Thursday, June 5, 2008

legendary anniversary

many thanks to lou muenz for posting this a couple years ago.

Ten Cent Beer Night

I think we've crossed a line, and the innocent days of streakers and strippers are over. Now somebody's gonna get hurt, and the sport will have another stain on it.

I'm not so sure those days were so innocent. Anybody remember Cleveland's infamous 10 cent beer night?

At Municipal Stadium on that warm June evening, the beer of choice was Stroh's. At concession stands or from vendors, you could get a 12-ounce cup of the "fire-brewed" nectar for one thin dime. You could buy six at a time, and then return for more.
About 65,000 cups were consumed. This by a crowd of 25,134. If you do the math, don't forget to subtract all the people who likely didn't drink a drop. Let's say half the crowd consisted of teetotalers, juveniles, and the elderly. In that case, the average consumption would have been more than five cups per person. And let's not forget the considerable number of fans who reportedly had been imbibing before they even got to the ballpark.

Another element was adding tension to the evening. Just six days earlier, in Arlington, Texas, the Tribe and the Rangers had gone at each other in a bench-clearing brawl.

The trouble in Texas began in the fourth inning. Ranger Tom Grieve walked. Lenny Randle singled to center, and Grieve stopped at second. The next batter hit a double-play grounder to third. Tribe third baseman John Lowenstein stepped on the bag for the first out, then rifled the ball to second. As second baseman Jack Brohamer crossed the bag to force the second runner, Randle nailed him with a hard slide.

The payback came in the eighth inning. With two outs and nobody on base, Tribe relief pitcher Milt Wilcox threw a pitch behind Randle's head. Let's just say Wilcox wasn't suffering from a sudden lack of control.

Randle didn't charge the mound. He was more subtle. On the next pitch, he laid a bunt down the first-base line. And when Wilcox came over to pick it up and make the tag, Randle threw a forearm into him. The Tribe's hulking first baseman, John Ellis, was standing nearby. And as Randle took a few strides past Wilcox, Ellis leveled him.

Ellis was six-three, 225 pounds. Randle was five-ten, 170 pounds. It wasn't pretty.

The benches emptied, and the Texas crowd grew rowdy. Dozens of cups of beer were thrown onto the visiting Tribesmen.

After the game, Rangers shortstop Toby Harrah expressed concern that the Texas fans were becoming "more and more like the ones in Venezuela." American players had experienced Venezuelan crowds during Winter League play, and those crowds were several notches less civilized than even the worst ones in the U.S.

At least until June 4, 1974.

When Texas arrived for its first Cleveland appearance of the year, the brawl at Arlington was still fresh in the minds of Indians fans. Many people expected more fireworks on the field. But nobody expected the kind of eruption that would take place during what would become a three-hour nightmare.


The first sign of trouble came even before the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner." In the box seats near home plate, a vendor and a fan got into a heated argument about spilled beer. The argument turned into a fistfight.

More hints of trouble came shortly after Peterson completed his warm-ups. Small explosions were heard in various parts of the ballpark. An incredibly large number of fans had stocked up on firecrackers, some as big as M-80s.

The fact that the Rangers took the lead in their second at-bat didn't help the atmosphere. But the score probably had little to do with the reason a beefy woman climbed out of the stands in the second inning, scampered into the Tribe's on-deck circle, and gleefully lifted her shirt.

The woman single-handedly--or perhaps we should say double-breastedly--touched off a three-hour parade of interlopers.

In the fourth inning, when the Rangers' DH, Grieve, hit his second homer of the game, a male fan sprinted naked to second base and slid into the bag--as Grieve was still circling the bases.

A father-and-son team got into the act one inning later, running together into the outfield and mooning their brethren.

When the Indians' Leron Lee rifled a pitch right back into the gut of the Rangers' Jenkins, dropping the hurler to the ground, fans in the upper deck cheered, then chanted, "Hit 'em again, hit 'em again, harder, harder."

Things really heated up in the bottom of the sixth when Lee was called safe on a close play at third and the Rangers argued the call. Spectators began tossing things onto the field.

One fan ran out on the grass, picked up a tennis ball, and threw it back into the stands. When a cop started to chase him, he ran to left field, where another fan gave him a hug. A cop nabbed the tennis-ball thrower and was soundly booed. Meanwhile, another fan raced toward right field, climbed the fence, and escaped.

