This is Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show. Our next story comes to us from a man who is simply known as the History Guy.
His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages on YouTube. The History Guy is also heard here at Our American Stories. The June 4th 1974 night game between the Texas Rangers and the Cleveland Indians was one for the record books.
Trouble was a-brewin', the bleachers were loaded, and there was a distinct buzz in the air. Here's the History Guy with that story of the Ten-Cent Beer Night Riot. 1974 was a depressing news year in the United States. President Richard Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate scandal, which would eventually force him to resign in November, the first US President to do so. The United States economy was in a deep recession, the result of double digit inflation and the ongoing energy crisis.
Patricia Hearst, the granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped in February, and by April had claimed that she had joined her captors cause, leading to nightly news stories. And on June 4th, in the event that perhaps best defined the trying times of the day, beer was too cheap in Cleveland, Ohio. It is history that deserves to be remembered. It was Tuesday, June 4th, and the Texas Rangers were playing a night game at Cleveland Stadium, the first of a three game series.
When configured for baseball, the stadium seated 74,400 fans, making it the largest in professional baseball in 1974. But Cleveland was a struggling city, noted for its river pollution, the Cuyahoga River through the city was famous for literally catching fire. One such fire in 1969 had caught the attention of the nation via Time magazine, prompting the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Cleveland area had been a flashpoint for anti-Vietnam War sentiment after shootings by the National Guard at nearby Kent State University in 1970. The city was in financial difficulty, crime was on the rise.
In 1962 there had been 59 murders in Cleveland, in 1972 there were 333. The city had a difficult reputation and people were leaving in droves. The city lost roughly 177,000 inhabitants between 1970 and 1980, and the Cleveland Indians simply weren't very good. They finished at the bottom of the American League East in 1973, weren't doing much better in 1974.
Commentator Paul Jackson of ESPN said of them, the 74 Indians were a smorgasbord of mediocre and forgettable talent, playing in an open-air mausoleum. It had become difficult to fill the massive 74,400 seat stadium. On May 13th a mere 4,234 had showed up on a chilly night for a game against Boston. On average 85% of the stadium's tickets went unsold. But the game against Texas on the muggy night June 4th attracted a respectable 25,134 crowd, twice what was expected.
The reason? Cheap beer. The club was running a promotion, 12 fluid ounce cups of Stroh's 3.2% beer for just 10 cents each. There was a limit of six beers per purchase but no limit on the number of purchases made during the game. Bud Tucker, a columnist for the Independent Press Telegram of Long Beach, California equipped, as a Frenchman is inspired by fine wine or a Russian by classic vodka, so does a Clevelander react to 10 cent beer.
The late Tim Russert, known for being the longtime moderator of the show Meet the Press, was 24 at the time and attended the game. In a statement that perhaps defined much of the crowd that night he said, I had $2 in my pocket, you do the math. Perhaps there was more going on that night than cheap beer.
It was particularly hot and muggy. The June date caught the college age crowd just as they were coming home for summer and as Anthony Kastrovic of MLB.com noted in 2014, it was a full moon that night. In fact, witnesses note that much of the crowd seemed to have not waited for the cheap beer and many seemed to have arrived already drunk or high. And for some reason they also showed up with their pockets stuffed with firecrackers. The crowd started throwing them before the game even started and they continued throughout. The rowdiness may have had something to do with the team's last meeting a week earlier on May 29th in Arlington which had had a bench emptying brawl during the eighth inning of what would be a Rangers 3-0 victory. Rangers fans had thrown beer and food at the Indians team as they were returning to the dugout. The Indians were furious. Catcher Dave Duncan had to be restrained to keep him from going into the stands to brawl with the crowd. Indian second baseman Jay Brohamer, who had been at the bottom of the pile, promised revenge.
Rangers manager Billy Martin added to the fuel. After the game a Cleveland reporter asked him if he was afraid of fans retaliating in Cleveland. He responded, nah they don't have enough fans to worry about. Cleveland media kept the city riled over the course of the next week.
Brohamer was quoted as saying that he had cooled down and wasn't looking for a fight, instead he hoped to get revenge by winning all three games of the upcoming series. The Cleveland fans on the other hand might have been making plans of their own. Texas quickly cooked the lead in the second inning after a home run by outfielder Tom Grieve. But a buzz was in the air, or rather in the crowd. Theatered the second inning a woman hopped the fence, ran over to the Indians on deck circle, ripped off her shirt, bearing her breast to the raucous approval of the crowd, and then tried to kiss the umpire.
