- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

In the wake of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock’s drunken-driving death nearly two weeks ago, several Major League Baseball clubs have adopted more stringent policies on alcohol provided by the team to its players.

The Washington Nationals yesterday became the latest club to reverse a long-standing baseball tradition and ban alcohol from the clubhouse, joining the Cardinals and New York Yankees in instituting tougher policies after Hancock’s death.

According to the new policy, beer no longer will be available in the home and visiting clubhouses at RFK Stadium nor in the visiting clubhouse when the Nationals are on the road. The policy regarding team charter flights remains unchanged: Alcohol will be available on outbound flights but not on flights returning to D.C.

Sentiment among many players was negative, especially because the ban also applies to road games.

“Most of the time when we’re on the road and we leave the clubhouse, we’re getting on the bus or in a taxi,” pitcher Ray King, an influential member of the players union, said before the Nationals played in Milwaukee last night. “I just think it’s a situation where they’re trying to do way too much. We don’t have a salary cap, but they can do whatever else they want.”

Manager Manny Acta said, “I really could care less. I don’t come to the ballpark to drink. I don’t think these guys come to clubhouse to drink, either. But I’ll stand behind it, and I hope it helps.”

The Nationals are just one of several clubs to revise their policies after the death of Hancock, who died in an automobile accident on April 29, several hours after he pitched in a game at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium.

Hancock reportedly visited several bars and had several drinks before he drove his rented sport utility vehicle into the rear of a parked flatbed truck that was assisting a disabled driver.

An autopsy revealed that Hancock, 29, had a blood alcohol count of 0.157, nearly twice the legal limit in the state of Missouri. It has not been lost on the players that Hancock did not drink at the ballpark.

“It’s really becoming a mockery to where you hate the accident had to happen, but the accident didn’t come from him coming out of the clubhouse,” King said. “It wasn’t because he was drunk in the clubhouse. … How many stadiums can you walk out of and walk to a bar?”

It also was reported that Hancock was involved in an alcohol-related, minor accident three days earlier and that Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa had cautioned Hancock about his behavior.

Since then, the issue of professional athletes and drinking has become a topic of widespread discussion and concern — especially as it applies to Major League Baseball, which has no overall policy regarding alcohol. The league leaves policy to the individual clubs, as does the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. The Washington Wizards prohibit alcohol in the locker room and on team charter flights, and the Capitals have the same policy.

The National Football League is the only one of the four major professional sports leagues with a leaguewide policy that bans all alcoholic beverages from the locker room.

The Oakland A’s banned alcohol in the home and visitor’s clubhouses last season. The Nationals yesterday became the ninth team to ban alcohol from their clubhouse at RFK Stadium. They also took the extra step of banning alcohol in the visitor’s clubhouse when they are on the road, a step most teams have not taken.

At least five other clubs are reviewing their policies.

Yet LaRussa, who recently was arrested on a drunken-driving charge, was quoted as saying players drinking beer in the clubhouse “is so much less than in the old days. … Now guys shower and they’re gone.”

Baseball and beer have been forever intertwined. Milwaukee Brewers? Several teams, including the Brewers and Cardinals, have been and are currently owned by breweries.

“These teams make their money off of selling beer,” King said.

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