One of my favorite projects from the past is Baseball's Most Notorious Personalities, which was published in 2013 by Scarecrow Press. In it, I got to dish the dirt on some of the game's most infamous events and ornery characters. Naturally, this included one of the most hair-brained promotional schemes in history--the 1974 debacle in Cleveland known as Ten Cent Beer Night.
Here's an excerpt from the book:
"The Cleveland Indians have traditionally had difficulty maintaining a fan base. From 1960 through 1974, the club placed fifth or lower in the standings on twelve occasions. And though some talented players passed through that region of Ohio, such as Frank Robinson, Gaylord Perry and Graig Nettles, the Indians averaged less than 10,000 patrons per game in that span. The lack of support was made glaringly obvious night after night by Cleveland Municipal Stadium's spacious capacity of more than 70,000. The run-down edifice came to be mockingly referred to as 'The Mistake by the Lake.'
In 1974, Indians Executive Vice President Ted Bonda called a board meeting to discuss the club's sagging attendance and how to improve it. Someone suggested they follow the example of the Texas Rangers, who had hosted a successful "10-Cent Beer Night." The board agreed and the date for the promotion was set for June 4. It would turn out to be an evening that would live in Baseball infamy.
To begin with, the Indians failed to request the presence of Cleveland police. There were few if any on-duty cops at the stadium to help control the sizeable crowd of 25,000, many of whom showed up drunk or stoned at the onset. There were also no regulations in place to control the distribution of beer. Fans were allowed to buy up to six cups at a time. There were no safeguards to prevent people from buying the allotted six, handing them off to anyone in the stadium and then promptly returning for more...
The Rangers jumped out to a second-inning lead on a homer by designated hitter Tom Grieve. With beer flowing and half the attendees exhibiting "the glow," a woman ran into the Indians on-deck circle and bared her breasts. It was only the beginning. After Grieve had homered in the fourth to put the Rangers up 3-0, a naked man ill-advisedly slid into second base. In the bottom of the inning, the crowd joined together in a hostile chant when Texas Rangers pitcher Fergie Jenkins was struck in the stomach by a line drive. The stadium reverberated with a chorus of: "Hit him again! Hit Him again! Harder! Harder!"
The frat party continued in the fifth, when two more men hopped over the wall and mooned Rangers outfielders. Numerous other fans in various states of undress were dragged off the field by security as the evening wore on, prompting a rain of beer cups, batteries, and golf balls. At one point, firecrackers were tossed into the Rangers bullpen...
Unbeknownst to many in attendance, there was a heck of a game going on. Trailing 5-1 in the sixth, the Indians rallied to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth. They had the winning run on second base when a man jumped out of the stands and tried to steal right fielder Jeff Burroughs's cap. Burroughs turned to defend himself and clumsily fell over. In the Texas dugout, manager Billy Martin had seen enough. He armed himself with a bat and headed toward the outfield. His players trailed behind him as chaos ensued.
Rangers personnel soon found themselves surrounded by drunken hooligans, some holding knives, chains and blunt instruments torn from stadium seats. Realizing the peril their opponents were in, Cleveland players sprang into action under orders from Manager Ken Aspromonte. Indians reliever Tom Hilgendorf was hit on the head with a chair. Rangers first baseman Mike Hargrove threw a fan to the ground and beat the man senseless. Texas catcher Duke Sims sparred with several thugs. Banding together the players managed to escape to their clubhouses rooms with the wounded in tow...
With insufficient security to control the crowd, the unruly mob rioted for nearly a half hour, stealing bases and anything they could get their collective hands on. Umpire Nestor Chylak was nearly hit by a thrown hunting knife. He was bleeding from the back of his head when he declared the game a forfeit in favor of Texas and exited the field with the rest of the crew. Speaking to members of the press, he referred to those in the crowd as "f--ing animals."