On Sunday, Americans celebrate a cherished national holiday: Repeal Day.
That’s right, on December 5 the Republic will once again fondly recall the downfall of Prohibition and its meddlesome enablers. Suffice it to say, the best way to honor this holy day of obligation is with some wholesome, nutritious alcohol!
Baseball, of course, has a long and bountiful relationship with drinking, and it’s only natural that the game takes part in Repeal Day exuberance. So since we can’t hang the bunting and play ball in December, we’re going to get in the Repeal Day spirit by naming the All-Time All-Drinkers Team …
C – Josh Gibson
Gibson may have been the greatest catcher ever to squat behind the dish, but he also had a legendary weakness for self-medication. Most notably, he missed the 1938 Negro League All-Star Game because he drank too much the night before and missed his train.
1B – Ed Delahanty
There are Drinking Men, and then there those, like Delahanty, who get drunk on a train, threaten to disembowel other passengers with a straight razor, get kicked off said train, and walk into Niagara Falls and die. (Yes, Delahanty was predominantly an outfielder, but for the sake of the narrative I’m deploying him at first base.)
2B – Billy Martin
While Martin’s strongest body of drinking work came as a manager, he was quite fond of the sauce in his playing days. The Copa incident, brawls too numerous to chronicle in this space, broken marriages, an affair with a 16-year-old when Martin was, oh, 50 … Hmm, turns out it’s possible to drink too much. “He’s got a good heart,” drinking buddy Whitey Ford once said of Martin, “but I can’t say much for his liver.”
3B – Wade Boggs
Perhaps it’s a tale that skews apocryphal, but … 64 Miller Lites on one cross-country flight? Even if the story’s not precisely true, it’s safe to say that Boggs embodies the Platonic ideal when it comes to choking down domestic swill.
SS – Swede Risberg
While I have a serviceable command of the sprawl of baseball history, I’m not a Bill James or a Rob Neyer or a John Thorn. As such, I had trouble coming up with a hard-drinking shortstop of renown. So the honor falls to Risberg. Why? Well, he spent a goodly portion of his baseball career in indulgent Chicago, he was one of the driving forces behind the Black Sox Scandal, and he owned a bar after his banishment from the game. Sounds like a Drinking Man!
OF – Babe Ruth
Like Ruth, many of us while thwockstoggled (I just made up a synonym for “drunk”!) have eaten too many hot dogs or submitted to some base urge or another. But how many of us have gotten plowed and, perhaps in a syphilitic rage, heaved a piano into a pond?
OF – Mickey Mantle
I’ve heard it said before that Mantle drank a lot.
OF – Hack Wilson
Lore has it that Cubs manager Joe McCarthy, in an attempt to persuade his star slugger to stop marinating himself in drink, dropped a worm into a glass of whiskey. McCarthy and Wilson both looked on as the worm writhed, squirmed, screamed undetectable worm screams and submitted to a fate far worse than the mockingbird’s beak.
“Now what does that prove?” McCarthy supposedly asked him.
“It proves that if you drink whiskey,” Wilson said, “you won’t get worms.”
When it comes to tales of Ol’ Pete’s imbibing, truth and myth mix like, um, gin and tonic. What’s known is that Alexander returned from World War I with a severe case of PTSD, and drinking was the only way he could abide it. Whether or not Alexander actually pulled off this or that great moment while crocked is probably lost to history, but when in doubt bet on “crocked.”
RP – Ryne Duren
Duren makes the team for this quote alone: “I never really knew what it was like to pitch a sober inning.”
MGR – Bob Lemon
Managers who drank too much? Talk about wandering into a cornucopia … Lemon loved scotch more than most of us love oxygen or pizza. He was once asked whether he drank after losses. Lemon replied: “I drink after wins, I drink after losses, I drink after rainouts.”