Who doesn’t love a good baseball fight? Fans of the sport get to see their favorite teams pile up like a Twister game gone horribly wrong, and non-fans get to see something actually happen during a baseball game. (Guess which one I am…)
Seriously, pending no major injury or suspensions, baseball fights can be kind of exciting. Especially since, unlike football or hockey where fighting is basically (dangerously) woven into the fabric of the sport itself, anger in baseball tends more toward dirt-kicking than ass kicking.
And there have been a few epic fights in the history of the game—but none so epic as what happened when the Cleveland Indians decided to treat their fans to the “bad idea juice” otherwise known as unlimited ten-cent beer. (Spoiler alert: tear gas was involved.)
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“Ten Cent Beer Night” was really a perfect storm of intoxication and bad blood between dueling teams. On June 4, 1974, the Cleveland Indians were hosting the Texas Rangers at home, and also, not coincidentally, offering fans unlimited ten-cent beer. See, just a few days prior, the Indians had been playing at the Rangers’ stadium when a fight broke out—some nasty unsportsmanlike baseballing by both teams produced a classic bench-emptying mega brawl. (The Indians’ catcher actually had to be restrained from climbing into the stands to attack Rangers fans—who were, to be fair, chucking concessions at him.) Rangers manager Billy Martin said he wasn’t worried about retribution from Indians fans because “they don’t have enough fans [in Cleveland] to worry about.”
Except—yeah, the genius idea to attract fans with “Ten Cent Beer Night,” which drew an uncharacteristic 25,000-plus people to the game. (Compare that to the following game, where only 8,000 fans showed up.) And they weren’t all strictly “baseball fans,” either. Some of them were just fans of beer. Really, really cheap beer. (Bear in mind, the drinking age was 18 back in 1974.) Combine that with the portion of the crowd who were actual, angry baseball fans looking for revenge against the Rangers and ugliness was basically inevitable.
But nobody could have guessed it would get as bad as it did. Not that things started with chains and knife fighting (we’ll get to that). There was some basic booing, some memorable boob-flashing (not sure how that’s a punishment for the other team) and even a bit of streaking (a punishment for both teams). One woman stormed the field to kiss the umpire, and a father-son duo ran to the outfield to perform a presumably bonding-moment-worthy double-mooning of the entire stadium. Mostly innocent, mostly naked fun.
But then the ten-cent beers started kicking in and bad, bad ideas followed. People started throwing food at players. Rangers first baseman Mike Hargrove—aka “The Human Rain Delay” (dude liked his pre-batting rituals)—actually remembers getting pelted with “something like 15 to 20 pounds of hot dogs.” And then almost getting hit with an empty gallon jug of Thunderbird. Empty beer cans and even cherry bombs began raining down into the Texas bullpen. It was like the Baseball Apocalypse.
And things actually got uglier. First, the two (poor, terrified) girls running the beer truck couldn’t keep up with demand, so fans threw a table at the truck—apparently they were out of complaint cards—and the girls ran. Good news for the already drunk fans, who stormed the truck and poured the now free beer directly into their mouths. What devolved from there was, as one announcer put it, “a night of blatant stupidity.”
Strangely, things really erupted after a comparatively innocent, albeit stupid, stunt. A 19 year-old named Terry Yerkic ran onto the filed to steal a Ranger player’s cap. Yerkic fell and the player kicked him in the thigh. That same player tripped, but the Rangers all assumed he’d been hit back by Yerkic, so they stormed the field to defend him. With bats. Not to be outdone, drunk fans rushed to little Terry’s aid, wielding a variety of weapons like knives and chains and other things you might have seen in “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”
Seeing as how there were knives at this point—and fans throwing steel stadium chairs onto the field like WWE fighters gone rogue—the Indians actually came to the defense of the Rangers (a mild silver lining?), storming the field with yet more bats in an attempt to deter the onrush of drunken rioting. Both teams eventually had to retreat, and the rioting fans were only finally subdued by tear gas. Easily one of the most embarrassing moments in fandom history, fueled, no surprise, by lots of shitty beer.
And yeah, we’re just gonna go ahead and assume nobody learned their lesson. Except maybe the Indians. They hosted a “Ten Cent Beer Night” a month later, this time with a two-beer cap.