Wednesday, October 8, 2008 Updated: October 9, 12:20 PM ET
Save the champagne celebrations for a real title, please
By Gene Wojciechowski ESPN.com
J.P. Howell, James Shields and Carlos Pena turned a division series win into New Year's Eve.
Commissioner Bud Selig can talk all he wants about the "phenomenal success" of the 2008 season, but make no mistake, Major League Baseball faces a crisis that threatens the very core of the game.
That's right, I'm talking about champagne celebrations.
Enough is enough. Someone needs to explain to the Tampa Bay Rays, even the Boston Red Sox, who should know better, that you pop the cork only when they hand you the really big trophy with all the pennants on it.
Instead, big leaguers insist on dousing themselves for simply reaching the playoffs. Don't they realize that nearly 25 percent of the teams make it to the postseason? So it's not like you climbed K2 on your knees.
The Rays are the worst. They went all New Year's Eve when they clinched a playoff spot, when they finished atop the AL East (and a reported 200 bottles of the bubbly), when they beat the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS and when Evan Longoria completed a USA Today crossword puzzle. You can get drunk from second-hand bubbly in the Rays' clubhouse.
Anyway, we get it. You're happy. Whoo-hoo. But celebrating a postseason berth is like celebrating a 10-cent raise in the minimum wage. Seriously, can you remember who played in a division series four years ago?
I know -- the Rays had the worst record in the majors in 2007 and the third best in 2008. Until this season they'd never won more than 70 games. So you can't tell the Rays to act like they've been there before, because they haven't.
The Red Sox are another story. They've reached the playoffs five of the past six years. They've won World Series two of the past four years. They should understand the difference between winning an ALDS and Selig's presenting owner John Henry with the 30-pound Commissioner's Trophy.
But there they were a few nights ago, thumbs over the neck tops of champagne bottles, spraying away after the series victory against the Los Angeles Angels. That's nice, except none of it matters if you don't beat the Rays in the ALCS, and don't beat either the Philadelphia Phillies or Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
NBA players understand how it works. You didn't see Larry Bird shake and spray the Moet when the Celtics swept the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 1985-86 playoffs. NBA players don't waste the good stuff on anything less than a world championship.
Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz with the newest in champagne celebration attire: goggles.
NFL players don't have a choice. The league prohibits alcohol in the locker room. It's been that way since Pete Rozelle was commissioner.
But big leaguers keep wasting valuable champagne on non-championship moments. Equally disturbing is the sight of ballplayers spraying, sigh, lite beer. What's next, wine spritzers?
And if you're going to do the champagne showers, at least man up enough to skip the protective eyewear. I've been in those clubhouses lately. It's embarrassing. Players are wearing swim goggles, even ski goggles. Before long they'll be wearing wet suits or deep-sea copper diving helmets.
David Ortiz can play with an injured left wrist, but he's afraid of a little champagne spray? Big Papi is a big wussie. Champagne is supposed to sting the eyes. That's the charm of it.
And whose idea was it to erect these elaborate plastic curtains in front of the lockers? Nuh, uh. If a sportswriter has to get his clothes soaked while trolling for quotes during the postgame celebration, the ballplayers' civvies should be available for dousing.
If Selig really cares about baseball, he should get all mavericky and do what's in the best interests of the game. He has the power. Use it.
No more champagne celebrations unless actual championship hardware has been issued. No more goggles allowed within a flying cork of the clubhouse. I mean, even Michael Phelps doesn't wear goggles when he parties.
The madness must stop. Bud, are you listening?
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.