Beer Night: Punched in the Jaw

From Dan Coughlin's new book, Crazy, With the Papers to Prove It
It's one of the most famous stories in Indians' history. Google "Dime Beer Night Riot" and you will discover hundreds of columns, essays and reminiscences — most of them written by people who were not there. As a result some myths have been perpetuated but the facts alone need no enlargement or elaboration.
Here's the box score for the game of June 4, 1974:
25,134 fans
60,000 Genesee beers at 10 cents each
50 cops
19 streakers
9 arrests
7 emergency room injuries
3 stolen bases — literally — and never seen again
1 full moon
2 bare moons
2 bouncing breasts
1 sportswriter punched in jaw
1 ballgame forfeited, Texas 9, Indians 0
The Indians' promotional schedule had included "Beer Nights" in previous years, starting in 1971. Some were charming and all were peaceful. That was the heyday of public beer parties in Cleveland. For example, every Friday night during the early 1970s the Growth Association sponsored "Parties in the Park" somewhere in downtown Cleveland. A Budweiser truck would pull up, they would plug in a band and thousands of thirsty citizens would go at it right after work. Sometimes they actually closed Euclid Avenue at Playhouse Square for a party. It was summer and every Friday was St. Patrick's Day. TV weatherman Mark Koontz recalled filling his snoot on Mall C and then hightailing it back to Channel 5 to do the weather. It was always a wet Friday night, clearing by morning.
However, Indians' promotion director Jackie York sensed something different about the crowd that night. June 4 was a Tuesday night. It was 85 degrees, hot and humid.
"It was not a familiar crowd," she said. "Sometimes you recognize people. I never saw these people. They came in and they had already started. They had a few brewskis under their belts."
Years later "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert admitted that he was one of the new faces that night. A student at Cleveland Marshall Law School at the time, Russert always was struggling to make ends meet. He was asked how many beers he had at a dime each.
"I had two dollars in my pocket. You do the math," he said.
They began lining up at the concession stands as soon as they walked in. At a dime each, they got as many Genesee beers as they could carry. Genesee was the main sponsor of the Indians television broadcasts on WJW-TV (channel 8) and was the official beer at Indians games. Some people claim they drank Strohs that night. Maybe both were available. Regardless of the brand, Jackie York was concerned with the quantity. She asked Dan Zerbey, director of stadium operations, about security.
"We have enough," Zerbey said confidently.
"I'm sure he cut corners. Dan had a budget. I'm sure he tried save a couple of dollars," York said.
The Indians had had the lowest attendance in baseball the previous year and lost $1.4 million. The entire organization was cutting corners. The Indians did not have enough police on duty. That was clear. But not even the National Guard could have controlled the mob that night.
"Keep in mind," said York, "the Indians and Rangers had a brawl in Texas the week before. It was their beer night promotion. So there was bad blood between the teams when they got to Cleveland."
In Texas there had been a couple of incidents early in the game and it climaxed when John Ellis of the Indians punched out Lenny Randle of the Rangers. Both benches cleared and when the Indians charged out of their dugout, Texas fans poured cheap Lone Star and Pearl beer on them.
After the game Jim Braham of the Cleveland Press interviewed Rangers manager Billy Martin.
"Billy, are you going to take your armor to Cleveland?" Braham asked.
 "Naw," said Billy. "They won't have enough fans there to worry about."
Told that the next game between the two teams would be Cleveland's Dime Beer Night, Martin got serious.
"They'll be on me. Every time a fight starts, those fans say Martin started it. Well, I'll see you in Cleveland. Bring your beer."
Radio talk show host Pete Franklin helped raise the tension level on his WWWE program.
"All week Pete Franklin was building it up on the radio, promising revenge against the Rangers," said York. "He really went at it."
And so, at 7:30 p.m. on June 4, home plate umpire Nestor Chylak said, "Play ball."
Early in the game Leron Lee of the Indians hit a line drive up the middle that struck Texas pitcher Ferguson Jenkins in the stomach. He doubled over but was not seriously hurt and he stayed in the game. Fans in the upper deck started chanting, "Hit him again, hit him again. Harder! Harder!"
The game had taken on an edge. Three weeks from the longest day of the year the fans couldn't see it, but the moon was rising over the right field stands and it was a full moon. The perfect storm was developing.
"I remember standing in the press box and the first streaker came over the right field wall," said York. "He raced across the outfield, stark naked. He ran along the fence looking for a spot to jump over and on the other side of the fence the police were running with him. He couldn't see them, but they knew where he was because of their radios. He got one leg over the top of the fence and when he got the other leg over, he fell into a big black bag the police had. Like a big garbage bag. They dragged him off. The people in the left field and right field stands had a ball watching it."
