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Baseball’s Most Chaotic Night: The Legacy of 10-Cent Beer Night, 50 Years Later

Today marks the 50th anniversary of perhaps the most infamous, absurd, and hostile evening in MLB history: 10-cent beer night. There were hospitalizations, full-frontal nudity, and many, many cups of too-affordable beer.

The fighting, which broke out during a game between the Cleveland Indians (now known as the Cleveland Guardians) and the Texas Rangers on June 4, 1974, has become the stuff of legend. But to fully grasp the rising tensions that led to the incident, we must look six days prior.

Before the Clash

During a May 29th game between the same two teams at Arlington Stadium in Texas, Rangers player Lenny Randle disrupted what should have been a double-play for the Indians’ third baseman John Lowenstein when he slid into second base, colliding with the Indians’ Jack Brohamer. A few innings later, Indians pitcher Milt Wilcox struck back by throwing a menacingly low pitch behind Randle’s legs. When Randle hit a bunt on the following pitch, he sprinted toward first base, and stiff-armed Wilcox along the way. In a matter of seconds, a bench-clearing brawl broke out between the two teams. Over the course of the next few days, several interviews with the team managers and provocative comments from sports radio announcers further fueled the fire. And just like that, the Indians and the Rangers were mortal enemies.

10-Cent Sabotage

At the time, the Indians were having trouble drawing a crowd at home in Cleveland Stadium. The team hadn’t been on a hot streak since 1968, and the average attendance for any given home game was just over 13,700 fans — not so hot for a 78,000-seat stadium. Needless to say, a promo was in order, and dropping the price of a beer from 65 cents to 10 cents seemed like a foolproof plan. And initially, it was: On the night of the now-historic game, 25,000 fans took to the stands, ready to imbibe.

The Rangers took a 5-1 lead early on in the game, and the crowd grew increasingly drunk and unruly. It didn’t help when the Indians’ Leron Lee smashed a line drive into the stomach of Rangers pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, prompting the upper decks to chant “hit ‘em again.” Things only got worse over the next few innings: a woman leapt from the stands onto Cleveland’s on-deck circle, flashed her breasts, and tried to kiss the umpire. A man streaked across the field and slid into second base. A father-son duo took to the outfield and mooned the audience. Fans began tossing firecrackers, hot dogs, and empty wine jugs on the field, all aimed at the Rangers — and the action would soon come to a head.

Chaos On the Diamond

Near the end of the game, the Indians managed to bounce back and tie with the Rangers, but the increasingly-drunk crowd had pushed their antics to the next level. A 19-year-old Indians fan eventually ran across the field and tried to steal Rangers outfielder Jeff Burrough’s hat, prompting the entire Rangers lineup to rush towards the young fan, armed with bats. The crowd responded by flooding the field, ready to duke it out with the Texan visitors, at which point the Indians actually buddied up with their opposing team to fight off the angry, belligerent masses. Folding chairs flew, blood spilled, and frankly, all hell broke loose.

Seeing that this wasn’t going to end well, both teams retreated to their clubhouses and locked the doors. The umpire awarded the tied game to the Rangers by way of forfeit, and the riot powered on. About 20 minutes later, the Cleveland police arrived to dispel the crown — the stadium had no security at the time — making nine arrests in the process. The Rangers remained cooped up in their clubhouse for several hours until police escorted them to a hotel downtown.

“People had been happy and drunk most of the game and just having a blast,” former Rangers designated hitter Tom Grieve recently told USA Today. “It was just a happy group of drunks. I don’t think it occurred to anybody until later that if 1,000 people went onto the field and got pissed off, what are we going to do about it.”

Despite the chaos, Cleveland Stadium went on to hold another 10-cent beer promo, but set a limit of two discounted brews per person. And strangely, it appears that the riot brought the feuding teams together, and the Rangers no longer rank among the Guardians’ biggest rivals. Nonetheless, the legacy of 10-cent beer night still stands as one of the most unhinged games in MLB history. 50 years later, the price of a beer at the Guardians’ stadium has risen to $5, and that’s probably for the best.

The article Baseball’s Most Chaotic Night: The Legacy of 10-Cent Beer Night, 50 Years Later appeared first on VinePair.

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