As Major League Baseball’s postseason is nearing the biggest celebration of all — the Houston Astros need one more victory to win the World Series, the Dodgers need two — it seems appropriate to ask: Where does this ritual come from?
“Great question, but I have no idea,” said Cubs reliever Pedro Strop, who celebrated a lot last year when his team snapped a 108-year drought and finally won the Series. He was speaking during a slippery and sticky moment this month after the Cubs beat the Washington Nationals in a five-game division series.
“It’s been like this for years,’’ he added. “It’s actually really fun. It’s like it’s raining and you’re running around to avoid getting wet.”
Few, if any, sports seem to celebrate achievements as much as baseball teams do. In the other major professional sports leagues in North America, teams do not usually pop the corks until they win an actual championship.
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But that may be because other major sports do not play nearly as many games as baseball teams do. The 162-game regular season in baseball is twice as voluminous as the seasons in the N.B.A. and the N.H.L., and has about 10 times more games than the N.F.L. season.
So if a team clinches a playoff spot during the season — even if it is just the right to play in the win-or-go-home wild-card game — it is usually reason enough to break open the champagne and beer.
“I always think it’s silly to do it celebrating a division or getting the wild card,” McCarthy said. “But then I thought about that. You might never get back there. If that’s the only time when you’re first up, why not?”
If a major league team clinches a wild-card spot, wins the wild-card game, captures a division series and the league championship series, and then prevails in the World Series, that means five raucous, alcohol-filled celebrations in perhaps five or six weeks’ time. Four of them could occur within the span of three weeks in the postseason.
“It’s extreme to go from nothing to four celebrations if you win,” said Los Angeles outfielder Curtis Granderson, who has reached the World Series three times in his career — with the Dodgers, Yankees and Mets. “It’s always been interesting to me.”
Baseball championship celebrations involving champagne and beer have their roots in amateur baseball, dating back to the 19th century, according to research by John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball.
In the 20th century, there are instances of rambunctious festivities that go back to at least the 1940s. One involved the Brooklyn Dodgers, who in 1941 won their first National League pennant in 21 years. The clinching victory came against the Braves in Boston. Afterward, Larry McPhail, the Dodgers’ president, arranged for champagne to be stocked on the train for the team’s ride back to New York.
By the time the train reached its destination, “the Dodgers were hilarious and the train was a wreck,” according to a newspaper account of their arrival. One of the Dodgers’ coaches, Chuck Dressen, had his shirt ripped off in the merriment, the article said. Two players, Pee Wee Reese and Pete Reiser, “prowled up and down the aisles squirting everybody with champagne.”
Alcohol was also part of the postgame celebration after the legendary home run that Bobby Thomson hit in 1951 to allow the New York Giants to snatch the pennant from the Dodgers.
And after the Dodgers won the 1956 N.L. pennant, their celebration was described as such in The New York Times: “Beer and champagne were being poured over the heads and into the hip pockets of those who still had uniforms on.”
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The celebrations have continued since then, but with various twists. Many players now use goggles, regardless of what Kershaw thinks. Not surprisingly, the New Era Cap Company, which makes the official caps for Major League Baseball, is now in the goggle business, too.
One goggle-wearer is Josh Reddick, the Astros’ right fielder, who is notorious for his champagne-drenched reveling while wearing only a stars-and-stripes thong. He does not care if he looks ridiculous.
“I love it,” he said in an interview last week. “For as long as I can remember, this is the way it’s been, so that’s what I’m accustomed to and I’ve gotten used to. So I don’t look at it from that perspective, like it being awkward, but it’s just what I’ve known and look forward to as a player.”
Major League Baseball has tried to curb over-the-top celebrations with periodic guidelines concerning such things as the quantity of alcohol available or transportation provided for players and staff.
Some players and baseball executives acknowledge they have not really thought about alternative ways to whoop it up.
Karim Garcia, a retired outfielder from Mexico who spent parts of 10 seasons in the major leagues, said he was surprised when he first took part in a division-clinching celebration with the Dodgers in 1995. As it does now, most of the alcohol, including some expensive champagne, ended up on the floor or sprayed on the ceiling, and went unconsumed.
“It was a great experience, and then you realize: ‘Why are you spraying and wasting it? Better to drink it,’” he said. “We probably should have just sprayed beer. It’s just one of those traditions that’s been around awhile and you just follow it. I think it’s the only place that we do it like this.”
After winning titles in Mexican League baseball, Garcia said, his teams celebrated only with beer because it was cheaper.
Astros reliever Tyler Clippard, a veteran of 11 major league seasons, said: “It is weird. But what else would you do? In the Indy 500, they drink milk. That’s way weirder. What should you do? Spray orange juice?”
Farhan Zaidi, the Dodgers’ general manager, said spraying so much beer and champagne was probably not the “greatest bang-for-the-buck expense that we have as an organization, but it’s a tradition and this sport is full of it.”
“If the celebration for winning different rounds of the playoffs was an elaborate high five, that’s what everybody would do and then go home,” he added. “It’s just what people have always done. But if aliens landed from another planet and saw this, they would think it was pretty bizarre.”