This feature was originally published on Bleed Cubbie Blue on May 13, 2010.
After last Wednesday's game, BCB'er ballhawk posted these observations about drunken idiot behavior in the Wrigley Field bleachers in the comment section of my game recap. In case you missed them, they bear repeating here. Read carefully; then I'll have comments of my own.
People are throwing up on themselves (and others) and not even bothering to at least go to the restroom and try and wash it off. Nope, they’d rather wear it the rest of the game like some Chunky Badge of Courage. Pushing, shoving, beer-spilling, nacho cheese-tossing and a general degradation of social interaction is now considered the norm.
The homophobic taunting is commonplace, and of course the swearing is off the charts, which normally wouldn’t bother me so much except for the fact that Crowd Control has made of point of saying you can’t say "fuck." So why have a policy if you’re not going to enforce it?
And here’s the latest low – guys are starting to relieve themselves in the bleachers. That’s right – IN the bleachers. Apparently they attempt to stream it into a cup but given their drunken state, it’s only a matter of time before their aim is off or the cup is knocked over. I’m more than prepared for a beer spill here and there, but when that yellow waterfall is something besides Old Style, that’s it for me.
Al, I’ll take your word for it that Crowd Control and Security is understaffed but the times I’ve been inside, the ones I do see don’t do much. It almost takes a peasant revolt from the real fans before Crowd Control will even force people to sit down during play. Forget about trying any real crowd control. And from what I’ve seen from the outside, the only Crowd Control guys doing anything up top are Jim and Big Mark. Everybody else just walks around until the fight(s) start – then they spring into "action".
I know you’re in the bleachers every game, but believe me, your upper corner of the bleachers is nothing like the rows down below. Next time Crane or Tom or anyone from the Cubs talks about coming out to the bleachers, I challenge them to sit down low in the trenches.
IMO, the bleachers are still the best place to watch a game, but that’s coming from a former outfielder, so I’m biased to watching a game from that perspective. But advice for anyone who’d rather not deal with what I’ve described above – sit towards the top. You may not be able to escape all the drunken idiots and ensuing chaos, but at least spilled liquids can’t flow uphill.
It's time for the Cubs to stop this nonsense. The "drunken bleacher party" has gotten completely out of control -- there are fights nearly every day -- and the glorification of the drinking culture is, I believe, something new ownership of the Cubs doesn't want and shouldn't want. The inevitable end of this kind of behavior is going to be someone getting seriously injured, paralyzed (perhaps from falling down, being pushed, or from a fight) or killed.
Is that what the Cubs want? Is this the reputation this franchise wants? There is, to be sure, too much drunkenness and idiotic behavior at virtually every sports stadium and arena in North America (and let's not even talk about some of the stuff that goes on in Europe), by fans of every college and professional sport. But the problems in the Wrigley Field bleachers, which have been getting worse with each passing year, are not only tolerated by management, but almost celebrated as a "party".
It's not a party. It's a baseball game, and most of us are there to watch the baseball game. We should not have our afternoon or evening ruined by drunks who, essentially, are paying a $40 or $50 cover charge to sit in bleacher seats (or worse, stand and block everyone's view) and drink until they are plastered.
Here are some reasonable, sensible and easily implementable solutions to this serious problem.
1) End the college discount dates. For those of you who haven't figured out this little perk, the Cubs offer half-price bleacher tickets on the value dates in April and May for college students by putting coupon codes in college newspapers. That allows a local college student to come to one of the early season weekday games for (including taxes and fees) about $17. There were hundreds of such people in the bleachers yesterday, and a lot of the problems came from them. In conjunction with this, the Cubs have been doing a good job already with cracking down on underage drinking. They have to step up these efforts -- and unless the basic ages of college students has changed since I was there, most college students are under 21 and cannot legally drink. The bleachers sell out most days anyway, even without the discounts. Full-price bleacher tickets for value dates this year are about $25 -- which is still higher than bleacher tickets for almost any other team. They don't need to discount them further.
