, sobering:

  • Alcohol laws and guidelines at stadiums are poorly enforced, with research subjects pretending to be drunk being served 74 percent of the time;
  • Eight percent of people leaving ballparks who submitted to Breathalyzer tests were found to be drunk and 40 percent were found to have had some alcohol;
  • Lots of anecdotal evidence regarding bad, alcohol-fueled behavior and police activity necessitated by fights and stuff.

None of this is good of course, and it would be naive to think that there isn’t an increased amount of drinking at sporting events and increased problems as a result of that drinking compared to normal, day-to-day life.

But I also find these results (or at least the story reporting the results) to be of limited value, mostly because it doesn’t — and likely can’t, in all fairness — compare the state of drinking at the ballpark today to what it was 15 or 20 years ago or more. I think this is critical, because while this study presents anecdotal evidence of a problem today, the anecdotal evidence of yesterday is far more damning.

In his New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James wrote about his experience attending games.  He writes:

“Between 1977 and 1983, I never went to a major league game at which I was not seated near to a loud, obnoxious drunk.  I went to very few games in that era at which there was not a fight that broke out somewhere in the vicinity of my seat … there were frequent incidents of fans throwing things at players, pouring beer on players. Drunken fans would run out onto the field. Sometimes there would be a group of rowdy patrons — for our five guys together, maybe eight, maybe twenty, all drinking and screaming obscenities at the players or trying to pick fights with other fans.

His description went on and on like that, and ended with the observation that between that time and the book’s publication — 2002 — this kind of behavior was largely eliminated from ballparks.  How?  By all kinds of things ranging from checking IDs to making sure fans didn’t bring in their own bottles to a more proactive policing of the stands by ushers.  All of these things — and many more — are still in place at ballparks today.

So I guess what I’d like to know is the stuff being described in the AP article and the study evidence that we are in a backslide to the bad old days James describes, or is it really a situation in which things have gotten way, way better over time, but they were so bad to begin with that alcohol at the ballpark remains a problem.

If it’s the former, baseball probably needs to do something. If it’s the latter, well, we may be simply dealing with human nature and the limitations of anyone to control that when you throw 30,000 people together in one place and sell them beer.

  1. halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    I agree that we need to limit the amount of beer per person at the game. 15 beers per person should suffice. I think if we take this modest approach, we could cut bad behavior by 25%.

    • bobulated - May 24, 2011 at 1:43 PM

      Who can afford 15 beers at the ballgame?

      • Phillies Homer - May 24, 2011 at 1:47 PM

        Ha… I had the same reply lined up! At Citizens Bank it’ll cost you around $116!

        Not too mention 15 beers is a lot to consume at a ball game. Maybe at a barbecue, but you’d spend more than half the game either in the bathroom or waiting in line.

      • halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 1:47 PM

        10 beers before you go into the ballpark, 5 beers in the ballpark. $6.00/beer x 5 beers = $30.00. Problem solved.

      • Phillies Homer - May 24, 2011 at 2:05 PM

        That’s a feasible way to consume 15… but how is that going to be regulated?

        “Excuse me, sir… how many beers did you drink while you were tailgating… Only 14? Okay… here you go! But, this is your last one!”

      • halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 2:07 PM

        Regulating beer intake? The honor system?

      • Phillies Homer - May 24, 2011 at 2:17 PM

        Uh… you are the one that proposed the idea of a 15 beer per person limit…

      • spudchukar - May 24, 2011 at 2:17 PM

        There is something extraordinarily upsetting about the notion that I could read your morning posts Bicepts, and then contemplate your demeanor after 15 beers.

      • halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 2:22 PM

        Actually, spudchukar, my baseball acumen increases per beer I drink. Once I reach 15 beers, I can see plays on the field in my mind happen before they really do.

        Perfect clarity of all that is baseball.

      • spudchukar - May 24, 2011 at 4:11 PM

        You already see things on the baseball field that don’t happen, so your acumen after 15 Yuenlings does not surprise me.

  2. halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    I was thinking of starting a related study myself on Alcohol-Fueled Blog Rage, using myself as the main test subject.

