- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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I'd had it, I tell you. By the time the Texas Rangers moved one win away from eliminating the Detroit Tigers this week and St. Louis inched toward celebrating a playoff series clincher against Milwaukee, I was ready to write a long-simmering rant. Isn't it about time Bud Selig or Tony Plush, Bill James or some of those trash-talking, shadow-boxing Brewers -- somebody! -- decided to man up and make this goggle-wearing trend among baseball players during postgame Champagne celebrations just stop?
Every time I hear another player throw out some explanation about how he's started wearing goggles because -- boohoo -- it stings when Champagne seeps into his eyes, I think of something Tommy Lasorda bellowed at me once by the batting cage at Dodger Stadium. Lasorda was re-enacting how he quit smoking to underline why he disliked weak-minded players.
"Smokers complain 'It's too hard, it's too hard'-- BAH!" Lasorda said with a sneer. "Do you know how I quit? Every day whenever I wanted to smoke a cigarette again I'd get a pack of cigarettes in my hand and I'd look at it and say, "Who's STRONGER? ME or YOU?"
Initially, the goggle epidemic struck me that way. Real Men Don't Wear Goggles, do they? And who in the hell thought wearing them in the first place was a good idea? Who's to blame?
I'll say this for Kevin Millar -- he at least had the guts to cowboy up and call me back earlier this week, knowing my feelings on this and what the topic was going to be. The reason I called Millar, who's now an analyst for the MLB Network, is the more I dug around, the more I found serious archival evidence (OK just Johnny Damon's book, "Idiot," and David Ortiz's equally lyrical "Big Papi") that suggested Millar was right there, on the ground floor, when Champagne goggles were born. As best I can tell, it happened in 2004 with the Red Sox's so-called Idiots team.
(The first Idiots team, I mean. Not this year's bunch that collapsed in September while three of their highest paid pitchers -- sourpuss John Lackey, Roger Clemens doppelganger Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, who used to play a pitching ace on TV -- spent day after day inside the clubhouse gnawing on fried chicken, swilling beer and playing video games while the Red Sox's real games were going on outside, according to this report in The Boston Globe. Now Tito's gone. Theo Epstein has left the building. And mentions of BoSox owner John Henry's yacht are cropping up in stories far too often.)
Damon pegged shortstop Orlando Cabrera as baseball's first goggle daddy. Cabrera's locker was next to his the night the Sox clinched their '04 American League Division Series over Anaheim, and Damon writes: "Cabrera bent down to pray after the game, and when he stood up he was wearing a pair of swimming goggles Man, that is so dang creative, I said to myself. This is one of the best moves I have ever seen."
The only problem with that account? Ortiz says in his book that he broke out goggles weeks earlier, when the Red Sox clinched a playoff spot in Tampa Bay.
"So, it might be a goggles controversy?" Millar asked.
"Precisely," I said.
I told Millar that Ortiz writes, "While guys were spraying Champagne all over the place, I walked into the bathroom and put on some goggles, and I hooked up a hose to the sink."
Why exactly were a hose and swimming goggles lying around in a big league clubhouse, you ask? Those details may be lost to the winds of history. Ortiz only added: "I walked back into the room and pretended like I was going to spray everyone, and you should have seen 'em all run."
When the Red Sox famously beat the Yankees in the AL Championship Series that year by rallying from an 0-3 series hole, a Harvard website entry noted Cabrera took the field for the final inning of the clincher with a pair of goggles sticking out of his back pocket (but no fried chicken).
And when the Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series and reverse the club's 86-year-old curse, free spirited Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez decided to accessorize the Goggles 1.0 look by wearing a bucket on his head and hoisting a little friend, 2-foot-4 actor Nelson de la Rosa, high overhead. (The look on de la Rosa's face suggests, "Where's Jason Varitek when you need him?")
By then, Millar was a converted goggle-wearing Idiot, too.
"At first I did the old-school thing, but, I'm telling you, that Champagne -- it stings," Millar said.
At the start of this week I would've been tempted to think "Not you, too!" and then boom a reprise of Lasorda's line at him. ("Who's STRONGER? A bottle of '98 Feuillatte Palmes d'Or or YOU?) But by the time Millar and I talked, I had done more research and found that the alcohol content in Champagne can actually give a person corneal abrasions for 48 hours or so if too much gets in his or her eyes. Which is not an optimum way to try to catch up to a 101 mph Justin Verlander fastball.
Also, when I called the most prominent eye surgeon/ophthalmologist/baseball fan I know -- Renee Richards, the former tennis player who's been a Yankees fan since 1946 -- Richards maintained that goggles are not only a good idea for the Champagne melees, they would be a good thing to wear for the pie-to-the-face celebrations that pitcher A.J. Burnett does after dramatic Yankees wins.
Aw, c'mon! No pies now, either? Even if they're only shaving cream pies, not real ones?
"Shaving cream is probably worse for you," Richards said.
And they call the NFL the No Fun League.
Richards says it's inadvisable to shoot any pressurized liquid at the surface of the eye, regardless of whether the liquid has any alcohol content or not. Then she told me the eye-surgeon equivalent of your mom's Don't-Run-With-Scissors story: Richards had a patient once in the '80s who wasn't a ballplayer, but got hit in the eye by a flying Champagne cork at a Fourth of July celebration. He ended up needing multiple surgeries. And that did remind me that while I was reading about the Red Sox's gogglemania, I did find a story that mentioned reliever Tom Gordon got hit in the eye by a flying cork one year, and it affected him in his next appearance when the Yankees moved into the ALCS.
So maybe real men should wear goggles?
"I'm happy they wear goggles," Richards agreed. "If they're childish enough that they want to waste good Champagne during this kind of thing instead of drinking it, let them do it. Even though it's stupid."
You know, the Red Sox started it, I told her.
"Everything the Red Sox do is stupid," she replied.
So there you go.
Millar and I agree the goggles thing is here to stay. But now what? There are only three more clinching celebrations left this year. Might the Cardinals work in the Rally Squirrel if they win it all? Who is going to build on Pedro's buckethead/tiny acrobat innovation and take it to the next level?
"That's a great point -- are you gonna go ski mask now? Maybe everybody's going to come in with goalie masks? What?" Millar asked.
"How about a sneeze guard from the hotel salad bar?" I suggested.
"Interesting It's definitely interesting," Millar said.
Millar added that he never actually shopped for a pair of celebration goggles himself. He says once Cabrera, Ortiz or whomever it was started wearing them, more goggles just seemed to show up in the Boston clubhouse for subsequent celebrations. (Seven years later, baseball -- never averse to making a buck -- seems to be kicking out these ugly putty-grey, MLB-branded models.)
"I don't know if the clubhouse guys went out and got them for us back then, or what," Millar said, "but it got to the point where it was just understood if you see a pair of goggles lying around, you're gonna snake 'em."
I told Millar now that after talking with him and Renee, plus doing all of my deep medical and anthropological research, I had changed my mind. Goggles can stay. No need to call in Tony Plush. The lesson here is never criticize someone 'til you've schnoozled a magnum in their shoes. And I'd have never realized that if I hadn't spoken to Millar because, you know, I've never had an occasion to shoot myself in my face with Champagne like baseball players do. Somehow, it's just never come up.
"Well, that's the thing," Millar agreed. "I'm lucky I'm the Idiot I am."
But that's not all. If the MLB Network asks Millar to cover a clubhouse celebration in the future, he knows what he'll do.
"Media goggles," he said with a laugh. "Next level."
Johnette Howard is a contributing columnist to ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com and is the author of "The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship." She can be reached at email@example.com.