Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, December 1, 2012

This Promotional Event Went South in a Hurry

The late Tim Russert, former host of NBC's Meet the Press, was a law school student in Cleveland in the mid seventies.  He summed up the 1974 Cleveland Indians promotion, "10 cent beer night" in an extremely telling quote.  It was something we could have all predicted:

"l went with 2 dollars in my pocket.  You do the math."
Nostalgic T-Shirts now sell that commemorate the infamous "10 Cent Beer Night" at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.  (found at epitome clothing.com)

There have been a few promotions that went hay-wire and resulted in forfeits.  A few can be tied to flamboyant owner Bill Veeck, such as his "Disco Demolition Night" at old Comisky Park.  The Dodgers aren't strangers to them as they forfeited a 1995 contest to the Cardinals on the last "Ball Day" that the club will ever have in history when fans began shelling the field with them after Tommy Lasorda argued a call with Joe West.  But on June 4, 1974, the Cleveland Indians ninth inning forfeit to the Texas Rangers should have been predicted from the outset.  When you essentially give away free alcoholic beverages, I think you're simply asking for trouble.

The Tribe in the mid seventies were a sorry crew.  Finishing in close to last place almost every year.  The Indians often were closest to first place only on opening day each season, (It should be noted that 1974 was an exception though.  As late as July 2nd,  the Tribe were within 2 games of first place before the wheels fell off).  Attendance in 74,000 seat Municipal Stadium was sparse.  They played almost every night in that monstrous ballpark to crowds of 4,000 and 5,000.  There couldn't be a more difficult job I can imagine than that of being a public relations director for the Indians.  It would be quite the chore to invent ways to get fans in the seats.  Desperation must have really been in play for the Indians to announce 10 cent beer night at the Stadium.  There had to be some sort of forethought with it, but not a lot.  That forethought was that a purchaser of beer was limited to six 12 ounce cups per purchase.  There wasn't any monitoring of return trips for purchase though.

The Tribe hosted Boston the night before when they defeated the Red Sox 4-1 before 4,234 fans.  So the Indians P.R. team had to be pleased when 25,000+ arrived to take advantage of the cheap suds for sale accompanied by baseball.  The Tribe were accustomed to playing before crowds that filled only 15% of the seats, but this group was active from the start.  Some patrons had anticipated the partying festivities and brought in firecrackers that popped off in echoing fashion in numerous parts of the stadium as early as the first inning.  
Bat wielding Rangers come to the defense of 1974 AL MVP Jeff Burroughs who was being assaulted in the Cleveland outfield by drunken fans.  The game was called shortly after.  (photo by AP/Cleveland Press/Paul Tepley)

By the second frame, a woman had hopped the fence adjacent to the Cleveland dugout and flashed her breasts to the crowd.  Making her way to home plate umpire Nestor Chylak for a kiss, she was apprehended and arrested.  This was just the start of things.  Reports from witnesses at the game claim that a large part of the crowd was made up of under-age drinkers who were the recipients of the suds from the buying patrons on many occasions.  When Ranger Tom Grieve homered in the top of the 4th, a teenage streaker made a run for the infield and slid into second base, not something recommended while scampering around in the raw.  The next inning a father and son ran around the outfield mooning the crowd and causing a substantial delay before security was able to catch up to the evading hooligans.

As the game went on, the antics that many considered "comedy" started to become uglier.  Ranger starter Ferguson Jenkins was hit in the chest by a liner back up the box, to which the fans laughed and then began chanting, "hit him again, hit him again, harder, harder."  Ranger manager Billy Martin came out to argue a call at third base and was plastered by sloshing cups of beer as he returned to the dugout.   When beer started to run out in concessions stands, unhappy patrons became more violent in the stands and started dismantling the rickety seats of the old ballpark.  Fights in the stands were constant and there was little if any police presence.  Concessions personnel announced to fans that beer was available beyond the outfield walls where their cups were filled directly from Stroh's Beer trucks through hoses attached to spigots.

