Posted: Wednesday May 11, 2011 6:53AM ; Updated: Wednesday May 11, 2011 1:44PM
Ann Killion
Ann Killion>INSIDE BASEBALL

Baseball needs to step up and establish a uniform drinking policy

Story Highlights

There have been six DUIs in baseball this year. And it's only early May

Why can't athletes making millions smarten up and just call a cab?

Some teams ban alcohol in clubhouses, but it varies from team to team

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Shin-Soo Choo
The Indians' Shin-Soo Choo is the most recent MLB player to be arrested for a DUI.
US Presswire

It happened again last week.

A major league baseball player was arrested for drinking and driving. And was back in the starting lineup the next night.

That makes six DUIs in baseball this year. And it's only early May.

While baseball has been focusing in recent years on keeping its players off performance-enhancing drugs, the oldest, most accessible drug is still a major problem.

Now Major League Baseball and the Players' Union are discussing adding alcohol-related offenses to the next collective bargaining agreement so that teams have the authority to effectively discipline players, something they lack now.

It's about time.

• Last week Cleveland Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo failed a sobriety test in Ohio and was arrested and released. He was in the starting lineup the next night.

• Choo's teammate Austin Kearns was arrested in February, a few days before his reporting date, and advised not to inform the Indians, who found out weeks later.

• Seattle's Adam Kennedy was arrested in January in Southern California.

• Oakland A's outfielder Coco Crisp was arrested during spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz.

• Atlanta pitcher Derek Lowe was arrested for being under the influence and racing on an Atlanta street in late April.

• Detroit's Miguel Cabrera was uncooperative when he was arrested during spring training in Florida.

These aren't kids making a mistake. These are grown men who, in some cases, make more than $10 million a year. Surely enough for a $25 cab ride.

The game has a longtime love affair with alcohol, from the coolers full of beer cans in the clubhouse to the excessive champagne celebrations to the game's major sponsors.

And it has a hard time extricating itself from that romance.

Over the past few years, more and more teams have banned alcohol in the clubhouse or on team flights. The Oakland A's were the first, making the decision in 2006 after Esteban Loaiza was arrested for being under the influence and driving up to 120 miles per hour on the freeway.

General manager Billy Beane made news -- and received some eye-rolls and grief from traditionalists -- for banning alcohol both in the home clubhouse and on the road.

"For me, it was just the realization, 'What are we doing?'" Beane said this spring. "I didn't want the responsibility for getting that phone call. I didn't want to be reacting after the fact. Why wait for something to happen?"

The policy was personal in many ways. Beane's oldest daughter, Casey, had just gotten her driver's license, a moment when parents become intensely alert to the dangers on the road and the risks of one individual's bad decision.

"Sure that was part of the decision," Beane said. "It was a Eureka moment. We're a community franchise, a part of the community. We need to control what we can control."

Some other teams thought it was a good idea and adopted the policy without provocation. Others didn't until tragedy hit.

In 2007, the St. Louis Cardinals had two incidents. First, manager Tony LaRussa was charged with DUI after falling asleep at the wheel at a red light during spring training. Two months later, reliever Josh Hancock was killed after he smashed into the back of a truck. He was found to have nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream.

Five days later the Cardinals banned alcohol in their clubhouses.

Now many teams ban booze, but its still a team-by-team policy. And that kind of ban only goes so far: players will still drink and will think they're infallible when they do.

What will it take for the message to get through? Another tragedy?

Apparently the players have short memories: it was just two years ago that Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in a horrific crash in Orange County, California, not far from where Kennedy was arrested. Last December, his killer was sentenced to 51 years-to-life in prison in a courtroom before Adenhart's distraught family members.

Do players need to hear testimonials from victim's families before they decide to take a cab?

The topic of a uniform policy on alcohol will come up when the five-year collective bargaining agreement expires. That's in December, which given the way this year has started, could mean 11 more incidents. That seems like a very, very long time from now.

As Beane said, why wait for something to happen?

 
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