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Ten-Cent Beer Night and the 1974 Baseball Season

Ten-Cent Beer Night and the 1974 Baseball Season

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Ten-Cent Beer Night and the 1974 Baseball Season

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Apr 1, 2014


Ten-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland on June 4, 1974, was a promotion — at a Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers game — that led to the biggest riot by spectators in the history of sporting events in North America. The 1974 baseball season was significant for many other events as well. In that year, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, the Oakland A's went for their third World Series title in a row, Tommy John surgery was performed for the first time, and the fiery Billy Martin set out to turn the Texas Rangers into a winning team. This was a pivotal period in baseball history where old-school and modern baseball collided.
Apr 1, 2014

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Ten-Cent Beer Night and the 1974 Baseball Season - Daniel R. Grimes



A baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers in 1974 had turned into a riot. The cheap beer promotion, designed to lure fans to the ballpark and improve the attendance for the Indians in Cleveland, had backfired in a big way. Drunken spectators had gotten out of control. Players, umpires, and fans found themselves trapped in a violent struggle. It was an unforgettable night of chaos resulting from what is considered the worst promotion in the history of baseball. This was the biggest riot at a sporting event in the history of North America. The newspaper headlines and pictures of the mayhem shocked a nation. There were a lot of punches thrown, recalled Jim Fregosi, who was playing for the Texas Rangers that night. A lot of people got hurt. Players got hit with chairs over their heads. It was nasty.¹

Indians radio announcer Joe Tait described the scene in his live broadcast: The security people here are just totally incapable of handling this crowd. They just—well, short of the National Guard, I’m not sure what would handle this crowd right now. It’s unbelievable. Just unbelievable.²

Ten-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland was one of the most newsworthy events of the 1974 baseball season. It was an eventful season that included a milestone by Hank Aaron, the title defense by the Oakland Athletics’ 1970s dynasty, and the emergence of many new superstars in baseball. The 1974 season also heralded a revolutionary breakthrough in sports medicine, as Tommy John surgery was performed for the first time. This was a period in which old-school baseball was making a gradual transition into the game as we know it today.

Chapter One—Baseball in the 1970s

Reggie Jackson, Hank Aaron, Rod Carew, Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell, and Carl Yastrzemski were some of the great hitters in baseball that thrilled fans of this era. On the pitcher’s mound, Jim Catfish Hunter, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan dominated.

By the 1970s, the ethnicities and nationalities of major league baseball players had become more diverse. Compared to the early 1900s, when team members were largely American-born or occasionally European, the period shortly before the 1970s saw an influx of players from Latin America and the Caribbean, where baseball was enormously popular. There were major leaguers from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia. In addition, the number of African American players had increased substantially in recent decades. From the early to mid-1970s, African Americans made up around 25–30 percent of all major league baseball players.

On the negative side, the 1970s were a coarse time in baseball. There were many baseball fights—the majority of them occurring in the American League. The Oakland Athletics were involved in a lot of these brawls. Fans dumped beer on players and even threw firecrackers at them. Players jumped into the stands to confront fans. Occasionally teammates fought each other.

At a game between the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 24, 1970, a bench-clearing brawl took place. Following that uproar, a fan threw a firecracker that injured Indians catcher Ray Fosse. His right foot was severely burned. Less than a month later, in the 1970 All-Star Game, Fosse suffered a worse injury. Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds rammed the Indians’ catcher in the 12th inning in order to touch home plate for the winning run of the game. Fosse suffered a separated shoulder and was never able to return to form in his baseball career.

A major brawl took place in a game between the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium in Detroit on August 22, 1972. In the top of the seventh inning, Tigers pitcher Bill Slayback threw a pitch that came close to hitting Angel Mangual of the A’s. As the Tigers’ catcher went to retrieve the ball, Slayback ran to cover home plate. Mangual, believing that Slayback was about to attack him, confronted the pitcher. The two men fought it out with their fists. The dugouts of both teams emptied, and the ensuing brawl lasted at least 10 minutes. Oakland coach Irv Noren suffered an eye injury and had to leave the game. Mangual, Slayback, and Ike Brown were all ejected from the game.

