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Sox are in minority regarding beer policy

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 20, 2011

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Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester readily admitted to drinking beer in the clubhouse during games this season, saying in his defense that it was a common practice in baseball.

“Beer has been part of baseball forever,’’ Lester said. “We’re not the only ones doing it.’’

While Lester is correct, a survey by the Globe showed that alcohol in the clubhouse is being phased out of the game. Of the 30 teams in baseball, the Red Sox are one of just 12 still providing beer to their players.

Of those 12 teams, three limit access to beer and closely monitor the players. The Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Cubs are among the 18 clubs that do not allow beer in the clubhouse, at home or on the road.

Even the Milwaukee Brewers, who play at Miller Park, have banned beer in the clubhouse.

For many teams, the decades-old practice of allowing beer ended in 2007 when St. Louis pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in an alcohol-related traffic accident. Teams were concerned with the safety of their players and liability issues that could result from players driving while intoxicated.

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said yesterday that the team examined its policies at that time and elected not to change them. According to Lucchino, the current alcohol policy was in place before John Henry purchased the team before the 2002 season.

“The Red Sox have made beer available for a long time,’’ Lucchino said. “As long as any one here can remember.’’

Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona said earlier this month that he supported that policy.

“We’ve actually always allowed beer in the clubhouse because I thought they were men and I thought they deserved to be treated like it. They’ve always handled it,’’ Francona said. “A lot of clubhouses now don’t have beer.

“I thought our guys didn’t deserve to be treated like high school kids. We tried to give them a lot of leeway to be grown-up men. I mean that in a lot of instances, not just alcohol.’’

That backfired on Francona this season. Lester, Josh Beckett, and John Lackey drank beer during games, both home and away. They have denied reports that the drinking also occurred in the dugout.

For Ben Cherington, who is set to replace Theo Epstein as general manager, the issue of whether to continue allowing beer in the clubhouse is one he will discuss with the next manager.

“As with any clubhouse policy, we wouldn’t make any determination without talking to the manager,’’ Cherington said. “Since the manager is not in place, it’s too early to say.’’

For the Red Sox, it long has been common practice to have rookies load up plastic bags with bottles or cans of beer to be consumed on the team bus after games. The Sox also provide alcohol on chartered team flights.

It also was not unusual to see Francona or other team officials having a beer following games.

“We’re all grown men,’’ second baseman Dustin Pedroia told WEEI radio last week. “If you want to have a few beers after the game, that’s fine. If you go 0 for 4 with two punchouts and need to have a couple of beers, have a couple of beers. That’s after the game, though.’’

Teams that ban beer in their clubhouse often carry that prohibition over to flights. The Royals prohibit alcohol on flights returning to Kansas City, fearful that players will be impaired when driving home.

But other teams trust their players to act responsibly.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m good with beer being in our clubhouse,’’ Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said after Hancock’s death. “I don’t think anybody should drink to excess, but I’m good with a beer after the game. I’m fine with it.’’

The Red Sox also provide free beer to visiting teams depending on their individual policies. In some cases, beer is stocked in clubhouse coolers for one series and then removed for another.

The Yankees take it a step further, asking teams to remove candy, cookies, and other unhealthy snacks from clubhouse kitchens. That started in 2008. General manager Brian Cashman said at the time it was part of an effort to encourage better eating habits.

“We’re asking our guys to be in good shape,’’ he said. “You can’t turn around and give them beer and pizza every night.’’

Or, presumably, fried chicken.

Lucchino and Cherington would not say whether they favored a ban on beer for the Sox in 2012 and beyond, only that the issue would be discussed. But one simple way to keep players from drinking during games would be to prohibit drinking at all.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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