By Jim Caple
Page 2

This past weekend the Detroit Tigers popped the corks on 220 bottles of champagne and celebrated clinching at least the wild-card spot even though they were in first place at the time. Now, I know it has been a long, long time since the Tigers reached the postseason -- the last year they did so, the most famous person in a Detroit cap was Magnum P.I. But still: You're in first place and you celebrate clinching second-place? That's like throwing a party after the Viewers Choice Awards when you're still up for an Oscar.

Detroit isn't the only team turning its clubhouse into pledge night at the Delta Tau Chi house. The Twins did the same thing when they clinched at least the wild card, which is a little more understandable given that they actually are in second place, if only by one game. But what happens when either Detroit or Minnesota clinch the AL Central later this week? Will they celebrate yet again? Hell, if this keeps up, they'll wind up in either the World Series or Alcoholics Anonymous.

That's the problem with the additional playoff round -- the celebrations wear teams out. There are just too many.

Remember, these are not spontaneous celebrations. Someone plans for them in advance. Someone orders the champagne. The clubhouse crews rig the lockers with protective plastic to keep the players' clothes from being ruined (the Yankees celebrate so often I think their lockers come with plastic sheets that roll down like a window shade whenever they win something else). Major League Baseball also prints up and ships out the appropriate commemorative T-shirts and caps for players to wear within minutes of clinching. And when teams lose the final game in sudden fashion, these same shirts are packed back up and shipped to Third World nations to give away as needed clothing. Seriously. I'm sure the folks in Lesotho appreciate the shirts, but I wonder if this practice also leads to a lot of confusion.

"The good news is my '2003 National League Champion Chicago Cubs' shirt is made of 100 percent breathable cotton and will provide years of comfortable wear. The bad news is a fellow villager in a '2004 World Series Champion Cardinals' cap keeps kicking my ass."

These celebrations are getting out of control. We need new standards. Here are the new rules for breaking out champagne:

1. If you win a division, you are allowed to celebrate. Winning a championship decided over the course of a demanding 162-game season is an accomplishment to toast. Well, almost always. If you have already won five or more such championships in a row, you might want to keep the party low-key by spraying each other with O'Doul's. Or maybe Diet Mango Madness Snapple.

2. If you win a League championship series, you also are allowed to pop the corks. Reaching the World Series is always cause for celebrating. Though you should probably spray a less expensive domestic sparkling wine and keep the pricier champagne for winning the world championship. What you're looking for is a light-gold sparkler with good legs, a slightly fruity aroma, a nice, smooth finish and just a faint hint of grass-stained flannel, chewing tobacco and pine tar.

3. If you win the World Series, you're not only allowed to celebrate, you're allowed to bring in a wet bar, strippers, a DJ, a fatted calf that has been slow-cooked in a Hawaiian-style underground imu, trampolines, Spike Lee or Billy Crystal (but not both), a wading pool filled with Crisco and Joey Porter's attack dogs.

4. If you win the division series, you are not allowed to party. Remember, you really haven't won anything that series. You haven't won a championship. You haven't advanced to the World Series. You haven't won anything that you can put on a banner. Well, you could put "2005 Winners Of The National League Division Series That Was Against The Padres" on a banner and hang it from the upper deck, but it would look silly. Like a guy wearing a bad toupee.

5. You can celebrate clinching the wild card, but only if you have already been eliminated from the division title race and you aren't the Yankees. I mean, can you imagine Derek Jeter pouring champagne over Bernie Williams head and screaming, "We're the wild-card team! We're the wild-card team! This is what we play all year for!"

6. If you clinch a postseason berth on a night when you lose, you can celebrate but the party should be suitably understated. In other words, no dwarfs.

And finally...

7. There is a notable exception to the above rules. If the franchise hasn't reached the playoffs in at least 25 years, you're allowed to celebrate anything all the way down to a letter from the Publishers Clearing House announcing, "You many already have won!"

BOX SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK
Last year Jon Garland won 18 games plus Game 3 of the ALCS, and he also started Game 3 of the World Series. He won more games than anyone else for Chicago, helping the White Sox to their first world championship in 88 years.

