I memorialize this every year because I am a sucker for well-intentioned ideas that turn into utter disasters and the recognition that, oftentimes, we simply can’t have nice things. And really, what is better intentioned and what is a nicer thing than giving people fatigued by Watergate and economic stagnation a night of cheap beer?
But we note it again today, the 40th anniversary of Ten Cent Beer Night in Cleveland. The Indians’ promotion that gave unhappy people unlimited quantities of nearly-free alcohol which, amazingly, turned into utter chaos. Paul Jackson’s 2008 story remains the gold standard on the topic, giving us the background of how it went down and why Cleveland in 1974 was the perfect time and place for that to turn into the mess it became.
As I noted last year, I am less shocked by the riot itself than I am about the conditions which led up to it. The accepted notion that, heck, people are going to get drunk and rowdy at the ballpark in large numbers and that people throwing bottles onto the field — before the riot started, mind you — was just the cost of doing business to get, like, half a million people to come see your games over the course of the season. Now the least bit of bad fan behavior is newsworthy. And the notion that you have to accept such ridiculousness in order to get a small number of people through the turnstiles is positively foreign.
Maybe the beer is too expensive today. Maybe there are too many distractions and family-friendly promotions that relegate the game to an afterthought at times. I often think that’s the case anyway. But I’d willingly take today’s excesses over those of the bad old days of the 1970s.