Amidst a dip in attendance during the 1974 season, the Cleveland Indians decided to galvanize interest by hosting a 10-Cent Beer Night promotion on Tuesday, June 4, 1974—little did they know what the endless flow of beer would entail.
It wasn’t the first time the Indians explored similar avenues. Three years prior, the team hosted Nickel Beer Day, and it was a walk in the park: families introduced young ones to America’s pastime, crowds followed musicians around the stadium, and when the breeze kicked up, your nose tingled with the smell of fresh dogs slathered in hot mustard.
Flash forward to six days before the Indians’ 10-Cent Beer Night, and the Tribe was taking on the Texas Rangers down at Arlington Stadium, coincidentally during the Rangers’ Dime Beer Night. During the eighth-inning of the heated game, the two teams found themselves in full-blown fisticuffs after a skirmish erupted between the Rangers Lenny Randle and Indians John Ellis, which caused loaded Rangers fans to launch their food and drink at the Tribe. Asked afterward if he was concerned about facing retribution the following week in Cleveland during a rematch, Rangers manager Billy Martin remarked, Cleveland didn’t have “enough fans there to worry about.”
Ahead of the rematch, local Cleveland radio host Pete Franklin fanned revenge flames, so when the gates of Municipal Stadium opened on the fateful 10-Cent Beer Night, chaos had already been cooking in the minds of many Tribe fans. The cheap alcohol just acted as extra fuel. More than 25,000 piled into the stadium—double any expectation. No doubt the stands were dominated by students, recently home from college for the summer, who couldn’t pass up the deal: admission to the game and five beers for a dollar flat.
The belligerence began early when Cleveland Indian Leron Lee drilled a ball directly into the gut of Rangers pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, who promptly doubled over onto the mound. The play ignited the crowd, which, already steeped in liquid courage, cried out, “Hit him again! Hit him again! Harder!” Each inning was filled with ruckus, from fans reimagining the Rangers’ dugout as a mine and throwing fire-in-the-hole cherry bombs to streakers making the outfield their personal playground. Going into the bottom of the sixth inning, the 5-1 score in favor of the Rangers continued to motivate the crowd’s antics. And by the time the Tribe evened the game at five in the bottom of the ninth, the crowd couldn’t be quelled—having stewed (and brewed) for more than two hours, they were hardly interested in the game’s result so much as retaliation against the Rangers.
One particular brazen Cleveland fan hopped the outfield fence and sought Ranger Jeff Burroughs’ hat, beginning an indefinite interruption to the Tribe’s late-game surge. As Burroughs attempted to kick the fan, his nimble feet failed him, and he fell to the field. Thinking one of their own was in danger, the full Rangers roster rushed the diamond, armed with bats, only to be met by fans, who flowed from the stands, wielding a laundry list of items not limited to bottles, batteries, folding chairs and knives. The Tribe was forced to come to the Rangers’ defense, fighting their own fans before the Cleveland Police Department’s riot squad subdued the stadium.
As the dust settled on the evening, announcer Herb Score and Cleveland fans alike couldn’t shake the fact that the Indians had been in position to take the game. With a runner on second, it was likely the Tribe could have batted him home to break the 5-5 tie and seal the victory. But following the pandemonium and absence of any bases, they were forced to forfeit (one of only five in the league since 1954).
If you think the infamous outing put the kibosh on any future 10-cent beer nights, you must not be from Cleveland. The very next month, the Tribe hosted yet another 10-cent beer promotion, though it ended without incident.
Pay homage to the night the Rangers learned the valuable lesson that no Clevelander is afraid of messing with Texas by scoring our commemorative gear.