This week marks the 45th anniversary of 10 Cent Beer Night in Cleveland, one of the banner moments of my childhood. I was only 7, but it left an enormous imprint on my life.
And as my anniversary gift to you, here is a rundown of the five baseball forfeits of the last 50 years
August 10, 1995: Cardinals at Dodgers
Reason: Fans threw baseballs on the field.
Let's start with this: You SHOULD be able to give fans free baseballs at a ballgame and have it turn out OK. I think we all want to live in that world. And maybe there was a time when we did live in that world, but probably not.
in any case, they don't give baseballs away anymore. They are, however, giving away Bruce Lee T-shirts in San Diego next month.
There were 53,361 fans that day in LA. That's not an atypical crowd in LA, but it was especially energetic that day, not because of the commemorative baseballs the team was giving away but because rookie sensation Hideo Nomo was pitching. This was smack in the middle of Nomomania. It's easy to forget just what a sensation Nomo was -- he was the first Japanese star to come over from Japan, and he was striking out the world.
Five days earlier, Nomo had thrown a one-hitter with 11 Ks -- he was 9-2 with a 1.89 ERA and had struck out 161 batters in 128 innings, virtually unheard of K numbers in those days.
The game played into the crowd's worst instincts. It was a close game, the Cardinals led 2-1, and there were several questionable umpiring decisions. The crowd began throwing baseballs in the seventh inning when Eric Karros got picked off by a throw from Cardinals catcher Scott Hemond. The field was briefly cleared and then the players were brought back out.
In the next inning, Karros struck out on a pitch he thought wasn't even close and he got thrown out by home plate umpire Jim Quick. This time, the fans booed mightily but did not actually throw baseballs on the field.
Then came the ninth. Raul Mondesi led off, and the strike-two call by Quick was enough to put the crowd in a very foul mood. When Mondesi struck out swinging, he turned hard on Quick and got himself tossed. Manager Tommy Lasorda came out to make a show of things as he tended to do, and he got tossed too.
And the baseballs rained down on the field. Crew chief Bob Davidson felt like he had no choice but to pull players off the field a second time.
Davidson did try -- over the Cardinals objections -- to get the game started one more time. He brought the players out with the promise that if even one more ball came onto the field, he would forfeit the game. The Dodgers would complain later that no announcement saying that was made ...
But when the Cardinals took the field, a baseball came flying in and that was that. Davidson did not hold back on who he blamed.
"Lasorda instigated the whole thing by waving his fat little arms out there," Davidson said.
July 12, 1979: Tigers at White Sox
Reason: Disco Demolition Night
One of my favorite quotes about Bill Veeck came from an unidentified baseball man who had known him for a long time. Someone asked the man what he thought about Veeck returning to baseball after a few years away.
"I'm very fond of the guy," the man said, "and he really wants to get back into baseball. But I feel about Bill something like I feel about elephants. I love elephants. But I wouldn't want to own one."
Everybody knows about Veeck's crazy promotions -- the Eddie Gaedel thing, the exploding scoreboard, the bringing back of Minnie Miñoso, the short pants uniforms, etc. He was always pushing to make the game more fun. But he was an elephant. And in 1979, he made it his mission to get young people engaged in baseball. It didn't work out as he hoped.
He originally made that Thursday Night doubleheader in July "Teen Night."
He thought it might draw 25,000 people, mostly kids -- and he was probably thinking of things that might speak to the kids, stuff like all-night dance marathons or eating goldfish.
Then his son Mike and Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl approached Veeck with the idea of demolishing disco records. Veeck figured: "Well, OK, if that's what they're into."
That was indeed what they were into. Almost 50,000 showed up -- the largest crowd of the season -- and supposedly more than 10,000 more were turned away at the game. Everybody wanted to blow up some disco records.
The White Sox sloppily lost the first game of the doubleheader 4-1 -- they gave up two unearned runs in the first two innings. That game was ridiculous. Fireworks and smoke bombs kept going off in the crowd. Records were flying onto the field like Frisbees. The game was stopped several times. It was clearly going to be a bad scene.
The last thing the scene needed was explosives.
But then, as advertised, Steve Dahl took the field, and he blew up disco records, and, well, what did they THINK was going to happen?
Yep. Dahl took to the microphone to beg fans to return to their seats while thousands rushed on the field to do whatever damage they could do. Police followed wielding nightsticks.
The game was not immediately called a forfeit -- in fact, Veeck told reporters that American League president Lee MacPhail had agreed to let the White Sox reschedule the game for a weekend doubleheader. But Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said that Tigers would absolutely not play in that doubleheader.
"Only an act of God can cause a postponement," Anderson said. "This was no act of God."
MacPhail eventually agreed with Anderson and forfeited the game.
September 15, 1977: Orioles at Blue Jays
Reason: Orioles manager Earl Weaver pulled his team off the field because of a tarp.
