OCTOBER 27—For all its seeming anarchy, there are very definite rules to a World Series clubhouse celebration, and if anyone has ever melded the art and the science, it’s these Yankees.
The First Commandment: Dress appropriately. At just about the same time Bernie Williams was closing his glove around Mike Piazza’s last laser-line drive—a most symbolic final out to this minefield of a season—it seemed as if the Yankee players had already slipped into their officially licensed commemorative Subway Series world championship T-shirts and caps. All the better for quick post-champagne stripping, my dears. This rule applies to the media as well. Contrast the look of rookie reporters—with their three-buttoned suits and Regis-esque monochrome-on-monochrome shirt and tie—with that of veteran ESPN reporter Charlie Steiner. Stein wore an officially licensed Major League Baseball Subway Series clear plastic hooded poncho that would have allowed him to stay dry while walking through a car wash. The dress code applies to non-working visitors as well. Accompanied by his entourage, Smokin’ Joe Frazier seemed intent on joining the clubhouse revelry, and he was aided by a security guard who was more than happy to make a wait-in-line exception for former heavyweight champs. But when he heard what he was in for—”Champagne stings like hell,” said Bergen Record columnist Mike Celezic aloud to no one in particular—the man who absorbed the best Muhammad Ali could dish out decided to take a pass, preferring to keep his natty pinstripes and rakish fedora bubbly-free.
The Second Commandment: Watch out for flying corks. Like your mother said, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Enough said.
The Third Commandment: Beware of the clubhouse boys. They constitute an unpredictably destabilizing force, a terrorist squad of the locker room. That’s what newbie celebrant Denny Neagle learned pretty quick. After leading his teammates in a rousing version of “Who Let the Dogs Out,” hopefully burying the Mets’ late-season anthem and the Baja Men’s career in a single breath, the former Brave was ambushed. When the splashing started, he was victimized by a strategy as devious as an El Duque Laredo. Two veteran clubhouse boys snuck up from behind and in unison pulled out his uniform shirt like a funnel so that 1500 millimeters of ice cold bubbly dripped down his back, past his butt, and out the bottom of his sanitary socks. “Arrrrrgh,” he said, a grimace quickly turning to a smile, as he continued to bask in his first—and probably last—post-Series pinstripe champagne party.
The Fourth Commandment: Set your priorities. Having been buttonholed by a reporter during the first wave of champagne, David Justice calmly walked over to the mob scene. “Dry guy, over here,” he shouted. Not for long.
The Fifth Commandment: Go for the good stuff. 1999’s celebration was as carefully choreographed as sommelier night at Le Bernardin. First the Yankees squirted Fré, a de-alcoholized bubbly, in deference to Darryl Strawberry’s recovery. An hour later, after most of the cameras had been turned off, a small, core group of Bombers quietly sipped from $300 magnums of Perrier-Jouet. This year, it was an oenophilic free-for-all, all the bubbly thrown into large ice-filled tubs—the Korbel and the Mumm Cordon Rouge commingling like Met and Yankee fans in the cheap seats. For the record, the French stuff doesn’t sting any less or spray any farther, but it does sport a better bouquet.
The Sixth Commandment: Protect your valuables. With a Bud Light in his hand, and an open bottle of Cordon Negro bulging in the back pocket of his uniform pants, a still-dripping Chuck Knoblauch peeled back the plastic covering his locker and made a beeline for his cell phone. Something about Dr. James Andrews, a scalpel, and the real reason Luis Sojo was in the lineup tonight. “I’ve got to go to Birmingham to get shit done with my elbow,” he told the clubhouse guy who helped him peel off the protective coating.
The Seventh Commandment: Always be prepared. The Shea Stadium lockers were covered with clear sheeting—brought to you by Budweiser, the official plastic-sheeting sponsor of the Subway Series—stapled to the wooden lockers. All the better for quick access. Or, if need be, quick takedown. Remember that during Game 6 in 1986, as Keith Hernandez was consoling himself down the tunnel with a ‘boro and a beer, this same visiting locker room was already girded for the Red Sox champage assault. But not for long.
The Eighth Commandment: Be thankful. In a roomful of ballplayers who had just averted the season’s final potential disaster, there was no one more relieved than Mayor Rudolph Guiliani. As his NYPD bodyguards tried to locate the mayor’s smirking young son—”Where’s Andrew?” one shouted—presumably to keep a safe distance between him and the champagne, the mayor seemed visibly relieved at being able to drop his awkward pretense of semi-neutrality. Switzerland no more, he seemed quite relieved that the Subway Series would not end with a celebration in the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and Hizzoner would not be forced to wear, shudder, a Met cap. “It couldn’t have been better,” he said, grinning to the cameras. “It was a great series.”
The Ninth Commandment: Take it to the People. Encouraged by the flacks from Major League Baseball who barred television cameras from the locker room, players took the celebration al fresco, where they tossed caps and shirts to the assembled Yankee faithful. One of the first revelers to make an escape, Roger Clemens, carried the Commissioners Trophy down the tunnel. “Don’t drop it,” laughed a Yankee official. Or throw it, thought every Met fan within a 100-mile radius.
The Tenth Commandment: Know where your bread is buttered. While the wetness and wildness continued in the clubhouse, George Steinbrenner held court at the hastily constructed podium near the Fox cameras. After Keith Olbermann was done glad-handing the First Yankee, the print guys got their chance. “How long can it go on?” asked one reporter. “Forever,” beamed King George, his silvery coif still as dry as a bone.