Breaking out the bubbly

Posted: Friday, October 26, 2001

Few people would think of California's Napa Valley as Yankees territory, but along comes further proof of how baseball sometimes makes for strange bedfellows.

Less than two weeks after commissioner Bud Selig asked all playoff teams to hold the champagne during postseason celebrations out of respect for the Sept. 11 tragedy, manager Joe Torre lifted a cup of bubbly in the New York clubhouse for a brief but eloquent toast.

''This ballclub,'' he said, ''will be remembered by me forever.''

With that simple act, Torre and his team may have locked up the hearts and minds of an entire region.

''I have an uncle who played in the Yankees farm system, so I'm biased to begin with,'' said Allison Evanow, spokeswoman for one of the Valley's premium champagne producers.

''And we all understand -- and support -- the idea about celebrating respectfully. But after watching the Diamondbacks and everybody else celebrate with cans of beer, people around here were glad somebody finally defied Mr. Selig.

''Beer has never been a celebratory kind of drink, unless you count college kids,'' she added. ''And that's usually because they don't have any money.''

It's a comforting sign of how baseball has moved on from the events of Sept. 11 that it's wrestling with how to celebrate rather than worrying whether the games should have resumed in the first place. But champagne makers weren't the only people who thought the commissioner overstepped his authority by choosing which beverage gets poured in the winning clubhouse.

''We work eight months and some guys work 10-20 years to get to this point,'' Atlanta reliever Mike Remlinger said two weeks ago, while the Braves celebrated their first-round playoff win over Houston with beer instead of champagne. ''I don't think it's right to take that away.''

Before you write off Remlinger as just another spoiled athlete, keep in mind he was the Atlanta player most active in raising money for the victims of the terrorist attacks.

''We understand this is a game, and we understand the gravity of what's happened,'' he said. ''It's another example of Bud Selig not knowing what he's talking about.''

When Selig read that, he got in touch with Remlinger. Soon after, he got an apology.

''I'm a champagne drinker myself,'' the commissioner said. ''What I said, what I've said all along, is that considering what's happened in this country the past few weeks, watching players pour champagne over each other just wouldn't be appropriate.''

That said, the champagne ban is one instance where Selig -- no matter how well meaning -- didn't need to butt in. The winning teams and players have proved themselves sensible enough, and capable of, making their own decisions. That should have been clear when someone in the Yankees organization lost Selig's memo, filled a few dozen plastic cups with champagne and left them out on a side table in the clubhouse after their American League pennant-clinching win Monday night over Seattle.

Huddled proudly around Torre, the Yankees lifted their cups in tribute to each other. Explained catcher Jorge Posada, ''We can celebrate without throwing champagne around.''

In normal times, we toast holidays, weddings, anniversaries, college graduations, boat christenings and all kind of achievements large and small with a glass of champagne. It's not so much the champagne that makes the celebration as the other way around. After the very emotional six weeks all of us -- but especially New Yorkers -- have gone through, what's important is just having something worth toasting.

Selig probably wouldn't be too shocked, or all that upset, to find more of the bubbly stuff put out by whichever clubhouse celebrates a World Series win. It was spilling champagne that bothered him, not sipping it. And heaven knows, he's got enough to worry about already.

Talk of contraction is swirling around baseball and security concerns have made preparations for the start of this weekend's games more difficult than usual. And it just so happens the collective bargaining agreement, the bane of every commissioner's existence, expires right after the season does. Just clearing off his desk at the end of the day has become an accomplishment.

Which may explain why, the moment he completed the task Thursday, Selig planned to meet his wife at a downtown Milwaukee restaurant for dinner and enjoy a glass of the bubbly stuff himself.

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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