San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum can dodge a line drive, but the two-time Cy Young winner was no match for a cork that nailed him in the face in a postgame celebration caught on television.
The bubbly-soaked locker-room scene—where grown men giggle, bound around, and douse each other in champagne and other beverages—has become a staple of MLB playoff celebrations. Fifty years ago, it was a small, impromptu affair. “In my day you got cheap champagne splashed over you,” former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton, author of the exposé Ball Four, says. He recalls that after winning the pennant in 1963, “we slid around in potato salad. Then we had to go to the laundry.”
Chicago White Sox clubhouse manager Vince Fresso explains how things are done now: for home games he buys Pommery in bulk; two bottles per person for a roster and coaching staff of 40. The deeper a trip into the postseason goes, the more wives and friends join in the festivities. For the White Sox’s 2005 championship run, Fresso estimates buying 200 bottles. “No matter how much you get,” he says, “it’s never enough. You always end up using beer.”
Clubhouses even prep for celebrations involving players who’ve battled alcoholism. The Texas Rangers used ginger ale for slugger Josh Hamilton in 2010. This year, the Detroit Tigers showered Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera with nonalcoholic champagne.
With a team one out away from clinching, the buckets of iced booze are wheeled out of hiding and into the expectant team’s plastic-covered locker room. But games are often blown, as the Washington Nationals found out a few weeks ago, and plan B goes into effect. The crew absconds with the bubbly, lugging hundreds of bottles onto the private jets or out of sight, and dismantling protective tarps. Locker rooms are left without any evidence that a celebration was prepped, so as not to upset superstitious players.
As the champagne bashes have escalated, the cameramen and reporters in the locker room sometimes dress like they’re “ready for a torrential rainstorm,” says MLB spokesman Pat Courtney. Kevin Millar, a member of the 2004 World Series–winning Red Sox and now an MLB Network analyst, says that minutes after a game ends, you know there’s going to be that player with six bottles of champagne, a bucket of ice water, and the sole intention of ambushing a player’s television interview. And while there haven’t been any serious injuries, Millar pioneered the use of protective gear, wearing ski, scuba, swim, or any type of goggles. “It really burns your eyes,” he says.
It may not last forever, though: watching the Giants’ division-winning after-party, Commissioner Bud Selig said he wasn’t happy about “spraying champagne all over.”