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Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Red Sox's problems bigger than beer

By Sarah Spain

Baseball without beer is like the movies without popcorn, a luau without a pig, a moon mission without Tang.

And it's not just the fans who love a brewski with their baseball, it's the players, too. For years, good ol' barley pop had a place in every clubhouse, right alongside water, soda and Gatorade. At the end of a long day on the diamond, guys could grab a seat in the locker room and bond with teammates over a cold one.

In recent years, more and more teams have elected to ban beer in the clubhouse. In fact, 19 of the league's teams now go sans suds. The Red Sox seemed like the type of old-school club that might never deny players the luxury of postgame brews; then last year's infamous "beer and fried chicken" controversy changed everything.

Ever since news leaked of Boston's starting pitchers chowing on chicken and downing drafts during games, the team has had to deal with endless speculation about what role those clubhouse shenanigans might have played in the team's historic free fall. The Red Sox were the first team in MLB history to have a nine-game lead in September and fail to make the playoffs.

New Red Sox skipper Bobby Valentine wasted no time addressing the issue, announcing Saturday that Boston's clubhouse will be cerveza-free on his watch.

Valentine, who owns a bar in his hometown of Stamford, Conn., and is the namesake of the Japanese brew "Bobby Beer," has instituted a no-beer policy in clubhouses before. But former Boston skipper Terry Francona still believes the ban in Boston is a "PR move."

On Monday, Francona told ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" radio show: "I don't think it's a surprise that they put this in effect, or the fact they announced it. It's probably more of a PR move just because, you know, the Red Sox [took] such a beating at the end of the year."

Francona took the biggest beating of all, as he was run out of town, blamed for losing control of the clubhouse and the players. He argued taking something away from the players will only make them want it more.

"I think if a guy wants a beer, he can probably get one," he told ESPN radio. "You know, it's kind of the old rule. ... If your coach in football says no hard liquor on the plane -- I mean, you serve beer and wine -- somebody's going to sneak liquor on the plane.

"If you furnish a little bit, it almost keeps it to a minimum."

Francona makes these athletes sound like a bunch of high school kids, looking to sneak a swig from mom and dad's liquor cabinet. In fact, this view of his guys as immature and rebellious just for the sake of it may have played a big role in last year's fallout.

Baseball has a long season without many breaks. Most players will spend more time in a locker room than their own bedrooms. A ballplayer's office is the diamond, not the clubhouse, so after he leaves the field he should be able to crack a brew and wind down.

Most teams don't have a problem with alcohol consumption; guys will enjoy a beer or two during their postgame meal and that's it. Unfortunately, the actions of a few Red Sox players have turned the issue into a big one for a lot of fans and media, and, as a result, the whole team has been punished.

Valentine is entitled to run things his way, and I think any player who is deeply troubled by the skipper's decision may need to examine his dependence on clubhouse beer. At the same time, I worry the move implies a lack of trust in his new team.

Eliminating beer from the "beer and chicken" equation sounds like an easy fix (there's only so much trouble you can get into with a box of KFC), but if Valentine truly wants to repair a fractured clubhouse, he'll need to do a lot more.

Boston's issues run a lot deeper than 12 ounces.