The Disastrously Hilarious Story Of Baseball's 10 Cent Beer Night In 1974

Good luck finding anything you can buy with a single dime, especially at a professional sporting event. Even in 1974, ballpark concessions were starting to increase in price, which is why when the Cleveland Indians — known today as the Cleveland Guardians — announced plans for a 10-cent beer night, fans were excited. Of course, sports fans and tons of cheap beer aren't always a great mix, especially with tensions already high after the two teams onfield had a bench-clearing brawl less than a week before.

The Indians' 10-cent beer night became the stuff of legend for all the wrong reasons. The stands were filled with surly, drunken baseball fans, and some of that spilled onto the field. What started as a promotion to get fans into the seats turned into a debacle of epic proportions and even a full-fledged riot, that ended with the Indians being forced to forfeit the game, per Sports Illustrated.

According to Bleacher Report, once the dust had settled — and the alcohol had worn off — Lee McPhail, the American League president at the time, made one of the most obvious statements in sports history: "There was no question that beer played a part in the riot."

Tensions were high before 10-cent beer night

It was clear even before thousands of 8-ounce cups of Stroh's beer were added to the equation that the June 4, 1974 meeting between the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers would be a heated affair. On May 29, the teams were playing the final game of a three-game series in Arlington, Texas, per Baseball Reference. According to Retrosheet, in the bottom of the eighth inning, Indians pitcher Milt Wilcox threw a pitch behind Rangers' second basemen, Lenny Randle. Randle wasn't fond of being brushed off the plate like that, so on one of the following pitches, he laid a bunt down the first baseline. As Wilcox hurried off the mound to field the dribbling bunt, Randle took a slight, albeit very obvious, detour off the base path and barreled over Wilcox (it's posted on Twitter). Randle was corralled by Wilcox's teammates and the dugouts emptied onto the field.

Soon fans were getting involved, with some of the Cleveland players needing to be restrained from hopping into the grandstands. It was clear that this wasn't the animosity between the two teams, and that something was likely to happen when the Rangers visited Cleveland on June 4.

Dime beer night in Cleveland

The 10-cent beer night promotion that the Cleveland Indians ran in 1974 wasn't a first for them. According to the MLB, in 1971, they ran a promotion that touted even cheaper beer, a nickel beer night. Somehow — maybe inflation — the price of beer doubled. The Indians weren't even the only team in baseball to run a promotion like this, though it went on to become the most memorable.

The plan was that this kind of promotion would draw fans to the game, which took place on Tuesday afternoon, with the start time slated for 3:05 p.m. However, the date corresponded with the time of year that colleges let out, which led to the June 4 crowd being younger than usual. The prospect of cheap beer certainly helped to skew the crowd's average age a little as well. It was also hot and humid that day, which led to even longer concession stand lines and led to the inebriated fans becoming increasingly unruly.

According to Bleacher Report, the Rangers jumped out to a 5-1 lead. Then the crowd really started to act up.

The game goes off the rails

According to MLB, some fans entered the game having already consumed a significant amount of beer before dishing out dimes for more inside Cleveland Stadium. The beer was doled out from trucks that the team had lined up just behind the outfield fence, per Better Marketing. As the throngs of thirsty fans converged on the trucks the two people left to pour the beer were two teenage girls who wound up having to fill cups like they were living in a real-world version of the old arcade game "Tapper."

With beer so cheap, shenanigans were sure to follow, and follow they did. One of the earliest was a woman who ran on the field and tried to plant a smooch on Hall of Fame umpire Nestor Chylak. He declined. A father and son also dashed onto the field and mooned the tipsy crowd. The antics were starting to get out of hand but weren't really dangerous until fans started throwing things.

Fans threw hot dogs and — believe it or not — shot fireworks that they had smuggled into the stadium at the Rangers dugout. However, while this was happening, Cleveland had managed to even the score at 5 in the ninth inning. Unfortunately, their fans ruined the opportunity for a come-from-behind victory.

Ten-cent beer night becomes a full-fledged riot

In the ninth inning, with the game coming down to the wire, yet another fan ran onto the field. This time, a hammered baseball fan was bent on getting Rangers' right fielder Jeff Burrough's cap. According to Bleacher Report, while trying to ward off the fan — and keep his cap — Burroughs fell, which enraged Rangers manager Billy Martin (above), who thought Burroughs was being attacked and led a charge out of the dugout flanked by his players, some of whom were wielding bats.

Some of the Cleveland fans were armed, too, with knives, chains, and even stadium seats that they had yanked loose. Players continued to get hit with everything from rocks to hot dogs, while some fans stole bases (not in the baseball sense, either; literally stolen and never recovered). Nestor Chylak suffered a cut from being hit with a chair and finally had enough. He called the game a forfeit and handed the win to the Rangers (via Baseball Reference).

As these cheap beer promotions were fairly common for the era, Cleveland had several more of them scheduled for the rest of the season. Those nights still happened, but with a major change in place: Fans were limited to four beers each.