I used to walk into the Diamondbacks clubhouse after games, see Mark Grace with a beer and think nothing of it. Then Josh Hancock died.
And now I wonder how I could have been so blind.
Hancock’s death — the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher was legally drunk when he drove his rented Ford Explorer into a tow truck just after midnight on April 29 — has called into question a long-standing baseball tradition: Alcohol being available in clubhouses after games.
Already, the Cardinals and Washington Nationals have changed policies and banned alcohol from their clubhouses. Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall said Arizona is considering a ban as well.
“For a number of reasons it makes good sense,” Hall said.
Let’s be clear on one point: There is no indication Hancock was drinking in the Cardinals clubhouse the night he died. Police reports said he drank for 3½ hours at nearby Mike Shannon’s Steaks and Seafood after pitching three innings the afternoon of April 28.
But the fact Hancock did not imbibe in the clubhouse hardly means it’s safe or wise to have alcohol so readily available.
Think about it. Some professional sports teams are supplying their employees with beer before they get into their car to drive home.
That’s asking for trouble, if not a tragedy, and it’s remarkable that we haven’t read the obituary of an athlete who had too much to drink in his locker room or clubhouse.
“This is my office, and I don’t have beer in here,” Hall said. “That’s their office.”
Some professional sports leagues get it. The NFL bans alcohol in its locker rooms at any time during the preseason, regular season or postseason, including after practices. Major League Baseball and the NBA leave it up to each club to determine its policy.
Beer has been a traditional staple of the NHL post-game scene for decades. It’s not uncommon for a coach to down a beer or two before he meets with the media.
Jim O’Neal, the Coyotes’ director of security, said, “There may be some beer in the fridge, but it is not supplied by the team.”
That’s an interesting bit of pretzel logic: We know the beer’s there, but because we don’t go out and buy it, we’re not responsible for what might happen.
Is it hypocritical to ban booze from clubhouses while selling it to fans? Probably. But alcohol is always going to be a part of sporting events. There’s too much money to be made, and teams assuage their conscience by cutting off beer sales before a game’s end.
As if that makes up for the 10 beers sold to Joe Fan the first seven innings.
Something can and should be done, however, about the availability of alcohol in clubhouses and locker rooms. Every team that currently looks the other way needs to send a powerful message that it will not be an accomplice to drinking and driving.
Banning alcohol in locker rooms and clubhouses is not going to stop athletes from getting drunk. It’s not going to stop them from getting behind the wheel.
But sports teams shouldn’t feed the beast. They have a responsibility to make sure their players are stone-cold sober when they leave the parking lot. What those players do after that is on them.
“If they want to take all the liability out of it, they should probably take it away,” Grace said.
Some will view this sermon as an absurd overreaction. They’ll point out that Hancock wasn’t drunk when he left the clubhouse, so why change policy and a culture that’s been part of the sport for years?
Because, eventually, a player — or coach — will overdo it in the clubhouse or locker room then get into his car.
And somebody will get hurt.
Listen to Scott Bordow every Monday at 1:05 p.m. on The Fan (1060 AM) with Bob Kemp.
Team policies on alcohol
Cardinals: Banned after practices or games per NFL policy.
Diamondbacks: Beer is available in clubhouse after games.
Coyotes: Beer is available after games but not supplied by team.
Suns: No team policy but beer is not available in locker room.