Today is the 38th anniversary of the infamous 10-cent beer night at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Here’s an excerpt from “Ohio Sports Trivia,” by J. Alexander Poulton and Did the Tribe Win Last Night staff writer Vince Guerrieri.
Under the ownership of Bill Veeck in the 1940s, the Indians were known for some excellent promotions.
Veeck largely invented the concept of people coming out to the ballpark for events other than baseball, be they a mock funeral for the pennant, like he did in Cleveland in 1949, sending a midget up to bat, like he did when he owned the St. Louis Browns (and he feared this event would be on his tombstone) or a scoreboard that shot off fireworks, like he had at Comiskey Park when he owned the White Sox.
However, the promotion on June 4, 1974, at Municipal Stadium went down in history—for all the wrong reasons. Stroh’s Beer held a promotion for that night’s Indians game against the Rangers: 10-cent beer night. The Indians at the time were owned by Ted Bonda, and the Rangers had recently had a successful 10-cent beer night.
So that June night, more than 25,000 people came to the Indians game, when the Tribe was averaging around 8000 per game. The crowd still looked small in Municipal Stadium, which at its peak held more than 90,000 fans. Those who did come just couldn’t pass up 10 ounces of beer for 10 cents. Demand was so high that people stopped going to the concession stand and started getting their beer from Stroh’s trucks behind the outfield.
Of all the teams that could have come to town for this bubbling mixture of alcohol and idiocy, the Rangers, managed by Billy Martin, who never met a fight he couldn’t insert himself into, were probably the worst choice. In a recent game in Texas, the Indians were treated to some chin music, and a brawl ensued.
During this game, chaos reigned. A fan threw a firecracker into the Rangers’ dugout. Streakers ran across the field. Rangers first baseman Mike Hargrove was almost conked on the head with a Thunderbird (the bottle of wine, not the car).
Then in the ninth inning, the Indians tied the game at five, and the potential winning run was at second base when a fan hopped down and took Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs’ cap. Burroughs ran after the guy, who went back into the stands, but other fans stormed the field. So Martin, wielding a fungo bat, yelled, “Let’s go get him, boys,” and led his team out to Burroughs in right field.
The crowd turned ugly, and the Indians came out of their dugout—to rescue the Rangers. Both teams retreated. Fans started stealing bases and anything else they could get their hands on. Umpires forfeited the game to the Rangers, one of 85 games the Indians lost that year.
“Some might consider the riot started by drunken fans as a black eye for the city,” Cleveland native Drew Carey said. “But one of my friends was there and got hit in the head with a bottle and bragged about it for years.”
“Ohio Sports Trivia” was published in 2011 by Lone Pine Publishing. It’s available for sale online.