10-Cent Beer Night

10-Cent Beer Night

June 4, 1974

Mike Hargrove remembers his first game in Cleveland well.

The Indians graciously gave away their beer. Their fans gave away the game.

10-Cent Beer Night was the Indians’ most desperate stunt in the club’s most desperate era. Cleveland was mired in the AL East cellar for half a decade despite the best efforts of ace hurler Gaylord Perry, who won 24 games and the Cy Young Award in 1972. Stagnant attendance at Municipal Stadium (their turnout in 1973 had been the second-lowest since World War II) prompted the announcement that at selected games stadium vendors would offer a 10-ounce cup of Strohs for just 10 cents.

Cleveland’s first (and last) “10-Cent Beer Night” was the first game of a three-game series against the Texas Rangers, who had held “cheap beer nights” of their own at Arlington Stadium the previous season without incident. Even though the Rangers had suffered through two of the worst seasons in baseball history since moving from Washington to Arlington, star turns by right fielder Jeff Burroughs (AL MVP) and Ferguson Jenkins (25-12, 2.83) and the emergence of Hargrove (AL Rookie of the Year) would help the surprising Rangers finish the 1974 season second in the AL West with an 84-76 record.

An incident a week earlier in Arlington brought some testosterone-laden intrigue to the “Beer Night” matchup. It all began with a hard slide into Indians second baseman Jack Brohamer by the Rangers’ Lenny Randle; four innings later Indians hurler Milt Wilcox retaliated with a fastball behind Randle’s head. Instead of charging the mound, Randle bunted the next pitch up the first base line. As Wilcox charged the ball, he was greeted by a hard forearm shove from Randle, who then barreled into Cleveland’s hulking first baseman John Ellis.

As the obligatory brawl ensued, more than a few Indians found themselves doused with beer gleefully hurled from the stands. Rangers shortstop Toby Harrah remarked that the normally docile Ranger fans were becoming “more and more like the ones in Venezuela,” who frequently chased referees out of arenas.

It certainly seemed like a good percentage of the Indians fans attending “10-Cent Beer Night” were looking for a measure of revenge. For a team that had averaged less than 8,000 fans a game the previous season, the announced attendance of over 25,000 was an impressive turnout. But many of the fans were already tipsy when they showed up and things turned ugly early. Especially ominous were the sounds of small explosions from the stands, heard from the press box as early as the first inning.

After the Rangers took an early lead, the alcohol-fueled frenzy that had pushed fans through the turnstiles began to push them onto the field. In the second inning, a large woman jumped into the Indians’ on-deck circle and lifted her shirt; in the fourth, a naked man slid into second as Rangers outfielder Tom Grieve circled the bases with his second homer of the game; and in the fifth, a father-and-son team welcomed Hargrove to Cleveland by leaping into the infield and mooning the crowd. From the seventh inning onwards, a steady stream of interlopers greeted Burroughs in right field. Some even stopped to shake his hand.

The stadium simmered until the Tribe came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, down 5-3. With one out, an Ed Crosby single scored George Hendrick; two singles later, a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center by John Lowenstein plated Crosby to tie the game. But slugger Leron Lee never had a chance to drive in the game-winner (Rusty Torres) from third. As the Cleveland fans pelted the field with golf balls, rocks and batteries, someone took the opportunity to swipe Burroughs’ glove. Burroughs chased the fan back to the stands and in response, people began swarming into the outfield, surrounding the Rangers’ star outfielder and ending any hope for an Indians rally.

Dodging more than a few flying chairs, Texas manager Billy Martin grabbed a bat and led his team on a rescue mission to right field. “The bat showed up later,” Hargrove recalled, “and it was broken.” Even the Indians were helping to fight off their own fans. Umpire Nestor Chylak, hit by both a chair and a rock, quickly forfeited the game to Texas, officially ending the Indians’ comeback. “They were just uncontrollable beasts,” said Chylak later. “I’ve never seen anything like it except in a zoo.” Nine fans were arrested for their part in the melee.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram beat writer Mike Shropshire asked Rangers outfielder Cesar Tovar if the Cleveland fans were acting more like Venezuelan fans than the Arlington fans had. “These people are different, very different. Got no respect for the police,” the Caracas native replied. “Of course, they’d shoot the people who tried that at home.”

Ironically, the game was the first forfeit in the major leagues since the Rangers (then the Washington Senators) last game at RFK Stadium, when a horde of souvenir-hungry fans took the field and refused to leave.

How desperate was the Indians front office to fill the Municipal Stadium seats? Incredibly, the team had no plans to call off the remaining 10-Cent Beer Nights until AL President Lee MacPhail intervened with the understatement of the year: “There was no question that beer played a great part in the affair.”