Public address announcer Bob Keefer warned the crowd to stop throwing objects--which, of course, brought a renewed barrage. Some of it was directed his way.

The beer kept flowing. Customers were allowed to go right down behind the outfield fence, where the beer trucks were stationed, and stand in line, waiting to refill their cups.

In the top of the seventh, three more spectators took the field. As one of them was climbing back into the stands, a cop grabbed him. But people in the stands pulled the man free.

Down on the first-base line, a woman waved grandly to all corners of the ballpark. When a cop arrived, she fought him, and he pushed her. The cop was booed.

In the visitors' bullpen along the left-field line, the Texas relief pitchers were being pelted with firecrackers. Home plate umpire Nestor Chylak sent the pitchers to the dugout to protect them, vowing he'd give them as much time as they needed to warm up.

Meanwhile, fans in the left-field stands were trying to pull the padding off the left-field wall for a souvenir. The grounds crew sprinted to the wall to try to hold it in place. A tug of war developed.

Soon, groups of two or three fans were running across the field. Then groups of 10. Then 20. Some people stopped just long enough to do a somersault. Others took the time to disrobe and streak through the outfield. The vast majority were male, and the vast majority were completely smashed.

Hargrove, who had gone in to play first base in the fifth, was targeted with hot dogs and spit. At one point he was nearly hit with a gallon jug of Thunderbird wine.

During the sixth inning, radio announcer Joe Tait, calling the game with Herb Score, looked down from his perch in the front row of the upper deck and saw fathers gathering their families and ushering them out of the ballpark. In the seventh, Tait watched most of the Indians' front-office people walk by the back of his booth on their way out. Among them was vice president Ted Bonda.

In those days, the Cleveland Police Department left most of the baseball policing to the team's ushers, many of whom had long ago retired from other jobs. As a result, the trespassers met little resistance.

By now it was clear that something else was lurking inside the stadium on this 68-degree, full-moon night. The game was taking place only four years after the shootings at Kent State. The Vietnam War was a seemingly bottomless quagmire. Richard Nixon was still in the White House, despite mounting evidence that he was, indeed, a crook. Many people in their late teens and early 20s had grown a deep distrust, even a hatred, for any kind of authority. They lived in an almost constant state of unfocused anger. And apparently, after 10 beers, umpires, cops, and even the players began to look like enemies.

Gradually, the streaking, showboating, and taunting gave way to sheer violence. Fights raged in the stands all evening, but direct combat didn't spread to the field until the ninth, when one guy climbed over the outfield wall, ran up behind Texas right-fielder Jeff Burroughs, and grabbed his cap.

The playing field had been constructed with a severe crown to assist in water runoff, and from the Cleveland Stadium dugouts, you couldn't see below an outfielder's knees. So when Burroughs whirled to retrieve his cap, slipped, and fell, Texas manager Martin, standing in the third base dugout, knew only that Burroughs had gone down. Martin couldn't tell whether his player was hurt, but he certainly wasn't going to wait around to find out.

Martin grabs a fungo bat and tells his team to follow. The players quickly run to right field to help Burroughs. As soon as they arrive, they are surrounded by 300 wild-eyed drunks, some carrying chains, knives, and pieces of stadium seats they have broken apart.

In the Cleveland dugout, manager Ken Aspromonte sees how far the situation has deteriorated and realizes the Texas players might literally be fighting for their lives. He tells his own players to grab bats and help out the Rangers.

Suddenly, two teams that were throwing punches at each other a week ago are fighting back-to-back against a maniacal horde of drunks.

People tuning in the radio broadcast at home could be excused for thinking they had accidentally dialed up professional wrestling.

Tait: "Tom Hilgendorf has been hit on the head. Hilgy is in definite pain. He's bent over, holding his head. Somebody hit Hilgendorf on the head, and he is going to be assisted back into the dugout. Aw, this is absolute tragedy. Absolute tragedy . . . I've been in this business for over 20 years and I have never seen anything as disgusting as this."

Score: "I haven't either."

Tait: "And I'll be perfectly honest with you: I just don't know what to say."

Score: "I don't think this game will continue, Joe . . . The unbelievable thing is people keep jumping out of the stands after they see what's going on!"

