When the Cleveland Indians put on 10-Cent Beer Night in 1974, it turned out to be one of their most exciting baseball games of the season - for all the wrong reasons. The stagnating team wanted to boost attendance and put on a low-price event to fill seats. The promotion worked far too well.
On June 4, 1974, more than 25,000 fans descended on Cleveland Municipal Stadium to watch the Indians take on the Texas Rangers. The two clubs had a history of contentious meetings, and this turned out to be the contentious meeting to end them all. Fueled by alcohol, 10-Cent Beer Night devolved into a riot.
Plans for the promotion were flawed from the get-go. Unlimited booze, riled-up fans, and a hot summer night were a recipe for the perfect disaster. By the time 10-Cent Beer Night came to an end, the Indians had lost the game, the diamond was missing three bases, and onlookers were asking themselves what in the world just happened.
Using discounted beer to get spectators in seats wasn't a novel idea. The Cleveland Indians had used a Nickel Beer Night promotion in 1971 without incident. According to Bob DiBiasio, the Indians' senior vice president of public affairs at the time, "It went smoothly... they thought they'd do it again and raise it to a dime."
Just one week before the Indians staged 10-Cent Beer Night, the Texas Rangers had put on the same type of event. It seemed to be a good plan.
The need to boost attendance at Indians games was dire in 1974. The Indians were average, the stadium was in decline, and the struggling economy of Cleveland resulted in urban flight. That season, only about 15 percent of seats for home games were sold, and the city of Cleveland was at risk of losing the Indians. Businessman Alva "Ted" Bonda bought the team with a group of fellow investors, but he had to put his own funds into the coffers just to help the Indians stay afloat.
It was Bonda who wanted options for selling tickets. Out of desperation, 10-Cent Beer Night became a solution.
It's not entirely clear how many ounces went into each pour on 10-Cent Beer Night, but fans at Cleveland Municipal Stadium could buy up to six cups of beer at one time for a dime each. This didn't prohibit repeated trips to the concession stand, keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors, or countless other potential strategies to skirt the rules. Fans were also able to arrive two hours early at the ballpark and get a head start.
Beer, which was usually about 65 cents per cup, brought in huge numbers to the ballpark. On an average Tuesday game, the Indians usually had no more than 13,000 fans in the stadium. On this night, there were 25,134 proud Indians supporters.
Some of the attendees didn't wait to get to the game to start drinking either - many reportedly showed up to the game already inebriated.
When the Texas Rangers took the field against the Indians on June 4, 1974, it was amid continuing tension. During the teams' meeting six days earlier at Arlington Stadium in Texas, the game had devolved into a brawl, the result of a series of on-field incidents that took place during the game.
In the fourth inning, the Rangers' Lenny Randle slid into second base to disrupt a double play attempt. That aggressive slide later prompted retaliation from Cleveland hurler Milt Wilcox during the eighth inning. First, Wilcox threw a warning pitch behind Randle's head; when Randle laid down a bunt later in the at-bat, Wilcox went to tag him out but was met by Randle's forearm. First baseman John Ellis stepped in and punched Randle; from there, both benches cleared.
As the fight unfolded on the field, Texas fans joined in, pouring beer on Indians players. Incidentally, all of this took place on the Rangers' own 10-Cent Beer Night. Texas manager Billy Martin, for his part, wasn't worried about going to Cleveland: "They [the Indians] don't have enough fans there to worry about."
Martin wasn't the only person fanning the flames. Cleveland radio personality Pete Franklin took Martin's insult and used it to rile up Indians fans during the week prior to the game.
Alcohol and an anything-goes atmosphere during the game led to some pretty incredible antics. Streakers descended onto the field, with at least one young man sliding into second base completely in the buff. During the second inning, a woman flashed the entire stadium from the on-deck circle before trying to kiss the umpire, Nestor Chylak.
From the bleachers, a father and son mooned in unison as several other unclothed fans ran around the field. According to Dan Coughlin, a sportswriter and injured participant, the game featured 19 streakers.
One potential factor was the heat on that summer night; another could have been the number of college students, recently let out on summer break, who were in attendance. Not all of the fans were pleased with the debauchery around them, with families fleeing the game in droves to try to escape the scene.