Amazingly it wasn't the weirdest thing that would happen that night, nor the only act of exhibitionism. The fun was not all good-natured, not only was a crowd throwing firecrackers and keeping the grounds crew busy throwing garbage under the field, but when Rangers pitcher Fergie Jenkins got hit in the stomach with a line drive, the crowd started chanting, hit him again. Meanwhile the beer kept flowing, unable to keep up the vendors reportedly gave up trying to check IDs and started filling up whatever container was handed to them.
19 year old fan Terry Yurkic recalled, I had a big dog and son's mug, maybe 32 ounces, looked like a mini keg. Another witness said that as the crowd, which he described as notably younger and longer haired than usual, grew progressively more drunk, there were some antics every half inning or so. Young fans ran into the field and dodged security. When Grieve hit a second home run in the fourth, extending the Rangers lead to five to one, a naked man ran into the field and slid into second base. In the fifth inning a father-son team jumped onto the field and boomed the crowd. Another streaker ran across the field carrying his clothes with him but still wearing his left sock.
As he approached the fence he threw his clothes over, planning his escape. The crowd could see what he could not, a Cleveland police officer was on the other side of the fence catching both the clothes and the offender. The game had to be halted in the sixth as the crowd was throwing firecrackers into the bullpen. Umpire Nestor Shylak cleared the bullpen but was trying to let play continue. Fans were no longer just throwing beer and firecrackers but also rocks, batteries, and any part of the stadium that wasn't bolted down. A group of fans started trying to tug the padding off the left field wall, drawing the grounds crew away from picking up the growing pile of trash that was landing on the field. Despite the antics the game continued and Cleveland managed to tie the game at five all in the bottom of the ninth with two out and the winning run on second. But then 19 year old Terry Yurkic, the fan with the dogs and suds mug, decided that he wanted a souvenir.
It's not a good decision. He jumped the fence, ran up behind Texas outfielder Jeff Burrows and grabbed his hat. There's some controversy regarding what happened next, according to Yurkic Burrows kicked him but because of the slope of the diamond from the Rangers dugout all Billy Martin could see was Burrows legs and it looked like he'd been knocked down. More fans were climbing onto the field and Martin thought Jeff was out there all by himself, I saw knives and other things, we just couldn't let our teammate get beat up. He ordered his team onto the field carrying bats to protect Burrows.
It was not a good decision. Seeing the Rangers leave the dugout sparked the already riled and inebriated mob. Fans stormed the field greatly outnumbering the players.
Martin recalled now I know how the people of the Alamo felt. The crowd was carrying knives, chains, clubs made from stadium seats. Stadium security was overwhelmed, although it's hard to see what they could have done in any case and no one had considered asking for a greater police presence. Seeing the melee and Rangers players being injured, Asper Monte ordered the Indians onto the field. The two teams who have been fighting each other so recently made common cause against the mob. Outnumbered they fought their way back to the dugouts and retreated into the locker rooms behind locked doors. Shylak bleeding from a cut on his head from a thrown bottle called the game as soon as the players made it inside. He said he didn't do it earlier for fear it would spark retaliation against the players. The game was called a forfeit going into the record books as a 9-0 loss for the Indians. Fans kept rioting stealing everything they could take including literally stealing the stadium's bases.
So really the organist played take me out to the ballgame. Director of stadium operations Dan Zerbe ordered the lights shut off and the Cleveland police arrived and restored order. They turned the lights out everybody's gone except for 15 teenagers standing on top of the Rangers dugout chanting for the Rangers to come out and fight and so I went up there and asked him what do you what do you want trying to prove because the Rangers are gone. So some kid behind another one reaches out and punches me right in the jaw. He didn't even stagger me he hit like a girl. Despite the apparent violence there were no serious injuries and less than a dozen arrests.
Area hospitals reported seven people treated and released. Ten cent beer night perhaps summed up well in the dismal decade for Cleveland and their baseball team. The prospects for both would eventually improve but not really until the 1990s. And you've been listening to the history guy tell well just a great American story not a good one but boy a great one and my goodness I love what Tim Russert the former host of meet the press said I had $2 in my pocket. You do the math. The story of the ten cent beer night riot in Cleveland here on Our American Stories.
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