I was listening to this one on the radio- forty-three years ago tonight. Someone in the Cleveland Indians organization had a brilliant idea- a great promotion- let’s have a 10 CENT BEER NIGHT. Bad idea. You would think whoever came up with this idea, would have just kept it to themselves it was so bad. You would think when the person who came up with this idea- when they brought it up would have been shot down. 10 cent beer night? No way. But YES way -it actually happened. To top it all off- when would the best time to hold this promotion be? When the Texas Rangers and their volatile manager and drunk Billy Martin is in town. Billy Martin during his career as a player and manager had more fights than Sugar Ray Robinson. Yes, that 10 Cent Beer Night is a winner- and let’s see Billy Martin is coming to town in early June- let’s schedule it for June 4. To make matters worse a week earlier in Arlington there had been a bench clearing brawl between the Indians and the Rangers. Also a little more history- the Indians had held a Nickle Beer Night back in 1971 without incident.
OK here are the rules on this one. Beer was going for .65 for 12 ounces at the time, let’s make it .10 cents. You can only buy six at a time but there was no limit on how many purchases you could make during the game.
Ten Cent Beer Night drew more than expected. 25, 134 showed up that night, doubling what they were expecting. Obviously every drunk in town decided to show up at the stadium that night. There were problems from the get go. Ranger pitcher Fergie Jenkens was hit with a line-drive and went to the ground and the fans started chanting ” Hit ’em again, Hit’em harder, harder, harder” a woman ran out to the Indians on-deck circle and flashed her breasts. A naked man ran to second base when Rangers Tom Grieve hit a home run [this was the year of The Streak.} An inning later a father-son team ran into the outfield and mooned the fans in the bleachers. Things were getting a bit out of control.
Later on more fans were running onto the field, Ranger Mike Hargrove [who would later manage the Indians} was pelted with hot dogs, spit and was nearly hit with a gallon jug of Thunderbird.
The Indians had been down 5-1 but rallied in the bottom of the 9th to tie it 5-5. The crowd though had been drinking all game and now things came to a head. A young fan ran out and tried to steal Ranger Jeff Burroughs ballcap. Burroughs tripped and fell down while confronting the fan–well enter Billy Martin. Martin thought Burroughs was being attacked and let the charge from the bench- Martin and the Rangers on the bench came running out with baseball bats. Hundreds of fans came rushing out onto the field, armed with knives, chains, parts of stadium seats they had tore up. The Rangers were outnumbered, so Indian manager Bob Aspromonte ordered his players to grab bats and come to the rescue of the Rangers–by going against their own fans. Indian pitcher Tom Hilgendorf was hit in the head by a folding chair that the drunks started throwing onto the field. Somehow all the players were able to escape to safety. Umpire Nestor Chylak saw that order could not be restored and ordered the game a forfeit. Chylak was also hit in the head with a stadium seat. Indians GM Phil Seghi blamed Chylak and the umpires for ‘losing control of the game.” WHAT?
Here is the most incredible part of this entire story. Cleveland on July 18th would hold another Beer Night!! This time they drew over 41,000 fans but had a limit of two beers per customer.
An interesting note- Indian outfielder Rusty Torres during his career was a part of three baseball riots. In 1971 there was a riot at the final home game for the Washington Senators- they were moving to Texas the next year, the riot caused a forfeit. Then you had 10 Cent Beer Night, and then in 1979 Torres was on the field in Chicago during Disco Demolition Night- where a riot between games of a double-header, led to another forfeit.
The late Tim Russert who was attending law school in Cleveland at the time later noted “I went to the game with $2. You do the math.”