Sports fans in Cleveland have much to celebrate these days as the Cavaliers battle through the 2016 NBA Finals, but Saturday is an off night and an opportunity to mark another important night, perhaps the most important night, in Cleveland sports history.
On June 4th, 1974, the Cleveland Indians held a promotion they called Ten-Cent Beer Night, an event so successful it ended in a riot.
Let's Set The Stage
In 1974, The Cleveland Indians were owned by Bill Veeck Jr, also known as "Sports Shirt Bill." Veeck was as famous for his promotional stunts as he was for leadership of the various teams he owned over his lifetime. Previous stunts to Ten-Cent Beer Night included sending Eddie Gaedel, an American born with dwarfism, up to bat and holding a mock funeral for the pennant that included burying a past championship pennant in the outfield.
Before the famous Ten-Cent Beer Night of 1974, the Cleveland Indians had had other cheap beer nights without major incident, including "Nickel Beer Day," but this particular game against the Texas Rangers was already set to be extra electric as the previous contest between Cleveland and Texas had included a bench-clearing brawl.
After that game, Rangers manager Billy Martin was asked if he was worried about retribution in Cleveland's ballpark, prompting the manager to remark, "Naw, they won't have enough fans there to worry about."
Cleveland fans responded by packing the ballpark. The local newspaper printed a cartoon on game day that showed the Cleveland Indians mascot in boxing gloves with the caption "be ready for anything."
Ten-Cent Beer Night, as you might expect, was a promotion that allowed fans to buy a 12-ounce draft beer for just ten cents, a significant discount from the regular 1974 price of 60 cents per glass. But lest you think social responsibility was not on the minds of those behind the promotion, they did limit each fan to buying just six ten-cent beers per purchase, although there was no limit on the number of purchases each fan could make.
It's probably also worth noting that the legal drinking age in 1974 Cleveland was 18.
So when the game began the stands were full of 25,134 young Indians fans fueled by cheap beer and animosity. What could possibly go wrong?
The Game Begins
The Texas Rangers got off to a 3-1 lead by the end of the 3rd inning, and the drunken crowd quickly grew restless. A woman ran to the Indians on-deck circle and flashed her breasts, a streaker bolted across the field, and a father and son pair mooned the 25,000 fans early in the game. Rangers first baseman Mike Hargrove was pelted with hot dogs and nearly struck by an empty jug of Thunderbird wine that had been smuggled into the ballpark.
The Texas Rangers disputed a call where one of their players had spiked Cleveland's third basemen with his cleats, forcing him to leave the game. Cleveland fans responded by throwing objects onto the field and throwing lit firecrackers into the Rangers dugout.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Cleveland had managed to tie the game 5-5 when 19-year-old Terry Yerkic decided he just had to have Rangers outfielder Jeff Boroughs ballcap, and ran onto the field steal it from his head. A melee began and Texas Rangers manager, Billy Martin, charged onto the field with his players behind him, some wielding bats as weapons. Intoxicated fans surged the field armed with bottles, knives, chains, and even portions of the stadium seating they'd ripped apart.
Hundreds of fans surrounded the Texas Rangers players, which prompted Cleveland manager Ken Aspromonte to order his players to grab bats and rush to the defense of the opposing team. Cleveland players obliged, attacking their own fans.
Players fought off angry fans, but eventually left the field through the dugouts, while fans continued to hurl cups, rocks, bottles, batteries from radios, hot dogs, popcorn containers, and folding chairs.
The umpires decided they'd had enough, and that order was unlikely to be restored in a timely fashion. Umpire crew chief Nestor Chylak, himself bleeding from the head where he'd been struck by a thrown stadium seat, forfeited the tied game to Texas.
Numerous injuries among fans were reported. All of the bases from the stadium were stolen and never returned. Nine arrests were made.
Undaunted, the Cleveland Indians franchise held another Ten-Cent Beer Night a month later. 41,848 fans, eager for another historic event, attended. But thanks to an increased security force and a limit of two ten-cent beer per patron total, a second riot was avoided.
Sportscenter created the below short documentary about the event.