Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Homage to Cleveland Indians days gone by

Ah yes, gone are the days of 10 cent beers and massive baseball riots. Of course, I'm thinking about the infamous June 4, 1974 Indians game against the Texas Rangers that ended in a massive, beer-induced riot.

The 1974 season wasn't a complete failure on the field for the Indians prior to June 4th. As a matter of fact, the Indians had spent some time tied for first place in May and were only three games back heading into the infamous 10 cent beer promotion. The team was led by pitching brothers Jim and Gaylord Perry, Buddy Bell and Charlie Spikes. Unfortunately, the Indians were drawing less than 10,000 a game, and as recent as June 1st, had only brought in 4,205 fans to the giant Municipal Stadium.

The Indians front office answer to low attendance? You got it, cheap beer. The Indians had watched in awe as the Texas Rangers brought in slightly over 9,000 fans against the Indians on a similar beer night. What the front office failed to notice was that the Indians and Rangers nearly started a riot that night. Drunk fans nearly charged the field after several incidents on the field.

Now, you have to admit, the thought was fairly brilliant for the Indians front office. Offer up cheap Stroh's beer to the tune of 10 cents, and watch the tickets fly! 25,000 fans showed up, and let the games begin.

The Indians and Rangers, as mentioned before, were still steaming at each other heading into the June 4th showdown. There was a bench-clearing brawl in their last outing the prior week during a beer night, and fans had entered the field of play to incite the incident. The two sides had calmed down and finished the game, but hostilities remained.

Enter drunk fans. The Indians management knew that they needed to put a limit on the beer, or things would get out of hand. Their limit? You could ONLY buy six eight ounce beers AT A TIME. No folks, not six beers total, six beers at a time. A sidenote here. As the game progressed, fans had drained the kegs at the concessions. Stroh's had rolled out trucks behind the outfield fence. Fans were then shipped behind the fences to refill their cups. Ah yes, limitations.

Fans showed up to the game already in the bag, and to show their displeasure with the Rangers, they brought fireworks. Imagine two teams that hate each other combined with drunk fans entering the stadium combined with 10 cent beers. That's when the fun began.

In the top of the second, booze and fireworks broke off into nudity. A woman ran out onto the Indians on-deck circle, flashed her "ladies" at the crowd and the dugout, then proceeded to chase down the Umpire, looking for a kiss. During the fourth inning, a naked man, wanting to one-up the large woman in the second, streaked across the field and slid into second, slip-and-slide be damned. The outfield, feeling left out, spit out two more fans in the fifth inning, who ran down the Rangers outfielders and provided them some extra moonlight.

Now at this point, I'd like to add that Billy Martin was the manager of the Texas Rangers. For those that are too young to remember Billy Martin, you have missed out. Martin was Mickey Mantle's sidekick during their tenure together with the Yankees, and along with Whitey Ford and whoever wanted to tag along, had spend the better part of their down time during their fifties heyday, wreaking havoc and drinking up as much booze as they could get their hands on. Martin also had a tendency to be a bit argumentative. I could imagine that this night had to feel just like home. Martin came out to argue a call in the fourth inning, then, while being pelted with full cups of beer, walked back to the dugout while blowing a few kisses to the Indians faithful. Game on Billy, Game on. Somewhere in 1974, Mickey Mantle's bat phone was ringing.

After the fifth inning, the game was secondary. Fans were casually running out onto the field. Those who realized that a game was taking place, were busy buying six beers, and throwing three onto the field, while drinking the other three. Parts of seats, change, loose concrete, keys and anything else you could find in a pocket began littering the field as well. Firecrackers were getting hurled into the Rangers bullpen. A woman was tackled by security after she went after them, presumably because they stopped her from another striptease.

The game continued.

The Rangers Mike Hargrove was nearly decapitated by an empty bottle of Nighttrain. Padding from the outfield wall began to disappear, apparently as a way to keep security away from the growing number of nudists frequenting the outfield. Perhaps fans felt that the soft cushion would be something nice to sleep on after their drunk deluge.

In the ninth, everything imploded. A fan jumped the fence and knocked the hat off of the Rangers' Jeff Burroughs in the outfield. Burroughs tripped when he turned around to address the fan, and Billy Martin thought that the fan had knocked Burroughs down. Martin and the Rangers grabbed bats and headed into the outfield to protect their teammate. They were met with hundreds of Indians fans, wielding everything they could carry. The Indians then charged the field with bats of their own, to protect their Rangers counterparts.

The players would eventually make it back to the dugout, but the mess on the field continued for a good bit before the game was finally forfeited to the Rangers. The head ump noted a couple of knives buried in the outfield. The bases were gone, as were benches and other items in the field.

It was a debacle for sure, but one that will be remembered in the annals of Indians' history of all that was wrong with Cleveland prior to the 90's resurgence. You can't help but look back and laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. Top it off with Billy Martin leading a charge of Rangers wielding bats...and well...

...the 70's...what can you say. And you thought THIS team has problems.

For those interested in purchasing the t-shirts pictured above, click the link. Homage Clothing is not only offering up the shirt, but $5.00 of the proceeds will go to Haiti Relief.

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