I decided to look at a couple of notable June 4 events in Indians history, since two of them are pretty memorable. I’d also like to extend my congratulations to my good friend Melissa Stupka and her soon-to-be husband Chris Anderson as they’re getting married this evening. I’m pleased to point out that you’ll always share an anniversary with the 10 cent beer night melee in Cleveland. I had tickets to the Indians vs. Rangers game tonight, but will instead enjoy the evening at Melissa and Chris’s wedding. Hopefully there will be no beer fueled brawls.
I’ll start with a more brief and bit less exciting “this day in history” for June 4. It’s still very significant in Indians’ history and connects directly to this blog (or should I say, this blog’s namesake). On June 4, 1902 Nap Lajoie first donned an Indians uniform (even though they weren’t called the Indians back then). So 109 years ago today, the team’s one-time namesake and a future Hall of Famer first took the field for the Cleveland club. In 1912, the team actually named June 4 “Lajoie day” in honor of his 10 year anniversary with the team (at that point in time, named the Naps in his honor). So I’ll declare today Lajoie day as well!
Perhaps I should point out that on June 4, 1974, the date of 10 cent beer night and the resulting forfeit, the Indians were also playing the Texas Rangers. By 1974 Cleveland already saw years of losing baseball (with more to come). The cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium (which seated 70-some thousand), sat nearly 85% empty most nights – often there were only a few thousand people in attendance. There were some within the Indians organization that believed a cheap beer night would put people in the seats; they were correct. Even though average attendance hovered around 8,000, 25,134 attended the game with the cheap beer promotion.
There was already animosity between the Rangers and the Indians in 1974; established during their prior meeting on May 29 in Texas. The Indians lost that game 3-0, but there were punches thrown between players, and pitches thrown maliciously at batters. Fast forward to June 4 in Cleveland – the Rangers jumped out to an early lead after a home run by designated hitter Tom Grieve. Shortly after this home run, a woman jumped from the stands and into the on-deck circle. Once there, she lifted her shirt and flashed the crowd, then tried to kiss umpire Nestor Chylak. After Grieve hit his second home run a few innings later, a man ran onto the field to streak the crowd. He completed his on-field performance by sliding into second base, completely naked. The next inning, a father and son ran onto the field and mooned the Municipal Stadium bleachers. What a great start to the evening; there’s nothing quite like drunk Clevelanders exposing themselves. There were a number of other fans that made it onto the field, but not all of them chose to remove some or all of their clothing.
At one point Rangers manager Billy Martin (himself not completely unfamiliar with alcohol-related escapades) came out to argue a play at third base. The crowd responded with a chorus of boos, and threw cups and beer onto the field. Martin responded by blowing kisses to the crowd as he walked back to the visitor’s dugout. By the later innings, the projectiles graduated from cups and beer to rocks, batteries, and even pieces of seats that were ripped out of the stadium. One fan threw firecrackers into the Rangers dugout, prompting umpires to eventually evacuate both dugouts. The grounds crew had trouble keeping up with all of the garbage fans were launching onto the field; they finally abandoned their attempt when fans turned their attention to removing the padding on the left field wall. The grounds crew decided that stopping that was a more important priority.
Down 5-1 at one point in the game, the Indians managed to tie the score at 5 in the ninth inning. With the winning run on second base, a fan jumped from the stands into the outfield; once there he knocked the cap off Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs. When Burroughs went to confront the fan, he ended up tripping over his own feet and falling down. Billy Martin mistakenly thought that the fan pushed Burroughs down and he directed his players to storm the field and go to Burroughs’ aid. Armed with bats, they cleared their dugout and ran to his aid. The fans reacted in anger; even more stormed the field, many with weapons (some of which had been fashioned from pieces of seats). Indians manager Ken Aspromonte also ordered his players on the field to come to the Rangers’ aid. Announcers Herb Score and Joe Tait were almost speechless as the melee on the field unfolded. Martin and Aspromonte finally led their players off the field and through the tunnels to the locker room. The fans left alone on the field tried to grab souvenirs, as they stole the bases and anything else they could grab. Chylak finally surrendered and called the game a forfeit. Soon after, the Cleveland police arrived and attempted to gain control over the wild and unruly crowd. More 10 cent beer nights had been planned (this time with strict purchase/consumption limits), but American League president Lee McPhail ordered all promotional events cancelled.
This spring, Susan and I went to see the Class A Lake County Captains take on Dayton. There was a promotion that night, as there is every Thursday at the Eastlake-based Captains – 10 cent beer night. It lives on with Indians minor league affiliates in the suburbs (with strict restrictions, of course). I couldn’t help remarking, “10 cent beer night is a great idea…the Indians should try it sometime!”