    • CJ - May 24, 2011 at 2:08 PM

      This is too easy, I can’t wait to see some of the responses to this one.

      wait for it…. wait for it…..

      • halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 2:11 PM

        I’m currently looking for a full time blogging job where I can sit at home, write about baseball, drink beer all day, and get paid for it.

    • Craig Calcaterra - May 24, 2011 at 2:17 PM

      It’s taken. Sorry. I’ll let you know if I plan to pursue other interests.

      • halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 2:19 PM

        Darn it. Oh well, I can dream. Maybe I can use you as a character reference when I look for my blogging job with another company (LOL!!!). I’m sure you would give me a ringing endorsement.

    • professor59 - May 24, 2011 at 2:27 PM

      You mean you’ve been writing these while sober so far?

      JK – Just getting in the obvious comeback.

      • halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 2:30 PM

        Your wrong. I’m never sober when I’m on HBT. You guys (and the Phillies’ offense) drive a man to drink.

      • cur68 - May 24, 2011 at 5:34 PM

        Dude I can totally tell when you’re posting drunk. Take last night for instance. You got into it, completely out of nowhere with a bunch of Canadians. Only a guy who’s been drinking would do that.

        Don’t worry though. I explained about the tippling to them.

  3. mikedi33 - May 24, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    Been going to games since the 1970’s and agree 100% with bill James. Going to a game at Citzens Bank Park is 100% different than the old 700 level at the Vet where everyone in the section could be drunk.

  4. teke184 - May 24, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    Things could be improved, but I’d say it’s certainly not worse than it has been in the past.

    Take a look at the number of MLB forfeits due to unruly fan behavior in the 70s as compared to the last 30 years, for instance.

    A number of them in the 70s were definitely alcohol-related, such as Cleveland’s infamous ten cent beer night promotion.

    The one I can find past 1980, a Dodgers-Cardinals game from 1995, was more of a lesson in marketing mistakes, as in “Don’t EVER give away baseballs as a game promotion.”

  5. spudchukar - May 24, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    If I read the study correctly only 1 in 12 people leave a three-hour entertainment event where alcohol is readily available with a BAC level of over .08. This should not be an endictment of behavior of baseball fans, but a testament to responsibility.

    • Phillies Homer - May 24, 2011 at 2:21 PM

      Yea… I saw that too and was impressed! Although, I think it could be skewed. It states that its people who “submitted to breathalyzer tests”.

      Imagine coming out of a ball game and someone asks you to take a breathalyzer. If I’m drunk, and I don’t know you… I’m not submitting to that! It’s like a DUI checkpoint before you even get to your car!

  6. Jonny 5 - May 24, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    I like totally love beer… And FYI, as long as MLB can pick the pockets of beer makers it isn’t going anywhere…..

    • halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 2:33 PM

      Beer is the nectar of the gods….

      Beer and baseball go together like Phillies and greatness.

      • kellyb9 - May 24, 2011 at 3:23 PM

        I hate to disagree with you, but nothing goes better with phillies baseball than a tastykake.

      • Jonny 5 - May 24, 2011 at 3:35 PM

        Although I don’t agree Kelly, but since you also seem to enjoy the best snack cakes on the planet as I do, I have to ask.

        Have you tried the peanut butter kandy kakes with dark chocolate coating yet? Oh Lordy,To die for…..

      • paperlions - May 24, 2011 at 4:47 PM

        Beer and baseball actually do go together….Phillies and greatness? Not so much. 128 seasons, two championships, more losses than any other MLB team in history…..the Cubs have been around longer and even they don’t have as many losses (same number of championships though)

      • cur68 - May 24, 2011 at 5:37 PM

        I knew it Jonny 5, you are a covert cake man after all! Ha!
        I caught you admitting it, too. Cake rules all!
        The bottom of the division is for pie eaters.

    • halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 3:33 PM

      Hey, Kelly, hard to disagree with you. Tastycakes are a long lived Philly staple. I grew up on them, and will still occasionally have one. My favorite has always been the jelly krimpets.

      • Jonny 5 - May 24, 2011 at 3:38 PM

        I used to ride my bike two miles uphill in the rain to get Jelly Krimpets from the Tastycake outlet. A quarter for a pack of 3 will do that to a kid…..

