You might expect someone who started his baseball blogging career with a website called Drunk Jays Fans to have a thing or two to say about an article that claims one in twelve fans at a stadium are legally drunk. Well, you’d be right.
First of all, let’s just get one thing out of the way. Basing your results on breathalyzer tests for 362 fans at 13 baseball and three NFL games isn’t the most reliable of sample sizes. That means that the test was given to an average of less than 23 fans at each stadium. Depending on the location at which you’re administering the tests, you could easily get 23 fans in one section that was especially fortified, just as you could easily draw from a section that was dry.
However, the unreliable sample size doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the connotation of the article that drunken rowdiness is more of a problem today than it was in the past. It’s kind of strange that an article about a piece of scientific research would rely so heavily on anecdotal evidence to prove its point.
Sure, I’ve been to games where the crowd grows increasingly drunk, belligerent and annoying. I’ve been to games where people throw stuff onto the field, hurl obscenities at bullpen pitchers, swear at third base coaches and run onto the field themselves. But I’ve also been to games where the people in my section maintain their decorum, behave as one should among a group and are generally civil.
I’ve also never been to any game quite like the famed Disco Demolition Night, which happened in 1979 before I was even born. And as the passage that Craig Calcaterra quotes from The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract suggests, poor behaviour at a baseball game isn’t an entirely new thing.
Between 1977 and 1983, I never went to a major league game at which I was not seated near to a loud, obnoxious drunk. I went to very few games in that era at which there was not a fight that broke out somewhere in the vicinity of my seat … there were frequent incidents of fans throwing things at players, pouring beer on players. Drunken fans would run out onto the field. Sometimes there would be a group of rowdy patrons — for our five guys together, maybe eight, maybe twenty, all drinking and screaming obscenities at the players or trying to pick fights with other fans.
To me, this sounds worse than anything I’ve experienced at a baseball game, but I can’t say that it’s better or worse than what happens today because a) I wasn’t around at a whole lot of games between 1977 and 1983; and b) I go to a large percentage of games in Toronto and few anywhere else.
Relying on an assortment of “horror” stories to get an unprovable point across is the stuff of grandpas and grandmas reminiscing proudly about their generation. It’s tolerable then because it’s coming out of a wistful, yet likely ignorant outlet.
There’s nothing charming about relaying selected anecdotes to create a false impression, just as there’s little interesting about the majority of uneventful, unaffected by drunkenness trip to the ballpark that is almost certainly the norm.