Tuesday, June 10, 2008

10 Cent Beer Night


For years as a long time Texas Ranger baseball fan, I had heard about the game that ended the promotion 10 Cent Beer Night. The late great radio announcer Mark Holtz referred to it. I had always craved to learn what happened. Well, ESPN has a story saying happened that fateful night of June 4, 1974. The featured picture is of "the Rangers thought it necessary to brandish bats in defense of Jeff Burroughs." Here is an excerpt from the story. It is one wild one.
"...Accounts vary as to the volume proffered -- 8 ounces? 10? 12? -- but the price was certain enough: 10 cents per cup. Fans -- and we shall use this term for lack of a better one -- could buy up to six cups at a time, with no system in place to prevent a designated mule from purchasing a full complement, handing them off to underage clients, and returning for more.
Even though the Indians offered copious amounts of beer at cut-rate prices, a great many attendees opted to play with a handicap, arriving at their seats drunk, stoned or both. The June 4 promotion turned out to be quite popular, drawing 25,134 people, more than double the average crowd that season...
Through deliberate coordination or spontaneous groupthink, hundreds of fans showed up with pockets full of firecrackers. Anonymous explosions peppered the stands from the first pitch, lending the game a war-zone ambiance that would seem increasingly appropriate. Though it is not clear whether this impromptu celebration cost anyone a finger or hand, an uneasy je ne sais quoi settled into the stadium along with clouds of exploded gunpowder and marijuana smoke.
The Rangers took the lead in the top of the second inning on a home run by designated hitter Tom Grieve. Just a few pitches later, a heavyset woman sitting near first base jumped the wall, ran to the Indians' on-deck circle, and bared her enormous, unhindered breasts to appreciative applause from the beer-goggled teenagers who made up the stadium's primary demographic that night. She then attempted -- unsuccessfully -- to kiss umpire crew chief Nestor Chylak, who was not in a kissing mood.
This woman was just the scout for a larger exhibitionist force. When Grieve hit his second home run in the fourth inning, he had not yet rounded third base when a man -- entirely naked -- ran onto the field and slid into second, probably getting dirt in places unsuitable for speculation. In the fifth inning, two men in the outfield got into the act, jumping the wall and mooning the Rangers' outfielders. The players watched, hands on hips, shaking their heads as park security chased one hooligan after another across the diamond.
Each Texas player received a lusty chorus of boos as he stepped to the plate, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram beat writer Mike Shropshire noticed that the war drums beating from the nosebleed seats kept a quicker-than-usual tempo. Interest in the game itself peaked in the fourth inning, when Indians batter Leron Lee swatted a line drive back to Rangers pitcher Fergie Jenkins. Jenkins could not get out of the way and caught the ball with his stomach. As he writhed in pain, the fans began to clap. A chant began:
"Hit him again, harder!"
Later that inning, Lee was called safe in a close play at third. Rangers manager Billy Martin, no stranger to disruption and very much in his element that evening, came out to argue. A large number of the plastic cups sold to that point, many still full of beer, were thrown back onto the field by fans who found Martin's very presence offensive. As he returned to the dugout, the Rangers manager blew kisses into the stands.
As the night wore on, the crowds grew bolder, and packs of fans frequently scurried across the outfield. One man tossed a tennis ball into center field, then scrambled after it. After throwing the ball back into the seats, he led park security on a little jog, pausing at one point to hug another fan, perhaps a long-lost relative, who had jumped out to greet him. Ushers dragged away one of the two, while the other leaped into the stands and was borne away by dozens of gleeful, anonymous hands. The rain of beer became a hail of rocks, batteries, golf balls and anything not bolted down...
Early on, the demand for beer surpassed the Indians' capacity to ferry it to concession stands, and a luminary, perhaps the same person who suggested the promotion in the first place, decided to allow fans to line up behind the outfield fences and have their cups filled directly from Stroh's company trucks. The promotion achieved critical mass at that moment, as weaving, hooting queues of people refilled via industrial spigot.
The public address announcer reminded spectators not to litter onto the field, and refuse rained down harder. The grounds crew had not sat down since the second inning, and outfield fans used them as moving targets. Another woman jumped out of the stands waving, and though she did not disrobe, the crowd urged her to consider it. When ushers arrived to end the discussion, she attacked them. The surprised ushers forced her to the ground, prompting a storm of boos and shouts of "police brutality!"
One enterprising fan threw lit firecrackers into the Rangers' bullpen like grenades...
Mike Hargrove came on to play first base for the Rangers. The baseline fans greeted him with a half-full jug of Thunderbird wine that missed his head by inches.
As the ushers flagged, streakers stripped leisurely on the field of play, abandoning their clothes in a pile in left-center. A contingent of fans along the third-base side began removing the padding on the left-field wall. Either through numbers or sheer force of will, they nearly succeeded in taking a large chunk into the stands. The grounds crew abandoned its trash-collection duties and mustered to save the padding, an effort that occupied them the rest of the night.
In the seventh inning, radio announcers Joe Tait and Herb Score watched as the baseball fans in the crowd gathered their families and left the stadium like refugees. In the eighth, they noticed...members of the Indians front office leaving the ballpark, doing their best to look casual...
In the ninth, the Indians mounted a rally, scoring two runs to tie the game at 5. The winning run stood on second base when a young man jumped from the outfield seats and (perhaps searching for a memento to mark the occasion) flipped the cap off Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs' head. The outfielder turned to confront the fan and tripped over his own feet in the process. For the first time that evening, the chaos enveloped a player.
The slope of the diamond made it impossible for Martin to see below the level of an outfielder's knees from his station in the dugout. The legendary manager, in a moment that does not get large enough print on his long and colorful résumé, did not hesitate after Burroughs fell from view.
"Let's go get 'em, boys," he said, arming himself with a fungo bat and sprinting toward right-center field. The Rangers, understandably inspired, followed him.
Martin and his team stormed the diamond, infielders filling out their ranks. When they reached the outfield, the Rangers found Burroughs flustered but unharmed. More worrisome was the effect of their charge on the assembly: The jovial, frolicking nudists had disappeared. The mob that replaced them kept its clothes on and brandished an arsenal that made Martin's Louisville Slugger look like a child's toy. The Rangers manager spotted people wielding chains, knives and clubs fashioned from pieces of stadium seats. The 25 Texas players quickly found themselves surrounded by 200 angry drunks, and more were tumbling over the wall onto the field. The Texas Rangers had been ambushed.
Then the riot began. Indians manager Ken Aspromonte, his own defining moment upon him, realized that the Texas franchise might be on the verge of decimation. He too ordered his players onto the field. The bat racks in the home dugout emptied as the Indians mounted their own rescue..."

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