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It was baseball, bodies and 10-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland in 1974

photo of Tom Hilgendorf
Paul Tepley
Cleveland Press
Indians Pitcher Tom Hilgendorf was hit with a chair during 10-Cent Beer Night in 1974.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published June 4, 2014

On this date in 1974, Cleveland's then-Indians nearly beat the Texas Rangers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. That is, until they had to forfeit due to a riot on 10-Cent Beer Night. It's one of many nights that lives in infamy for Cleveland sports fans.

Plenty of baseball clubs offered beer for a nickel, dime, or quarter in the early ‘70s -- without much trouble.

But by June 4, 1974, Cleveland's team was in the midst of a 30-year slump. A couple weeks before, a bench-clearing brawl had broken out when the Indians visited Texas on the Rangers’ 10-Cent Beer Night. In the days that followed, sports talker Pete Franklin stoked Clevelanders’ frustration and set up the June 4 game as a grudge match.

Sportscaster Dan Coughlin – then an Indians beat writer for the Plain Dealer – was one of the 25,000 people in cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium that night.

“There were a lot of strangers coming into the game that night," he said. "The significance of that is, back then the Indians usually drew about 7,000 people, and you knew them all!”

College kids cut loose
“A lot of them arrived drunk," said Coughlin. "They headed right to the concession stands. There was no limit. Whatever you could carry.”

And soon, the nationwide fad of streaking – which had enveloped college campuses, The Tonight Show and even the Academy Awards – hit Cleveland.

“Every inning there was something," he said. "A father-and-son combination: naked. They dashed out and both slid into second base. Now imagine, sliding, naked. You could get a heck of a rash. Then about the middle of the game, they started throwing firecrackers.”

That was it for the umpires. Both teams were called into the dugout for their own safety. Venerable announcer Herb Score tried to calm the crowd over the PA.

Nothing's working
When a fan stole one of the Rangers’ caps, that was it for their hot-tempered Manager, Billy Martin.

“So Billy grabbed a bat and said, ‘Boys let’s go get ‘em!’" he said. "Now the Indians were in a position where they had to defend other baseball players. It was like the movie ‘300.’”

Eventually, fans stole all the bases and the Indians had to forfeit. But that wasn’t the end of 10-Cent Beer Night. Another one was scheduled for later that season and went off without incident. For Dan Coughlin, June 4 was just a perfect storm.

“We had Pete Franklin. We had Billy Martin. We had a full moon and we had the kids home from college!”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.