2) Hire more security. Yes, this costs money, but it is money that needs to be spent. There are 15 aisles in the bleachers -- six in left field, five in right field, four in center field. From what I see out there every day, there is ONE security person assigned to each aisle -- that means ONE employee watching nearly 350 fans, computed by dividing the total of 5,100 bleacher seats by 15. Some of these sections are smaller than 350, but most are larger. That's not nearly enough security to quell problems before they begin. There are other security folks walking up and down the bleacher concourse, but (strictly a guess) I doubt there's more than 25 people there in total. I repeat: that's not enough!
Most ballparks have one usher/employee/security person at the top and bottom of each aisle. The Wrigley bleachers should have at least that -- staff out there needs to be doubled to at least 50. The current security people do a good job and have been much more proactive in heading off trouble in the last couple of years. But they are seriously outnumbered. Get them some help. It would be a good start to have them make people sit down during play -- there are "fans" out there who stand up, facing each other, talking throughout play, not in the least interested in what's going on down on the field. Why are "fans" like that even in the park?
3) Put police officers in the bleachers. I have not been to the new Yankee Stadium, but in the old Yankee Stadium bleachers -- where I sat at least 15 times during the 1990's and 2000's -- there were both plainclothes and uniformed NYC police officers. If you broke the rules or broke the law, one of these officers would say, "Come with me." If it was serious enough for arrest, they'd arrest you, but on most of these occasions, they would simply escort you out. No questions, no conversation, no excuses. You were simply ejected.
I think, in some ways, Wrigley security has been too nice, allowing people who misbehave to have a five-minute talk, then return to their seats. This created a buzz: "Hey, we can do anything we want!" I will give security credit for this: This season, they have been very proactive about not allowing people into the bleachers at all if they seem obviously drunk outside the park. They have been told to sober up before allowed inside. A Chicago Police Department presence in the park would strongly discourage fights and other drunken behavior.
4) Reduce alcohol sales and hours and places of sale. I'm no anti-alcohol person, although I don't drink at the park myself (I find the beer there way overpriced). There's no reason people shouldn't be able to have a couple of adult beverages while enjoying a baseball game. But I have seen people, more times than I can count, throw back eight, 10, 12 beers during a three-hour baseball game for no other purpose than to get stinking drunk. In a place like the bleachers, crowded, noisy, and especially on hot summer nights, you can see this is just asking for trouble.
Currently, rules allow people two beers at a time, and sales are cut off in the 8th inning of day games, the 7th inning of night games. In the last couple of years, the Cubs made it "easier" for people to get beer by stationing vendors on the back aisle. It's far too easy for people to get plastered. Reducing the serving hours -- cutting off sales 90 minutes after game time -- would be a start; eliminating these vendors and making people go to beer stands would help reduce the number of beers per person.
I realize the Cubs make a lot of money on alcohol sales -- it's probably the single biggest concession profit item. But are they willing to let these profits perhaps lead to a tragic incident? It may be time to institute a per-game, per-person limit on alcohol sales. Again, there's no reason someone shouldn't be able to have a couple of beers during a game. But eight? Ten? That's asking for trouble, and as we have seen, it is happening far too often.
Incidents like these got alcohol banned in the old Yankee Stadium bleachers. The Yankees do allow beer to be brought into the bleachers at the new stadium, as seen from this 2009 ABC News report, but they've reserved the right to reinstate the ban if things get out of hand. I'm not suggesting a ban -- just limits. It's time to end the idea that coming to the Wrigley Field bleachers simply to have a drunken frat party is the right thing to do.
Stop the fights. Stop the drunkenness. Send out the message that it's not a party, it's a baseball game. You can have fun -- but if you're there just to get drunk, the Cubs need to let people know that's not going to happen any more. These are easy steps to take and can even be done during this baseball season. Please, Cubs management. Do it before something that you don't want headlines for happens.