The umpiring crew ordered the bullpens emptied when a fan tossed fire crackers into the Rangers side.  These weren't small pop type fireworks of the Chinese New Year variety.  They were dangerous cherry bombs and M-80s whose volume in the spacious ball park sounded like hand grenades.  The Cleveland Municpal Stadium Security crew was completely overwhelmed.  In the eighth inning, a group of thugs entered the field and attempted to remove the padding from the outfield walls.  Why?  Who knows, but a mob of drunk crazies demanding more beer can do riotous things.  The security crew that was picking up litter on the field abandoned that task and went to left field to save the wall.  As the P.A. announcer attempted to calm the crowd and stop them from littering the field with debris, it was obvious that all control was lost.  Full beer cups, batteries pulled out of transistor radios and eventually concrete chunks and seat parts that were being destroyed in the stands were making their way onto the field through the air.

(photo by AP/Cleveland Press/Paul Tepley)
In the ninth inning, the Tribe rallied to tie the game and another fan ran out on the field to right fielder Jeff Burroughs and flipped off his cap from behind.   Others say he stole his glove.  Whatever it was, Burroughs reacted to go after the fan and tripped in the process. Billy Martin, seeing that his MVP outfielder was down on the ground ordered his players on the field to defend him, lugging bats as protection. "Let's go get 'em boys!"  he ordered.  It is estimated that Burroughs was surrounded by up to 20 fans that were cornering him to attack when his Rangers teammates came to the rescue.  

Umpire Joe Brinkman restrains a bleeding fan moments before the game was called. (photo by AP/Cleveland Press/Paul Tepley)
All hell had broken loose and Indians manager Ken Aspromante ordered his players on the field to come to the defense of the Ranger players too.  Complete mayhem ensued.  Cleveland announcers Herb Score and Joe Tait were at a loss for words describing the action:  "This is an absolute tragedy...I've been in the business for over 20 years and I have never seen anything as disgusting as this...I just don't know what to say," reported Tait.  

There were over 50 players, coaches and umpires battling it out with fans and they were way outnumbered.  Some estimated that over 200 spectators were now active brawlers on the field fighting.  Though many of the players had bats to defend themselves, players are quoted as saying that fans were wielding clubs that were actually arms of dismantled seats, metal seat parts and others had knives.  It's a miracle that no one was seriously hurt.

"The security people are just totally incapable of handing this crowd," said Tait.  "They just---well short of the National Guard, I'm not sure what will handle this crowd right now."

Umpire Crew Chief Nestor Chylak called the game, (photo by AP/Cleveland Press/Paul Tepley)
The players on both sides retreated to their clubhouses and locked the doors behind them.  Reporters that interviewed fans during the melee were assaulted.  Nestor Chylak had a bleeding head and arm from concrete chunks and pieces of a seat that that hit him.  He called the game when he noticed the blade end of a hunting knife stabbing the turf a few feet from him.  It had been thrown from the stands and would have injured or killed him if it had landed a few more feet to the left where he was standing.

The Cleveland Police Force Riot squad arrived about 20 minutes after the game and dispersed the crowd.  Only nine people were arrested, an absolute joke, which is proof positive that there was virtually no police presence at this game.  There were 3 more "10 cent Beer nights" planned by Cleveland for other games that year.  American League President Lee MacPhail stepped in and stopped that, announcing that all giveaways and promotional nights would require league approval in the future.

Thirty eight years later, Ten Cent beer night is remembered as the stupidest promotional event ever introduced in baseball.  Yes, even surpassing Disco Demolition Night.  It is remembered in this musical ode to that magic night in this You Tube video.  Enjoy.


  1. That's quite a story. I had forgotten that melee. The miracle, as stated, is that no one was seriously injured or even killed.

    It was pretty much a given something bad would happen with beer at a premium. On the other hand, not many would have predicted that Dodger fans would turn loose their baseballs. We are strange creatures, we humans, no doubt.

    1. I was told that the Dodger baseball giveaways in 1995 were almost like nerfballs they were so flimsy. There was no one in danger from those flying objects. It was a wonder that they could even make it to the field.

      It is amazing how stupid people become once some alcohol gets in their system. The Cleveland fiasco was proof of that.