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Happy 45th birthday to Ten Cent Beer Night

Cleveland Municipal Stadium

CLEVELAND - MAY 17: A general view of Cleveland Municipal Stadium during a game on May 17, 1992 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jeff Hixon/Gettyimages)

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I used to memorialize this every year. It’s been five years since I last posted about it, though, and I fear that some youngsters may have waded into these waters who are unfamiliar with proper history, so I do this again as a service. Also: you may have heard that Major League Baseball has an attendance problem, so maybe this will give someone in a front office a good idea for a promotion. I’m nothing if not a helper.

Today is the 45th anniversary of Ten Cent Beer Night in Cleveland. It was exactly what it sounds like: the Indians did a promotion that gave unhappy people who rooted for a bad team unlimited quantities of nearly-free alcohol which, amazingly, turned into utter chaos. Why could’ve seen that coming?

The legal casebook I’ve mentioned several times lately, Baseball and the Law, by Louis Schiff and Robert Jarvis (you can follow them on Twitter, where they tweet out fun baseball legal and historical stuff every day) has some fun details people sometimes overlook when people talk about this disaster:

  • 25,000 fans showed up at Municipal Stadium for this Indians-Rangers game. That park held like 70,000 if it needed to, but an average Tuesday night game in 1974 would attract 12-13,000 tops. As such, the ballpark staff was probably not prepared for it;
  • Among the fans who ran on to the field: a woman who stood in the on deck circle and flashed her breasts; a guy who streaked to second base; and a father and son team who mooned the bleachers. Ah, family;
  • The random streakers happened for most of the game but the actual riot didn’t happen until the ninth inning when it was 5-5. The Indians, who would go 77-85 on the year, would forfeit. Thank GOD it didn’t go into extras; and
  • The best part of all was that the Indians, despite this calamity . . . HELD A SECOND TEN CENT BEER NIGHT ONE MONTH LATER! They drew 41,000 fans to the park for that one, but there was no riot because, unlike the case on June 4 when fans were allowed to get up to six beers but, practically, were not limited, fans were limited to two ten cent beers on redux night and the staff kept a close watch on folks to make sure they didn’t cheat.

If you want a super deep dive into Ten Cent Beer Night, Paul Jackson’s 2008 story at ESPN remains the gold standard. It gives a nice background of how it went down and why Cleveland in 1974 was the perfect time and the perfect place for Ten Cent Beer Night to turn into the mess it became. A video ESPN did on it a couple of years ago can be seen below.

As I’ve noted in the past, I am less shocked by the riot itself than I am about the conditions which led up to it, as described in Jackson’s story. Back then it was simply an accepted notion that people are going to come and get wasted at the ballpark and it was just accepted that a certain amount of rowdy behavior was going to go down. And I mean at normal games, not just weird instances like this or Disco Demolition Night in Chicago or what have you. Really, until the late 1980s it was simply expected that you’d deal with hostility, obnoxiousness and maybe even some low-level violence at the old ball game. Bill James wrote about a little about this in his New Historical Baseball Abstract. I remember my parents planning trips to Tiger Stadium in the late 70s and early 80s well aware that there were certain places where you simply could not sit with children. Now even the slightest bit of a ruckus at the ballpark makes big news it’s so rare.

Maybe it’s because security is better. Maybe it’s because the beer is too expensive today. Maybe there are too many distractions and family-friendly promotions that relegate the game to an afterthought at times. I don’t know, but I’d willingly take today’s family fun and non-game entertainment excesses over the of the bad old days of the 1970s.

Follow @craigcalcaterra