In two, separate games against the Kansas City Royals in 1973, Oakland A’s outfielder Billy North was ejected for fighting. On May 18 in Oakland, Royals pitcher Doug Bird threw a ball inside, which North ducked to get out of the way. North then threw his bat at the Royals’ pitcher and rushed him. North was kicked out of the game. More fisticuffs ensued in another meeting between these two teams in Kansas City on August 31. In the top of the ninth inning, North pretended to run home from third on a Royals error. As North retreated to third base, he accidently collided with Royals third baseman Kurt Bevacqua. Bevacqua took offense, and the two players fought it out, prompting both teams’ benches to clear. A 15-minute scuffle followed, ending with both North and Bevacqua being ejected from the game.

A series of incidents occurred during Game 3 of the 1973 National League Championship Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York. The Reds’ Pete Rose and Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson got into a fight after Rose slid hard into second base, in an unsuccessful attempt to break up a double play that was turned by the Mets in the top of the fifth inning. A bench-clearing brawl between the two teams followed. Soon afterward, when the Reds’ defensive players took the field, angry fans threw garbage at Rose and the other Reds’ players. Fearing for the safety of his team, Reds manager Sparky Anderson took his players off the field. There was a possibility that the game would not continue. At the request of League president Chub Feeney and the umpires, some of the Mets—manager Yogi Berra and players Cleon Jones, Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, and Rusty Staub—acted as peacekeepers, appealing to their fans to show restraint. The Mets succeeded in diffusing the situation, and the game resumed.

Willie Randolph, who had played in the 1970s, later missed both that period’s style of play and atmosphere surrounding a game. When he was the third-base coach of the New York Yankees in the 1996 playoffs, he would see runners on base often having conversations with the other team’s infielders—a development that did not sit well with him. Randolph did not want to see friendly rivalries. He wanted a more competitive, intense, win-at-all-costs style of play, where the players on the opposing team were the enemy—similar to the 1970s. Sentimental feelings had to be brushed aside during a game. Each player had to have the attitude that he was better than the players on the other team and could prove it.

Baseball was more of a contact sport in the 1970s and earlier. Some of the ways infielders used their bodies to block and body check opposing runners from reaching a base would be considered dirty plays decades later. In the 1970s, however, those tactics were an accepted part of the game. That’s the way we played in those days, said Randolph. I’d like this team [the 1996 Yankees] to be a little more like the teams I played on in the seventies, he urged. Those teams were always ready to scrap.¹

Maybe the players were frustrated about their pay in the 1970s. The average major league baseball player made less than $15,000 a year in the early part of the decade.

The early 1970s were a simpler time for baseball. Most of the fans did not wear team apparel to games because very little of it was sold. Only a few fans had team caps. It was common for baseball fans to wear team batting helmets made of plastic, modeled after the protective ones that batters were required to wear starting in 1971. Later in the decade and into the 1980s, team merchandise would become far more popular.

There was no free agency in baseball at this time. After a player was presented with his contract, he could sign it, ask for more money, try to convince his team to revise the terms, request a trade, or quit baseball altogether. Sometimes a player was forced to take a pay cut. He was not permitted to play for another team. A player could be bought or traded to any team.

Prior to the early 1970s, most baseball players were clean cut. The Oakland A’s players defied the traditional look with long hair and facial hair. The A’s relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, in particular, had a distinctive, one-of-a-kind mustache.

The 1970s was the age of artificial turf for many of the new baseball stadiums. Its use was an effort to make maintenance of the playing fields easier. Artificial turf first appeared at the Houston Astros’ ballpark, the Astrodome, in 1966. Other stadiums with artificial turf were Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Candlestick Park in San Francisco, and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Comiskey Park, the Chicago White Sox ballpark on the South Side of Chicago, had artificial turf in the infield but real grass in the outfield.

It was a revolutionary period for the fan experience at baseball stadiums. A lot of the older baseball fans were not necessarily pleased with the some of the changes, however. Animated scoreboards appeared at ballparks throughout the country. Messages flashed on the big screen, prompting the crowd to make noise and celebrate or even to boo.

In some cities, the ballpark menu expanded beyond the usual hot dogs, peanuts, pretzels, and popcorn to include sushi and quiche. In addition to helping make cheap beer nights a trend in baseball, Milwaukee also was responsible for a

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