Dammit, I always miss the big anniversaries. First I missed June 3 and a chance to blog about “Ode to Billy Jo,” and now this: The 40th anniversary of the Cleveland Indians’ 10-cent beer night fiasco was Wednesday.
Fortunately, Michael Heaton remembered — he’d better — and brings us a Q-and-A with Dan Coughlin, a Plain Dealer sportswriter who covered it in 1974:
Q. When did it turn from silly to nasty?
A. Late in the game fans started throwing cherry bombs on top of the Rangers’ dugout. That’s when things got menacing. A fan ran out and grabbed Ranger player Jeff Burroughs’ hat. Burroughs went to kick the kid and fell. From the dugout Billy Martin thought his player had been attacked. That’s when the whole Ranger team charged the field with bats. The Indians even defended the Rangers as a form of professional courtesy. The game was called then because fans had stolen all three bases. The game couldn’t continue.
Alcohol and drunkenness is not inherently funny, but every time I read about this dark day, I crack up. Fans literally stole the bases. A woman ran onto the field and flashed her breasts, and a father-son team did a double moon, then slid into second base. That’s funny.
I read a deeper dive on this a few years ago, from the bloggers at Lawyers, Guns & Money, which provides some historic context:
The 1960s and 1970s were an awful time for northern Ohio, as the departure of heavy industry and the frenzied flight of white residents to the suburbs helped cut the city’s population nearly in half from its post-World War II high of 900,000. By 1974, Cleveland was five years past the infamous Cuyahoga River chemical fire and four years from declaring bankruptcy. For those who were able to struggle out of bed on June 4, the opportunity to drown in cheap alcohol must have seemed like an instance of divine intervention.
I’m a little wary of throwing the Grand Sweep of History into these things, but they’re right about the preceding years not being kind to the region. The detail about the Kent State shootings in 1970 that only locals remember was the wildcat Teamsters strike that the Ohio National Guard had only recently been called off of. It was a nasty one, with striking truckers dropping heavy objects onto Guard convoys from highway overpasses. From that exhausting duty, the troops were called out to police student demonstrations at Kent. So: Deindustrialization, white flight, urban decay, the national shame of a student slaughter. To this, just add beer; what could possibly go wrong?
Not funny, I know.
Even less funny: A beer in today’s MLB facility will cost you about $8.
And I should also add that despite today’s headline, I like Cleveland very much. I always have a good time there.
OK, so: I must rush today and crash a deadline on the book project, but I have one thing I want you to look at, completely without comment from moi. The photo is set for Public on Facebook, so I’m hoping you can all click through to see three Michigan legislators showing how well they understand women.
A great weekend to all, and I’ll be less-crushed on the other side.