In the second inning a woman dashed out of the lower deck and raced to the Indians' on deck circle, where she turned to the crowd, lifted up her shirt, and displayed her bountiful female pulchritude to the crowd.
In the fourth inning a naked man appeared out of the stands and slid into second base. (Ouch, those strawberries hurt.)
The next inning a father and son tandem raced into centerfield, stopped and dropped their trousers. They mooned the entire stadium. Everybody was growing emboldened.
Smoke bombs and firecrackers started going off in the stands.
"I never saw anything like it," said Indians manager Ken Aspromonte. "Every inning there was something. It never slowed down. Not for nine innings, it never slowed down. This is one we'll remember for a long time."
When fans started throwing cherry bombs into the Rangers' bullpen, umpire Chylak called in the pitchers and told them to stay in the dugout.
By the seventh inning a steady stream of drunks ran onto the field, many of them stopping to shake the hand of Texas right fielder Jeff Burroughs, who was having a MVP season.
"The marijuana smoke was so thick out there in right field, I think I was higher than the fans," said Burroughs.
Every half inning the number of fans who ran onto the field increased geometrically. One became two. Two became four. Four became eight.
In the upper deck free lance photographer Janet Macoska, who usually shot these types of special events for the Indians, was enjoying a night off.
"I was just watching things going to hell," said Macoska. "I told my friends who had small children that we've got to get out of there before someone got hurt. It started harmless but now they were coming over the walls."
The Rangers led, 5-3, when the Indians rallied to tie it 5-5 in the last of the ninth on George Hendrick's double, a single by Ed Crosby and a sacrifice fly by John Lowenstein. With two outs the Indians had runners on first and second. Oscar Gamble was the winning run on second base.
The Rangers were rattled and the Indians were one hit away from winning the game. But that game was as good as over. Drunken fans had occupied the outfield like a conquering army. One of them ran up to Burroughs and instead of shaking his hand, he grabbed his hat and ran off. Burroughs instinctively went after the fan but he slipped and fell.
In the Texas dugout, Billy Martin thought Burroughs had been knocked down. He grabbed a bat and said, "Let's go." The fight was on.
The Rangers ran to the rescue of their MVP and the fans fought back. Seeing that the Rangers were badly outnumbered, the Indians charged into the melee to help beat back the attack.
Back in Texas, Sharon Hargrove was the young bride of Rangers rookie first baseman Mike Hargrove and she had been listening to the game on the radio, picking up the Rangers' network on her car radio. She said it sounded like a war zone and she was terrified for her husband. She had never been to Cleveland and never in a million years could she envision herself living in that battleground.
The Cleveland Press did a terrific job covering it, especially photographer Paul Tepley, who snapped pictures from the middle of the battleground and also wrote a compelling story for the next day's paper.
"As I reached right field, a chair came flying through the air and landed at my feet," Tepley wrote. "Tom Hilgendorf walked by, bent over holding his head. I later learned he was hit by the chair that landed near me earlier."
Hilgendorf was an Indians pitcher who often was hit hard, but never that hard.
"I neared the pitcher's mound and it seemed that it was all over. Suddenly Duke Sims wrestled a young fan to the ground. Through the viewfinder I saw a number of Sims' teammates join in. I shuddered as I saw one of the Rangers throw blow after blow at the man. I thought he would be killed. If there is a more frightening or bewildering feeling than standing in the middle of a riot, I don't know what it is."
Sims played for the Indians earlier in his career but was now with the Rangers.
Reporter Chuck Day worked the Indians locker room, where clubhouse manager Cy Buynak got everyone organized for an escape.
"Everybody out in 10 minutes," Cy announced. "There are police escorts waiting outside. Let's go."
Day noticed that on their way out, some players picked up little league bats that were left over from another promotion.
Outside on the concourse, a wild-eyed youth shouted, "Hey, let's get another beer."
With no hope of resuming the game, umpire Chylak ruled it was forfeited to the Rangers, going into the records as a 9-0 game. He had no other choice. During the chaos all three bases were stolen.
Both teams left the Stadium under police escort. The field lights were turned off. But a mob of about 15 teenagers remained on top of the Rangers dugout, chanting for them to come out and fight. With my official reporter's notebook in plain sight, I climbed on top of the dugout and asked them what in the name of Chief Wahoo they were trying to accomplish.
"Everybody's gone. The Rangers are back at their hotel. Why are you still here?" I asked. No one offered an explanation that could be used in the paper but one kid reached from behind the guy in front of him and landed a right cross on my chin. The kid's footwork was lousy. He was off-balance and he had nothing on the punch. He was drunk, for Pete's sake. I shook it off like a mosquito buzzing my face. But I didn't stick around to give him a second chance to plant his feet and get off another shot.
