I memorialize this every year because, man, why wouldn’t you? But today is the 39th anniversary of Ten Cent Beer Night. The Cleveland Indians’ promotion that gave unhappy people unlimited quantities of nearly-free alcohol and, amazingly, turned into utter chaos.
Paul Jackson’s 2008 story remains the gold standard on Ten Cent Beer Night, 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.
I still think the biggest eye-opener of the whole thing was just how different the ballpark environment was in 1974 vs. the environment of today. Ballparks back then had turned into rowdy, drunken places where people simply didn’t want to take their families. While some argue today that it was a better time for baseball, citing national TV ratings and the place baseball still held in the national consciousness, go back and look at the attendance figures of the early-to-mid 70s to see just how marginal live baseball was in most cities.
A reason why? Mike Hargrove was nearly brained by an empty gallon-jug of Thunderbird early in the game. This was BEFORE THE ACTUAL RIOT. These days no one would be able to get such a thing into a ballpark, let alone drink it undetected. And if it was thrown onto the field there would likely be a stoppage in play and possibly a suspended game. The person who threw it would be pointed out by near-by fans and, at worst, we’d get a YouTube video of his arrest because such a thing would be eye-popping indeed. In 1974? Well, just something that might happen.
It’s a way better ballpark experience today than it was back in the so-called good old days. And the farther we get from those good old days, the more stark that distinction becomes.