April 20, 2014

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Was It Just The Beer?

A lot of things led to a melee at a Cleveland baseball game 35 years ago.

The words "Beer Night" still leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Clevelanders.

It was a night of one of baseball's many promotions (Why is it they don't have those in football and basketball?), 35 years ago this past week.  I wasn't there, but I heard stories about it at my high school graduation the next evening, from fellow grads who were there.

The Indians opened a three-game series with the Texas Rangers with a "ten-cent beer night" promotion.  Meaning just what it says, a regular cup of beer cost just a dime that night. 

But the trouble really started a week earlier, when the two teams, playing each other in Arlington, Texas, got into a battle of "beanballs".  In non-baseball terms, that basically means pitchers throwing at batters rather than to them.

Texas's manager at that time was the volatile Billy Martin, no stranger, or friend, to Cleveland fans.

A year earlier, as manager of the Detroit Tigers, Martin ordered two of his pitchers to throw doctored baseballs, or "spitballs", in retaliation to the belief that long-suspected Cleveland pitcher Gaylord Perry was doing the same.  That got Martin suspended, then fired, by the Tigers.  He quickly would up with the Rangers.

After the alleged head-hunting incident in Texas, media at the time widely reported that Cleveland announcer Joe Tait (also then, as now, the Cavaliers' broadcaster) told fans to "Come to Beer Night and we'll stick it in Billy Martin's ear."

There was an air of tension throughout the game.  It was reported that the "six to a customer" limit to the cheap brews wasn't being enforced.  Things totally got out of control in the ninth inning when the fans (whether they were over-alcoholed or not) stormed the field.  The umpires stopped the game and awarded a forfeit to Texas before they fled for what they probably thought was their lives.

You can imagine the negative publicity Cleveland got.  I remember one national sportscaster the following day saying "(the spectators) probably went and set fire to the lake", referring to the much-publicized fire on the Cuyahoga River (not Lake Erie) a few years earlier.

But...a little perspective here.  The beer probably made things worse, but it didn't set the spectators off.  I recall there had been a "nickel beer" day a few years earlier in which there was no incident. The game a week earlier in Arlington and Billy Martin's mere presence also were probably catalysts.

Oh...and, by the way, there also was a full moon that night.

 

 

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