This year, he's a respectable 17-7, but his ERA is 4.61 after a loss Monday night that officially eliminated the White Sox from postseason contention. And boy, did that World Series championship seem far away when Garland allowed 12 runs in less than six innings. His line:

5 1/3 IP, 12 H, 12 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 5 K Garland allowed more runs in that one game than Roy Halladay has allowed since Aug. 10.

TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP
You know what's funny? Watching the Ryder Cup guys react as if there is really something on the line when they "represent" America. Listen guys, it was just another tournament among millionaire golfers walking around another country club while someone carries their clubs. Get over yourselves. But for all those fans who are beginning to wonder whether the U.S. can win anything at the international level anymore, the answer is yes, it can. And when it matters. We mentioned in an earlier column that the U.S. baseball team won the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament at the beginning of September. But given the lack of attention to this victory and the spotlight on the continuing failures of other American teams, it's worth pointing it out again. Our national team not only won the tournament to qualify for the 2008 Olympics but also beat virtually the same Cuban team that finished second against major leaguers in the World Baseball Classic. And it beat them in Havana. "It's nice not to be able to hear 45,000 people," USA Baseball executive director Paul Seiler said of the Cuban reaction to the U.S. victory. Unfortunately, there were virtually no reports on this; perhaps because all the space and effort was spent on the U.S. basketball team's loss. "Everyone is talking about basketball," Seiler said without bitterness, "but it would be nice to see someone mentioning us."... At last glance, the Astros had moved to 1½ games behind St. Louis, having picked up seven games in exactly one week. Anybody else wonder if Houston would be in first place if Roger Clemens hadn't waited so long before making up his mind he would pitch for Houston? ...

FROM LEFT FIELD
Carlos Delgado of the Mets will play in his first postseason game next week after at least 1,610 regular season games in his career. That leaves Jeromy Burnitz as the active player with the most career games without ever playing in the postseason (1,692). That's a long time to go without being on the big stage, but it doesn't compare to these 10.

Games                        Player                         Closest call
2,528               Ernie Banks                  Cubs second in 1969
2,422               Luke Appling                Third place three times
2,409               Mickey Vernon            Second, 1½ back in 1945
2,405               Buddy Bell                   Second twice
2,243               Ron Santo                    Second twice
2,209               Joe Torre                     Second several times
2,155               Toby Harrah                 Second place several times
2,148               Harry Heilmann            Second, 2½ games back
2,109               Eddie Yost                   Third place once
2,093               Roy McMillan              Third place once

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

INFIELD CHATTER
"The Iranian President was also at the U.N. He's trying to win over the American people. He was signing baseballs that say, 'Sorry for enriching uranium.'"
-- David Letterman

HATE MAIL
As expected, last week's column on why Bush and other owners don't belong in the Hall of Fame prompted mail from some readers angered that I was injecting "politics" into my column. But that wasn't the intent. I was merely saying that owners in general (and Bush in particular) should be not be in the Hall because the owners' negatives (maintaining the pre-1947 color barrier, moving teams, blackmailing taxpayers into building them ballparks, etc.) often outweigh their contributions. Chicago's Jeff Kean, meanwhile, had this question:

"Was the Tribune Company on that list? What would its plaque say?

"Developed plan to scalp own tickets -- opened new avenues of consumer gouging! First owner (or conglomerate) to fill seats consistently without breaking .500. Had faith that Kerry Wood could get healthy. Presided over a squad that gave an inordinate amount of starts to Neifi Perez."

I suspect Jeff is not happy with the way things are going at Wrigley.

People either loved or hated the A-Rod division championship speech. Several people took me to task for piling on A-Rod. That wasn't my intention, but they'll be pleased to know that I think he's going to have a monster October. Seriously. Mr. October 2006. Remember, you heard it here first.

And finally, I received a surprisingly large and passionate response to my column on the possible jail sentence for "Game of Shadows" reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Unfortunately, that large and passionate response was that the two reporters should be thrown in jail. That's disheartening, though not nearly as disheartening as two reporters facing 18 months in jail for doing their jobs while another judge grants leniency to Enron's Andrew Fastow, giving him just six years for ruining the lives of thousands.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for taking the time to express themselves, even if you think I'm a moron.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can reach Jim at jimcaple.com. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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