This week, Major League Baseball (MLB) celebrated the All-Star Break.  Among the many heroes and stories of the 2008 season that were highlighted, few are bigger than the Legend of Josh Hamilton.  Hamilton’s story is truly the stuff legends are made of, and MLB has gone to lengths (as it should) to promote Hamilton’s amazing recovery from alcohol and drug-abuse.  As MLB tells the tale, however, it is ignoring another pending alcohol problem and blindly awaiting an impending disaster.

Professional baseball faces a real danger from the unchecked liability of allowing players to over-indulge at the ballpark and to drive home shortly thereafter.  Specifically, by purchasing and serving beer in the clubhouse following games, clubs may be vicariously liable for injuries caused by players driving drunk.  MLB should address the issue of alcohol in the clubhouse now, and not wait for an accident to force its hand.

This issue arises because unlike other professional sports, baseball allows athletes to drink beer in the clubhouse following a game.  Similar to attorneys after a hard day in court, many ballplayers unwind from a day on the field by indulging in a few beers and sharing stories with their co-workers.  The pronounced difference between the lawyer and the ballplayer, however, is that most firms do not provide a nightly, all-you-can-imbibe buffet in the breakroom.

The purchase and supply of the alcohol is key, because it is the role of the club in supplying and promoting alcohol that carries with it the liability.  This is not a case of an adult getting drunk after work and driving home; this is a case of an employer supplying alcohol, promoting camaraderie, and turning a blind eye as its employees drive home intoxicated.  For these reasons, were a ballplayer to injure a third party while driving home drunk from a ballgame, the Club and MLB may be held liable due to (i) standard theories of third-party liability or (ii) employer liability through the doctrine of respondeat superior.

To avoid this problem (and the impending injuries), MLB need only heed the lesson of Hamilton.  To overcome his addiction and to get back to the Game, Hamilton did not ignore his problem; instead, he addressed the issue and took responsibility.  MLB need not ban alcohol from the ballpark to solve its problem, but it is time for League executives to remove such an obvious danger from sanctioned events .  MLB should (i) follow the lead of every other major American sports league and ban alcohol from the player locker-room, (ii) disincentivize drunk driving by including morals clauses in player contracts, and (iii) provide easily-accessible transportation for players who drink.  These easy solutions are the responsible steps that MLB should take.

 - Steve Berneman

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One Response to One Strike and You're Out

  1. Anonymous JETL Member says:

    An accident that should have forced MLB’s hand already happened, last year when St. Louis Cardinal Josh Hancock was killed in a car crash. He was driving drunk. A lot of teams changed their locker-room policies after that incident, though not from a mandate from the Commissioner.