June 7, 2008

Stay Classy, Cleveland

Free lance writer Paul Jackson looks back at one of the more bizarre games in baseball history, 34 years ago this week. On June 4, 1974, Billy Martin's Texas Rangers, eventually assisted by the Indians, took the field with baseball bats to square off with hundreds of drunk fans in Cleveland. You'll want to read it all, but here's a taste...

Remembering 10-Cent Beer Night

In the ninth, the Indians mounted a rally, scoring two runs to tie the game at 5. The winning run stood on second base when a young man jumped from the outfield seats and (perhaps searching for a memento to mark the occasion) flipped the cap off Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs' head. The outfielder turned to confront the fan and tripped over his own feet in the process. For the first time that evening, the chaos enveloped a player.

The slope of the diamond made it impossible for Martin to see below the level of an outfielder's knees from his station in the dugout. The legendary manager, in a moment that does not get large enough print on his long and colorful résumé, did not hesitate after Burroughs fell from view.

"Let's go get 'em, boys," he said, arming himself with a fungo bat and sprinting toward right-center field. The Rangers, understandably inspired, followed him.

Martin and his team stormed the diamond, infielders filling out their ranks. When they reached the outfield, the Rangers found Burroughs flustered but unharmed. More worrisome was the effect of their charge on the assembly: The jovial, frolicking nudists had disappeared. The mob that replaced them kept its clothes on and brandished an arsenal that made Martin's Louisville Slugger look like a child's toy. The Rangers manager spotted people wielding chains, knives and clubs fashioned from pieces of stadium seats. The 25 Texas players quickly found themselves surrounded by 200 angry drunks, and more were tumbling over the wall onto the field. The Texas Rangers had been ambushed.

Then the riot began. Indians manager Ken Aspromonte, his own defining moment upon him, realized that the Texas franchise might be on the verge of decimation. He too ordered his players onto the field. The bat racks in the home dugout emptied as the Indians mounted their own rescue.

(hat tip to Jack H.)

Posted by dan at June 7, 2008 3:21 PM