This post pursuant to the "Sports' Culture of Intoxication" that I linked to from our main site earlier today.
I'm crowd-averse as a general rule. This goes double for intoxicated crowds. Sometimes there is not safety in numbers, but quite the opposite -- what began as a happy Sunday afternoon crowd can turn into a raging mob when properly lubricated. I've seen this firsthand a few times, but rarely more vividly than at Giants Stadium on December 23, 1995, when I thought I had had good fortune when a friend invited me to be his guest at field level on the 50-yard line for the Chargers-Giants game that afternoon. It had snowed the day before, and the Giants, in their brilliance, had not cleared the stadium. As the game, the last of the season in a bad year (remember quarterback Dave Brown?), got out of hand, ammunition was everywhere. As the New York Times put it, "It got serious in the second half. Booze was doing its thing. Disgust tinged with vitriol suffuses a cheerless season, and that was kicking in. Even though the Giants still led 17-10 early in the fourth quarter, snowballs were whipping down on the field from all directions."
The main target was the Chargers' bench; one of their coaches was knocked, pardon the expression, cold. However, those of us at field level were in more danger. First, it takes a pretty good heave to get a ball of ice from the upper deck out to the sidelines, and many fans fell well short -- on us. Some of them simply chipped large blocks of ice from the floor and tipped them over the railing, sending them plunging straight down at us. Not only is there madness in crowds, as one classic book put it, but there is the also anonymity, freeing the cowardly to act out in ways they wouldn't otherwise -- like this jerk.
I have always been struck by the fact that what allowed baseball to become a family spectator sport was the invention of the paper cup -- before that, you were in real danger of being struck by a flying bottle.
One of the worst -- and as you will see, one of the best -- experiences I had with fan inebriation came in the early 1990s at the old Yankee Stadium. As with my Wayne Tolleson tale earlier this week, this is a story I've told before, so stop me if you've heard this one: I had great seats along the third base line to watch the Yankees lose to the Royals. That's what the Yankees did in those days, hard as it is to believe now. The Royals were not a whole lot better, which is why I had good seats -- the ballpark was half empty. For some reason, though, in that whole, half-empty ballpark, I got stuck with three teenage "kids" -- and by "kids" I mean young adults of an indeterminate age, but clearly younger than I was -- a couple of rows in front of me.
The trio came in carrying two beers each, and from the way they wobbled it was clear they had been drinking at least from batting practice, if not since breakfast. Two of them were inoffensive in spite of that, but the third one was THAT GUY, the one who is always in the seat in front of you at the arena concert and feels he's got to stand for the whole show, the guy who is personally going to rally the club to a win because he stood longer and shouted louder than anyone else. My version of that guy was not only smashed, but he had the quintessential set of leather lungs and was all too happy to show them off. From the first pitch of the game, he was on his feet, profaning every player, foreigner and Yankee alike. "Hey, Mattingly, you mother$@#$#@ #$%#$#, hit one over here, you $#$#@!!!." Then and now I am not sure how being called a "mother$@#$#@ #$%#$#" was supposed to motivate Mattingly to do anything the guy wanted him to, let alone foul a ball off to him in particular, but maybe I'm a bit slow when it comes to the art of being publicly intoxicated.
You're probably thinking, "Okay, the guy was loud and profane," so what? Well, he wasn't just loud, he was LOUD. Imagine a 20-year-old white guy who sounds like James Earle Jones portraying Sid Vicious. It was also CONSTANT. The only time he stopped swearing was to take another drink. He was like his own drinking game: "Drink if I say @#$#." Families with children were actually leaving their seats to get away from this guy.It was like he blocked off the whole game with his mouth. It really was an unpleasant experiment in sense overload.
I know today he wouldn't have been served or would have been cut off, but back then, the beer kept coming. Finally, someone must have called security, such as it was in those days. Say this: today, Yankee Stadium security is dedicated to protecting you from bad people who would enter your expensive seating area with their inexpensive ticket. I'm not sure what they did back then, because this particular guy moseyed over along with the beer man, who was about to serve these guys one more time. He asked them a few questions, "You been bothering people?" "Nope, not us," and turned away as if he was going to let them stay. I was crushed. At that moment, though, the loud guy stood up, looked at the security guy, and vomited down the front of his own shirt.
Well, that made the security guy pause. "Your friend okay?" he asked the other two. The loud guy had collapsed back into his own seat, looking dazed. "Oh, yes, sir," they said. Incredibly, the security guy again began walking away! Fortunately, in a moment that stimulated religious feelings in me, the loud guy chose that moment to moan, well, loudly. The security guy turned back just in time to see blood spontaneously gout forth from the kid's nose and run down his face onto his shirt, where it commingled with the vomit from a few minutes earlier. At that point the security guard thumbed the trio of drunken idiots out of the game, which I proceeded to enjoy greatly even though the home team went down in flames. As for the drunk loud guy, years later he was elected to the House of Representatives.
...I've never been in the habit of drinking much, and never developed much of a taste for beer, so I've never really experienced a public sporting event as a vehicle towards intoxication. I like baseball enough that I can take it straight, without anesthetic. A baseball game isn't a colonoscopy, so why treat it like one? I am not faulting those of you who have a drink or two at the game without getting loaded, but those that do, it seems to me that the game has ceased being a game and has become more of an excuse -- in which case, why not save your money, stay home, watch the thing on television, and forgo the expensive ticket and the markup on the alcohol? You'll be less likely to ruin someone else's good time, less likely to hurt yourself or someone else, and no one will turn off the tap in the seventh inning. You can go all day long if you like, and though your drinking will no longer be social, at least it will be honest.