As a Cleveland transplant, originally from a place more closely identified with Pittsburgh in actuality, I take some delight in the ever whining Cleveland sports fan. Every Football season, we are treated to endless tales of the Browns ancient history, 9 NFL championships in 11 years, (although 5 of them were with the AAFC and are not recognized by the NFL.) Those years have established a sense of pride, and even expectation with the people indigenous to the area. Expectations of victorious sports teams however, will always be a fickle b****. Success in the world of professional sports will always be a temporary thing, as will failure. For any who doubt this, the Steelers were once Football's losingest team, and the Browns its winningest. Such cruelty of fate has not gone unnoticed by the good people who inhabit America's North Coast.
Along with that civic pride born of the days of Jimmy Brown, Leroy Kelly, Lou Groza, Paul Warfield, Gene Hickerson, and Frank Ryan, come the endless tales of disappointment with a city that has not seen a major sports championship since 1964. Every Autumn, we are regaled with tales of Red Right 88, The Fumble, and The Drive. With Winter comes a replaying of The Shot, The Dunk, or The Decision. Spring time however belongs to Baseball, and there is no story in Cleveland lore for Baseball, not even the Rocky Colavito trade nor the 1954 Willie Mays over the shoulder catch to help steal the World Series from the best team ever to wear Chief Wahoo can hold a candle to Ten Cent Beer Night, an event that perhaps defines the Cleveland Sports Scene better than any other.
More than 25,000 fans showed up for the event, but management forgot one small detail: drunk people get restless. Among the more tame incidents was a woman who flashed the crowd from the on-deck circle, a father-son team mooning the players, and fans jumping on the field to meet the outfielders. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, the Indians tied the game, but never got a chance to win. Fans started throwing batteries, golf balls, cups, and rocks onto the field. The drunk-fest involved more streakers, base stealers (literally), and fans who stormed the field and attacked the opposing team. Cleveland players had to wield bats to come to the aid of the Rangers players. Texas was awarded a forfeit.
The American League president forced the franchise to abandon the promotion idea and added this great understatement: “There was no question that beer played a great part in the affair.”
By 1974, Clevelanders had rightly learned to expect their team to lose, and lose often. The Indians by then were perennial basement dwellers. If there's one thing a professional sports marketing department understands, it's that fans will not often part with their hard earned cash during a recession or times of economic upheaval, most certainly at major league prices, to watch a bad Baseball team with limited prospects for actually winning. "How do we make this fun enough for the fans to not really care that the team sucks," must at some point been a question sounded in the Indian's front office. Then the Grinch had an idea, a wonderfully evil idea. "Let's make the beer really cheap, and they'll have fun drinking rather than watching the game, and if they lose, the fans will be so sloshed that they won't care."
Unfortunately, alcohol does not work that way. When the Indians, as expected, fell behind early, rather than growing docile, 25,000 inebriated long suffering Indians fans grew belligerent. Belligerence by the way, is something that all who have experience with alcohol are familiar with. By the time the 9th inning rolled around, after the Indians had actually managed to tie it up in the bottom of the 8th, the rioting 25,000 drunken mob had long since passed that point of no return. Baseball was no where near the top of their collective addled minds. Mayhem was, and again, as any familiar with the effects of copious amounts of alcohol will tell you, minds addled in such a manner tend to become singular, stubborn, and without inhibition.
The top of the 9th never actually started, and Major League Baseball called its first and last game on account of drunken riot. Ten Cent Beer Night is a decidedly Cleveland thing. Hey, it might not be something to actually be proud of, but it's ours.