James C. Pravda, 11 years old, was at the game with his grandfather. They were swept up in the crowd of drunks heading up West 3rd Street after the game. Years later he recalled that terrifying night on a blog that he headlined, "A night of survival on the streets of Cleveland." He posted it on Aug. 7, 2007.
Pravda recalled the crush of drunken humanity pushing and squeezing onto a Rapid Transit train at the Terminal Tower.
"For an 11-year-old the sensation of panic was frightening and very real," he wrote.
He recalled it all. The stench of beer and sweat in the crowded car; the condensation on the windows; the vulgarities, swearing and threats; the train creeping west with a crippled motor, barely five miles an hour out of the Terminal Tower and onto the viaduct over the Cuyahoga River; the train stopping halfway across the viaduct; the lights going out; the electric motor overheating; the orange glow underneath the car.• "The train is on fire. We're all gonna die," someone screamed in the darkness.
"There is no fire," the driver announced. "The motor turned off automatically when it overheated. They're sending a new train out to get us."
Pravda and his grandfather waited for 45 minutes with the crazy drunks packed like sardines in a tin can. Two rescue trains eventually arrived and they got home safely, although scarred for life.
The next day Indians president Alva T. (Ted) Bonda was peppered with questions when he faced the media. They came from every possible angle. Finally, Bonda threw up his hands and said, "Wait a minute. You're giving beer a bad name."
That shows what a great man Bonda was. He didn't even drink beer. In fact, he hardly ever took a sip of alcohol. And he stood there like a champion and defended the amber brew.
Critics demanded that the Indians cancel their next two Dime Beer Nights later that season.
"I thought I was going to get fired when we held a meeting in the office after the game," said Jackie York. "Instead he said, •You and Carl Fazio are going to Milwaukee tomorrow to find out how they run their beer nights. They're the beer experts.'•"
The next beer night that season was July 18. The attendance approached 40,000. Security was increased from 50 to 150 police, sheriff's deputies and private stadium force. There were no injuries and no arrests.
The Indians actually had a long history of successful Beer Nights through the 1970s. The first one was on July 5, 1971, a Sunday afternoon. It featured strolling Dixieland bands and plenty of suds. Beer was only a nickel that day. I did a lengthy story about a beer-drinking contest among three renowned imbibers from Lakewood — James (Tubby) Aylward, a softball player; Bob (The Sponge) Thewes, an unemployed ironworker; and Dale (The Tainted Rose) Rosenthal.
Tubby trained by drinking 22 beers while watching Saturday's game on television and drinking 10 more at night while he plotted his strategy. "I have yet to reach my potential," he boasted. He attributed his longevity to drinking half a quart of milk and eating pancakes before going to bed each morning. Rosenthal's personal best was 40 beers in 12 hours. Thewes, more of a sprinter, once drank 35 beers in 2½ hours. Then he passed out.
"I'm good, but these guys are pros," said Tubby.
I stashed them in a private booth in the press box and personally ran a non-stop supply of Genesee to them. Thewes was the champion as they combined to consume over 60 beers in nine innings. The exact number was not available because my official scorer got drunk and lost track. For all I knew, the official scorer was the winner.
Beer and baseball have enjoyed a long relationship. Cot Deal, who was an Indians coach in the early 1970s, recalled that Detroit Tigers manager Bill Norman could drink a case of beer every night on train trips. "He'd set a case at his feet in the men's lounge and drink the entire 24 bottles while telling stories all night," said Deal.
"That's good, but not great if it took him all night," said Tubby.
Ron Penfound, the Indians' public address announcer at the time, said that his Kenyon College roommate Paul Newman, the actor, was in the elite class.
I read where he still drinks 30 Budweisers a day," Penfound said.
Maybe he did in 1971 but some time after that I read that Joanne Woodward had reined him in. Wives sometimes do that, which I can say from personal experience. Nevertheless, Newman would have had a wonderful time in his hometown at the first Nickel Beer Day. I think he would have enjoyed watching the game with Tubby, the Sponge and the Tainted Rose.
"After the game we all went to Slim's Locker Room for a few more beers," said Tubby's sister, Karen Aylward. "We had a wonderful time. When Tubby read about the Beer Night riot a few years later, he was very upset. He wondered why they would destroy such a beautiful thing."
But Dime Beer Night lived on in Cleveland for many years. When Jimmy Carter was in the White House, Jackie York brought in the President's controversial beer-drinking brother, Billy, to preside as "grand marshal" over Beer Night.
"Nice guy," Jackie remembered. "He brought his own case of Billy Beer with him."

Excerpted from the book Crazy, With the Papers to Prove It © Dan Coughlin. Reprinted with permission of Gray & Co., Publishers. The book is available at Northeast Ohio bookstores and online from
Share this story: