With the World Series upon us once again, it’s only a matter of time before we see that last out recorded or that final walk-off hit that leads into the ultimate dogpile celebration and champagne-spraying bash in the tarp-covered locker room. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. Billionaire team owners with beers poured over their heads. Dominican lefties wearing Oakley ski goggles and holding joke-sized bottles of bubbly. I just assumed it was a tradition as old as the World Series, itself.
But as I recently discovered while re-watching Ken Burns’ Baseball, that isn’t the case. I watched in horror as the Babe Ruth-led New York Yankees were shown in grainy footage winning the World Series and then promptly jogging off the field like nobody gave a shit. And I don’t know if it was 1923, 1927, 1928 or 1932. I just know that in all the years Babe Ruth won the World Series with the Yankees, the country was also in the midst of Prohibition. The New York Times even reported that after the ’27 Series, ”The players of both teams hurried into their street clothes after the game. …Vacation time has come for the players and their immediate aim is to enjoy it.”
So when did this all start? Weren’t these ballplayers just as excited to win it all in the 1920’s as they are today? I decided to look in to it. And what I found was that the not-so-spontaneous ritual we have now is probably as much a product of television as anything else. And the World Series wasn’t even televised until 1947. That year, the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games. The Yankee fans rushed onto the field. The Yankees jogged into the dugout. And then they proceeded to DRINK their champagne in the locker room. Or at least they drank it after they won the pennant. I can’t find anything about the ’47 Series celebration except a photo of one guy holding a fucking soda. But how were they supposed to know they were doing it wrong? Nobody had really ever seen it done right before.
Enter the 1960’s. From Nixon sweating all over the the first televised presidential debate to a man walking on the moon, the revolution would be televised. And athletes knew they were being watched. While there’s evidence of Dodger celebrations with beer in the mid-to-late Fifties, it was the Sixties when the evolution of the dogpile and champagne bash began. The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates poured champagne on Bill Mazeroski’s head after his walk-off in Game 7. The Los Angeles Dodgers did a little bit of jumping around on the field after the final out of the ’63 Series. But, oddly enough, the real tipping point for baseball celebrations would come from another sport, entirely.
In 1967, the all-American team of Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans, upsetting Ferrari and shocking everyone in the process. And they were handed bottles of Moet & Chandon directly after. Gurney, who didn’t drink alcohol, shook up his bottle, placed his thumb over the top and began spraying everyone in sight. That included the press, who had predicted disaster for the team, as well as the president of Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford II. Four months later, the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated their World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox by jumping around on the field as a group. And then they doused each other with champagne in the Fenway visitor’s locker room. There would be no going back from there. What used to be seen as a waste of booze, would be considered the norm by the end of the decade. It just wasn’t quite what we have today.
The first truly modern World Series celebration came from the ’86 Mets. Just in case you didn’t think that series had enough going for it already. Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett for the final out and then immediately tossed his glove into the air, dropped to his knees and was mobbed in a toppling human pile of his teammates. In fairness, the ’82 Cardinals fell to the ground while they were celebrating. So they were technically first. But the Cardinals’ celebration paled in comparison to the coke-fueled villains in Queens. That was the celebration shown on the end credits of This Week in Baseball every week for 5 years. That’s the one that became the standard-bearer for all baseball celebrations to follow. And they topped it all off with champagne spray in the clubhouse. Probably with an ungodly amount of narcotics to boot. Compare that to 1954, when the Giants won the Series and Dusty Rhodes asked the team president where the champagne was. When he was told it was on the plane, Rhodes responded, “Okay. Just so it’s around some place.”
So blame the Mets, blame Dan Gurney or blame the advent of television. But the dogpile and champagne spraying celebrations are now an expected part of our sports culture. I’m not even old enough to remember the 1986 World Series, so it’s the only thing I’ve known my entire life. And with five teams from each league heading to the playoffs, we do it up to 19 times a season. Maybe it’s a tad bit excessive. But it sure as hell beats jogging off the field and heading straight to your vacation. Because that, my friends, is for the losers.