So this one is weird in that it involved famous hothead Earl Weaver ... and Weaver actually seems like the most level-headed person in the story.
The Orioles were battling for first place in the American League East -- they came into the game just 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees. And they were playing the exhibition Blue Jays; Baltimore had already taken three from Toronto. In fact, the Orioles came in with a seven-game winning streak.
But in the fourth inning, the Blue Jays scored four runs on four hits, a walk, a wild pitch, and a sac fly. There was a light rain falling, and Weaver came on the field and demanded that a tarp that was stretched out over the Blue Jays bullpen in left field foul ground be removed. He said -- quite reasonably, it seems looking back -- that the tarp was slick and anyone chasing a foul ball there could get hurt.
The umpires refused to remove it. "I have no authority to take the tarp off," umpiring crew chief Marty Springstead bizarrely said.
"I don't buy the argument," Orioles GM Hank Peters said later. "They have control of the field. ... Umpires order banners and pieces of clothing removed from the railings. I'm flabbergasted."
Weaver was obviously famous for his umpiring blow-ups -- for the rest of his life, umpire Steve Palermo would never use Weaver's name but would instead call him that Little SOB. Weaver had several arguments with Springstead that very year. But, you have to say, Weaver did not lose his cool. He simply pulled his team off the field.
"I told Marty that as soon as the tarpaulin came off, we were willing, ready and able to play," he said.
After 15 minutes of refusing to move the tarp, Springstead and the umpiring crew declared the game a forfeit.
In retrospect, I'd say Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger got it right: "Marty's just trying to stick it to Earl. Just remove the tarp. What's so difficult about that?"
June 4, 1974: Rangers at Tribe
Reason: 10-Cent Beer Night
Warm night. Cheap beer. Billy Martin. Anytime you put those three things together in the 1970s, you were certain to have a giant kaboom.
Many people know about 10-cent beer night in Cleveland -- the night the fans, drunk on cheap beer, went crazy. What many people might not know is just how big a role Billy Martin played in it.
That's not to say that 10-Cent Beer Night would not have been a disaster anyway. But the context is important here. Five nights earlier, in Arlington, Tex., the Rangers and Cleveland players had gotten into a nasty brawl during the Rangers' 3-0 win. It was a full-fledged mess. Rangers fans poured beer on Cleveland players, Cleveland's Dave Duncan tried to climb into the stands for a fight. Texas Len Randle took out Cleveland's Jack Brohamer with a hard slide which led to a serious fight.
"It was just a cheap shot -- he's just a stupid guy," Brohamer said.
But the most notable part is that Martin, who loved a fight the way Meryl Streep loves singing parts, got into the middle of the free for all and got knocked on his butt. Twice.
Immediately after the game, someone mentioned to Martin that the Rangers were going to Cleveland and, yes, it would 10-Cent Beer Night.
"Oh Lord," Martin said. "That's just what we need."
And then, because he was Billy Martin, he added this: "Aw, they don't have enough fans there to worry about."
So, yeah, 10 Cent Beer Night really couldn't have gone any other way.
Here's my one-paragraph summation of 10-Cent Beer Night in Sports Illustrated:
The most prominent Indians moment of my childhood, without a doubt, was on June 4, 1974, when more than 25,000 people showed up for Ten Cent Beer Night. It was a brilliant promotion: The idea was to allow desperate Clevelanders to drink as many cups of Stroh's as felt right, at a dime apiece. After two streakers ran on the field, and a father and son got into the outfield and mooned the bleachers, and more fans ran on the field, and people threw hot dogs, and someone tried to steal Texas outfielder Jeff Burroughs's cap -- there was this vague sense that things were not going well. That's about when the fans rioted, and the Indians forfeited. "That's Indians baseball," Drew Carey told me.
September 30, 1971: Yankees at Senators
Reason: Last game of Washington Senators franchise.
This was a strange one all the way around -- fewer than 15,000 fans came to say goodbye to Washington baseball. It was a sad scene and the Yankees -- who were not very good -- took a 5-1 lead. But Washington, playing its last game before moving to Texas, stormed back sparked by sloppy Yankees defense and a home run from Senators' icon Frank Howard. The fans gave Howard two different curtain calls after his homer.
In all, the Senators, scored four runs in the sixth to tie the game and then took a two-run lead in the eighth.
For you trivia buffs, Toby Harrah was the last man to come to the plate for the Washington Senators ... but he did not make the last out. He was at the plate when Tommy McCraw was caught stealing.
In any case, the Senators seemed ready to win the game. Felipe Alou and Bobby Murcer grounded out in the ninth. One out to go.
And then hundreds of fans poured on the field and began ripping up the turf and the bases, they went after the players, and the game was promptly forfeited.
"I never expected anything like that," Washington's longtime pitching coach Sid Hudson said. "What a way to end a ball club, huh?"