Tait: "Well, that shows you the complete lack of brainpower on the parts of some people. There's no way I'm going to run out onto the field if I see some baseball player waving a bat out there looking for somebody. This is tragic. . . . The whole thing has degenerated now into just--now we've got another fight going with fans and ballplayers. Hargrove has got some kid on the ground and he is really administering a beating."

Score: "Well, that fellow came up and hit him from behind is what happened."

Tait: "Boy, Hargrove really wants a piece of him--and I don't blame him."

Score: "Look at [Texas backup catcher and former Indian] Duke Sims down there going at it."

Tait: "Yeah, Duke is in on it. Here we go again."

Score: "I'm surprised that the police from the city of Cleveland haven't been called here, because we have the makings of a pretty good riot. We have a pretty good riot."

Tait: "Well, the game, I really believe, Herb, now will be called. Slowly but surely the teams are getting back to their dugouts. The field, though, is just mobbed with people. And mob rule has taken over."

Score: "They've stolen the bases."

Tait: "The security people they have here just are totally incapable of handling this crowd. They just--well, short of the National Guard, I'm not sure what would handle this crowd right now. It's just unbelievable. Unbelievable . . . "

Score: "[As soon as] people go back in the seats, others jump down and take their place."

Tait: "The bases are gone. Both teams are back in their respective dugouts . . ."

The public address announcer informs the crowd that the game has been declared a forfeit. The decision is booed.

Tait: "It will go into the books as a 9-0 forfeit to the Texas Rangers. So the Indians battle back, tie the game in the ninth [an explosion rings out], and then the game is ruled forfeit. That's it. It's all over. Well, there's no sense wrapping it up because it goes into the book as a 9-0 forfeit. Now what about records in a game like this? I'm not up on this because I've not been in on one before."

Score: "I have never seen this before. I suppose we will just have to await a ruling from the American League office . . . "

Tait: "Well, that's it . . . [Another cherry bomb goes off.] The final score, in a forfeit, ruled by the umpires after a riot broke out here in the ninth inning after the Indians had tied the game 5-5, final score in the books then will be Texas 9, Cleveland nothing."

As Tait and Score are talking, you can hear the stadium's organist playing merrily away, like something out of a Kafka novel.

People are still milling about the field. Some are shooting firecrackers. Some are throwing objects toward the radio booth and the press box.

The official box score: nine arrests, seven hospitalizations, and one major error by Indians management.

Only after Score mentioned the lack of police protection did Cleveland's finest arrive in force. Later, Score was told that a cop listening to the game in his squad car had heard his comment and radioed headquarters.

When the teams and the umpires were safely back in their dressing quarters, they were still livid. "That was the closest you're ever gonna be to seeing someone get killed in this game of baseball," said Billy Martin. "They had knives and every damn thing. We're lucky we didn't get stabbed. I've played 25 years and I've run over guys and been run over and given no ground. But to have people act like idiots, that's ridiculous."

The home plate umpire, Chylak, was even more vocal. Bleeding from the head, where he had been hit with part of a chair, he yelled, "[Bleeping] animals. You just can't pull back a pack of animals. . . . When uncontrolled beasts are out there, you gotta do something. I saw two guys with knives and I got hit with a chair. My guys [Joe Brinkman, Nick Bremigan, and Larry McCoy] were getting roughed up. I'm not out there to see anyone get killed. They almost killed the four of us. But we're expendable. We're umpires."

With a bleeding hand, Chylak held up a beer bottle that had been wrapped inside two paper cups and hurled at him. "This is how cheap they were."

The only place he had ever seen anything like this, he said, was "in a [bleeping] zoo. If the [bleeping] war is on tomorrow, I'm gonna join the other side to get a shot at them."

Several months later, when Chylak encountered Score and Tait at an Indians game in Oakland, he confided that he really wanted to complete the game because the Indians were in the midst of a remarkable comeback and deserved a chance to win. He finally decided to give up when he was standing at home plate and felt something pressing against the back of his left shoe. He turned around and saw a hunting knife sticking out of the ground.


Valerie said...


it's not funny, it's really not, but "they've stolen the bases" elicited a giggle fit out of me.

thank you so much for reproducing this on your site!

Randal Graves said...

Make a list of the things Cleveland will forever be known for.

A river on fire and ten cent beer night will be near the top of the list. We are indeed a plum!