There’s no crying in baseball. But there are riots.
The history of baseball riots is a storied one. Most people have heard of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, an infamous riot deserving of its own plaque and a feature length movie. But ill manners at the stadium did not begin with the White Sox (nor would it end with them).
Five years before Disco Demolition Night, Cleveland Indians fans invented the baseball riot during the ill-advised “Ten Cent Beer Night” promotion.
It’s easy to see where things might have gone wrong.
The Indians had actually held ten cent beer night promotions before without incident. In 1971, management had even pulled off Nickel Beer Day, but 1974 was different.
The week before, a bench clearing fight had erupted between the Indians and the Texas Rangers at Arlington Stadium. The brawl was initially limited to just the players, but fans were swept up in the fervor and began pelting Indians players with food and beer.
In Cleveland, tensions were on the rise. Sports radio announcers Pete Franklin and Joe Tait fanned the fire by lambasting Rangers fans and calling for a heavy turnout on Tuesday. A cartoon printed in The Plain Dealer depicted Chief Wahoo (the racist former mascot of the Cleveland Indians) wearing boxing gloves and saying “Be ready for anything.” The people of Cleveland were going to war.
Both the promotion and the promise of a fight drew A total of 25,134 fans, an unprecedented number for such a phenomenally bad season. The Rangers had no trouble securing a lead early on. It didn’t matter. Nobody was there for the game.
As the evening waged on, the crowd grew steadily drunker and drunker. Though a fan was limited to six beers per purchase, there was no limit to the amount of purchases made. NBC newscaster Tim Russert, who was then a student in Cleveland, can attest to the volume of beer consumed that fateful night. “I went with $2 in my pocket,” Russert remembered, “you do the math.”
Even before the riot, the sanctity of the game was in peril. When Cleveland’s Leroy Lee knocked Ranger’s pitcher Ferguson Jenkins to the ground by hitting a line drive into his stomach, fans were jubilant. The drunken crowd chanted “Hit ‘em again! Hit ‘em again! Harder! Harder!”
Then, like in every good sports riot, came the nudity. A woman jumped onto the Cleveland on-deck circle and flashed her breasts, which was perhaps one of the tamest things to happen that night. Inspired, a man streaked to second base while Cleveland scored their second homerun in the game. Only one inning later, a father and son, in an admirable show of familial bonding, mooned the crowd from the outfield. In terms of indecent exposure, Indians fans really covered all the bases.
Rangers player Mike Hargrove bore the brunt of the first waves of aggression. The first baseman was attacked by a barrage of food, spit, and an empty jug of Thunderbird. Caught up in the spirit, one fan even threw lit firecrackers into the Ranger’s bullpen. The number of beers thrown were soon to equal the number of beers consumed, and the riot was about to begin.
It was the bottom of the ninth, and the Indians had managed to tie the game 5-5. In a moment of elation, 19 year old Terry Yerkic ran onto the field and tried to take the cap of Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs, who tripped and fell to the ground. The Rangers believed that he had been attacked and they stormed out of the dug-out with bats bared.
Drunken fans stormed the field to defend their compatriot. Many of these baseball goers were armed with knives and chains, which makes more sense the more you know about 1970s Cleveland. Those who had not brought their own weapons fashioned clubs out of the stadium seats that had been torn out of the ground or hurled steel folding chairs at the field. In just minutes, 200 fans surrounded the 25 Rangers.
Cleveland manager Ken Aspromonte came to the realization that the fans might kill or seriously injure the Rangers, and so he did what any rational person would do: he instructed the Indians to grab bats and fight off their on fans. The players made their way off the field by punching or clubbing back rioters. When in their respective clubhouses, the teams locked their doors and waited out the storm.
Their mistake. Now the stadium was left to the whims of the rioters. The crowd pulled up the bases and the seats to take home, but left behind an array of items including rocks, bottles, batteries, handheld radios, folding chairs, hot dogs, popcorn containers and, of course, plastic beer cups littered all over the field.
Umpire Nestor Chylack realized that the game would not be restored and he forfeited to the Rangers. Chylack would later recall the night, describing the fans as “uncontrollable beasts”. Pretty weak talk from a man who was only cut twice.
The riot continued for twenty more minutes before the police showed up and arrested a whopping nine fans. The Rangers left the stadium safely, escorted by Indians players, which is kind of adorable.
In an interview after the riot, American League president Lee MacPhail offered his insight, saying “There was no question that beer played a part in the riot.” This was something nobody had thought of before.
On July 18, 1974, the next dime beer night was held. This promotion attracted 41,848 fans. There was no incident, but the legend of that first Ten Cent Beer Night Lives on in infamy.
Say what you will about the riot, about the team, about the city, but you can’t deny: nobody fucks shit up like Cleveland does.