      • kellyb9 - May 24, 2011 at 3:46 PM

        Butterscotch Krimpets… if you can get the icing off the top of package. Sorry to lead us down this path, but that commercial gets drilled into my head during baseball season. Good advertising, I guess.

      • Jonny 5 - May 24, 2011 at 3:59 PM

        There’s a trick, and I should make you pay money, because it’s a good trick that works well. Rub the package vigorously, icing side down on your clothes for a few seconds with some decent pressure, but not enough to smash. VIOLA!!!

      • Utley's Hair - May 24, 2011 at 4:42 PM

        Okay, Jonny, I hafta do it—viola? Like Herbert Viola? From Moonlighting?

        And didn’t that only work with the old waxed paper wrappers?

  7. tuftsb - May 24, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    Are Shin So Choo, Miguel Cabrera and Derek Lowe part of the sample group?

    The thought of 8/100 Phillies fans driving home drunk (5,000 people) should definitely make one reconsider driving to games and is a great endorsement for using public transportation

    • halladaysbicepts - May 24, 2011 at 2:35 PM

      Actually, using public transportation late at night can be very dangerous in Philly. It’s safer to drink and drive. You have a better chance of living than taking the subway in Philly after 11:00PM.

  8. yankeesfanlen - May 24, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    Prior to 1974 some states had no legal limit for BAC, and those that did were set at .15. It wasn’t until 1983 that it went down to .10, then 2004 when all states were set at .08.
    Consequently, you could legally drive home over the GWB from Old-Old Yankee Stadium with the equivalent of ‘bicepts allotment,
    The 70s 80s in Yankee Stadium, the Vet and am sure most other parks were a little less family-friendly than today (from what I can remember……..)

    • baseballstars - May 24, 2011 at 6:43 PM

      Great point. The criteria for being “drunk” has changed over time. It’s like comparing the earnings of Gone With The Wind to Titanic without adjusting for inflation.

  9. iranuke - May 24, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    The thing that I find surprising is that the people doing the study are shocked that they will serve drunks. The economics of the situation say that of course they will serve drunks. I can buy a sixpack of beer at the grociery store for what they charge for on beer, and you can be certain that the ballpark is not paying retail. The profits are HUGE on the sale of beer, so they will serve drunks.

  10. iranuke - May 24, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    The thing that I find surprising is that the people doing the study are shocked that they will serve drunks. The economics of the situation say that of course they will serve drunks. I can buy a sixpack of beer at the grociery store for what they charge for on beer, and you can be certain that the ballpark is not paying retail. The profits are HUGE on the sale of beer, so they will serve drunks.

  11. Michael - May 24, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    It’s definitely a “kids nowadays are worse than ever!” kind of thing. There’s not more or worse drunkenness – that much is pretty obvious to anyone who stops and thinks.

    However, there’s more media to put the drunkenness on display, and to magnify it. Like AP articles.

  12. tuftsb - May 24, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    I knew that the apocalypse was imminent when I saw this beer bong picture from Miller Park
    (language alert)

  13. emeraldcityfan - May 24, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    Could it be that the fans who attend games today are just different from the fans who attended games in the 70’s and 80’s? Look at what it costs to go see a baseball game today. If anything I would have thought with such high prices for the games and the concessions that alcohol fueled incidents would have declined. At Safeco Field it’s so family friendly you can get kicked out for swearing.

  14. baseballstars - May 24, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    Serve weed at games. Violence will plummet. Pipe dream due to ignorance about marijuana, I know…

    • mrcowpatty - May 24, 2011 at 8:11 PM

      Great idea except for one thing. You will forget where you parked your car. Or at least that what they say.

      • cur68 - May 24, 2011 at 8:29 PM

        Food sales will sky rocket. They’ld save a ton of $ on lights because everyone could see like cats in the dark. And all the chicks in the stands would get all frisky like, so more love would be in the air. Sell weed; hell yeah…

  15. ezwriter69 - May 24, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    So it’s not a problem, because it used to be even worse? Using that logic, The Great Depression was worse than this one, so that’s good news, I guess we have no problem with today’s economy…

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