Selling alcohol in stadiums has been a touchy subject as of late. Some feel allowing alcohol sales in college football stadiums — Texas A&M is one school that will do so — full of drunk and stumbling students is a horrible idea. Some argue fans should be able to buy a cold beer and enjoy a game just like the rest of professional sports fans.
We can all agree that Miller Lite giving away 100,000 beers in honor of the USA Women’s National Team kicking butt or Bud Light unlocking free beer refrigerators when the Cleveland Browns finally won a game in 2018 were awesome, hilarious marketing strategies.
But what happens when another Cleveland sports team essentially gives away beer and doesn’t limit how many one can buy at a Major League Baseball game? Pure chaos ensues.
Allow me to introduce you to a four-word phrase Cleveland Indians fans likely shudder at: 10 cent beer night.
Yes, 10 cent beer night. For a mere handful of dimes, fans could wreck their livers and soak in some mediocre baseball. Little did anyone realize just how rowdy a bunch of young, alcohol-starved baseball fans could get.
It’s Tuesday, June 4, 1974. Less than a week prior, the Indians and Texas Rangers brawled at the Rangers’ Arlington Stadium for normal baseball reasons (hard slides, throwing at batters).
Indians’ Milt Wilcox threw at Rangers’ Lenny Randle for his hard slide earlier into Jack Brohame. As Indians players walked off the field following the brawl, Rangers fans chucked beer and food at them.
Of course, the bad blood continued into that June 4 night game inside Ohio’s Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
It didn’t help that Rangers manager Billy Martin took a shot at Cleveland fans prior to the game by saying he wasn’t worried about them retaliating because “they won’t have enough fans there to worry about.”
Cleveland radio host Pete Franklin, along with local newspapers, added fuel to the fire, too. “Be ready for anything,” read a caption below a cartoon of Indians mascot Chief Wahoo donning a pair of boxing gloves printed in The Plain Dealer.
The Indians sold 10 cent beer that night. The regular price of a beer was normally 65 cents. Fans could buy up to six freakin’ 12-ounce beers at a time and there was no limit to how many you could buy throughout the game.
More than 25,000 showed up for the nine-inning chug fest. That was double what the Tribe expected. As ESPN noted, Cleveland Municipal Stadium had a monstrous capacity of 74,400 when it opened in 1931, which easily made it the largest stadium in America at the time.
An estimated 60,000 cold ones were served up. One fan in attendance, longtime NBC newscaster Tim Russert, told Meet The Press in 2008 he walked into the Cleveland stadium with $2.
“You do the math,” Russert said.
What made matters worse was that the Indians were clearly understaffed for the event. At one point, agitated and impatient fans waiting for more beer began filling their cups and containers straight from the beer trucks themselves.
What followed was an insane brouhaha that left thousands of intoxicated fans fighting players from both teams on the field. Streakers and flashers became commonplace.
Here are some of the occurrences from the game:
- In the second inning, a woman ran onto the Indians’ on-deck circle and flashed her chest. She then unsuccessfully tried kissing crew chief umpire Nestor Chylak.
- In the fourth inning, a naked man streaked on to the field and slid into second base as Rangers player Tom Grieve rounded the bases following his second home run of the game.
- In the fifth inning, a father and son hopped the outfield fence and mooned fans in the outfield bleachers.
- Fans flung hot dogs, spit and an empty bottle of wine at Rangers All-Star first baseman Mike Hargrove, who, ironically, managed the Indians to World Series appearances in 1995 and 1997.
- Fans threw lit firecrackers into the Rangers bullpen, to which Nylak only evacuated both bullpens and told pitchers to warm up on the field’s mound
- In the fourth inning, Martin came out to argue a call that ruled Indians’ Leron Lee safe at third base. Fans pelted the manager with beer cups and he blew kisses at them in response.
- Lee was involved in another instance of fan outrage when he hit Rangers pitcher Ferguson Jenkins with a line drive. Part of the crowd then yelled out “Hit ’em again! Hit ’em again! Harder! Harder!”
The boiling point came with the game tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Terry Yerkic, a 19-year-old Indians fan, ran out on to the field attempting to steal Texas outfielder Jeff Burroughs’ hat. As Yerkic described it, Burroughs kicked him in the thigh before Burroughs tripped and fell. Martin thought he had been attacked. In response, he and his players stormed the field. Some even carried bats.
What Martin may not have realized was that an army of hundreds of angry, drunk Cleveland natives watched this all unfold. These fans (now full of copious amounts of alcohol) rushed the field in full force. Some had knives and chains. Some were flinging folding chairs at players and umpires. Realizing how bad the situation was, Cleveland manager Ken Aspromonte ordered his players to grab bats and help the opposing team by fighting off the now life-threatening horde.
Indians reliever Tom Hilgendorf was struck in the head by a steel chair. Hargrove had to fistfight his way back to the dugout. Rioters uprooted the bases and stole them. All hell had broken loose. Chylak, who was hit in the head by a piece of chair and in the hand by a rock, forfeited the ball game to the Rangers.
One beat reporter — Dan Coughlin of the Chronicle-Telegram — was interviewing fans following the scrum and was punched in the face.
Indians general manager Phil Seghi blamed the umpires for letting things escalate, and maybe they should’ve done something sooner. But in reality, it was the Cleveland security guards who failed miserably.
Sportscasters Joe Tait and Herb Score, who were calling the game, both noted security’s ineptitude before Cleveland Police came to the ballpark and restored order by using force, tear gas and shutting off the lights.
“The security people here are just 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 unbelievable. Just unbelievable.”
— Broadcaster Joe Tait, via the Akron Beacon-Journal‘s Bob Dyer
Lee MacPhail, MLB American League President at the time, said there was no question beer played a role in the riot. Uhh, ya think? The kicker here is that selling beer for 10 cents was actually a borrowed idea from (of all teams) the Texas Rangers, who successfully ran their own version that season.
Despite the promotion resulting in complete catastrophe, the team ran another ten cent beer night the next month but capped fans at two 10-cent beer tickets per person. The Indians also employed four times the amount of security for the crowd of more than 40,000.
As far as crazy baseball promotions go, 10 cent beer night ranks right up there next to Disco Demolition Night, the Dodgers baseball giveaway night in 1995 or any of the extensive number of wacky minor league baseball promotions.
For example, the Florida Fire Frogs — an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves — gave away free beer until the opposing team scored in a 2018 game, which drew a large crowd and ran smoothly.
Free or cheap beer will always draw crowds, but let’s just hope teams learned their lesson from the Cleveland Indians’ infamous 10 cent beer night.