Put it another way: I don't condone angry, drunken mob violence, but I refuse to not be entertained by it when it suits my purpose. Anyway...
Trouble was brewing between the two teams even before the first beer was served. As James G. Robinson recounts for BaseballLibrary.com, the bad blood between the Rangers and the Indians centered around the actions of Rangers second baseman Lenny Randle in a ballgame six days earlier. Randle slid hard into second base on one play, then later gave a forearm shove to a pitcher fielding a bunt and on the same play crashed into the first baseman. A bench-clearing brawl ensued, and Rangers fans threw beer on Indians players.
When the two teams rematched, the Indians fans were carrying a serious grudge. The team had been averaging only 8,000 fans a game in cavernous Municipal Stadium, but 25,000 turned out for 10-Cent Beer Night, many already plastered by the time they arrived. Writes Robinson:
After the Rangers took an early lead, the alcohol-fueled frenzy that had pushed fans through the turnstiles began to push them onto the field. In the second inning, a large woman jumped into the Indians' on-deck circle and lifted her shirt; in the fourth, a naked man slid into second as Rangers outfielder Tom Grieve circled the bases with his second homer of the game; and in the fifth, a father-and-son team welcomed [Mike] Hargrove to Cleveland by leaping into the infield and mooning the crowd. From the seventh inning onwards, a steady stream of interlopers greeted [Jeff] Burroughs in right field. Some even stopped to shake his hand.
The stadium simmered until the Tribe came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, down 5-3. With one out, an Ed Crosby single scored George Hendrick; two singles later, a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center by John Lowenstein plated Crosby to tie the game. But slugger Leron Lee never had a chance to drive in the game-winner (Rusty Torres) from third. As the Cleveland fans pelted the field with golf balls, rocks and batteries, someone took the opportunity to swipe Burroughs' glove. Burroughs chased the fan back to the stands and in response, people began swarming into the outfield, surrounding the Rangers' star outfielder and ending any hope for an Indians rally.
Dodging more than a few flying chairs, Texas manager Billy Martin grabbed a bat and led his team on a rescue mission to right field. "The bat showed up later," Hargrove recalled, "and it was broken." Even the Indians were helping to fight off their own fans. Umpire Nestor Chylak, hit by both a chair and a rock, quickly forfeited the game to Texas, officially ending the Indians' comeback. "They were just uncontrollable beasts," said Chylak later. "I've never seen anything like it except in a zoo."
Wild and crazy times. Incidentally, Grieve, Burroughs, and Lee are all fathers of current major leaguers: Ben Grieve, Sean Buroughs, and Derrek Lee, respectively.
In an article from last November (excerpted from a book called Cleveland Sports Legends: The 20 Most Glorious and Gut-Wrenching Moments of All Time), Bob Dyer of the Akron Beacon Journal noted that while the idea of the 10-Cent Beer Night seems self-evidently idiotic today, "The media didn't seem the least bit put off by the prospect. In his pregame story in the Cleveland Press, writer Jim Braham gleefully proclaimed, 'Rinse your stein and get in line. Billy the Kid and his Texas gang are in town and it's 10-cent beer night at the ballpark.'"
In his lengthy report of the affair (which is well worth reading), Dyer recalled that you could buy six cups of beer at a time, and that some 65,000 were consumed on this particular night. "Let's say half the crowd consisted of teetotalers, juveniles, and the elderly," he wrote. "In that case, the average consumption would have been more than five cups per person. And plenty of fans were imbibing even before they got to the ballpark."
The definitive account of the evening was written by gonzo journalist Mike Shropshire in the hilarious memoir of his stint covering the Rangers in the mid-Seventies, Seasons in Hell. I've cherrypicked some of my favorite lines from his seven-page account to paint a picture of the surreal milieu:
On the commuter train from Hopkins Airport into downtown it became clear that something really special -- or at least different -- was looming at the ballpark on 10-Cent Beer Night. At each stop the train was filling with young people obviously headed for the game to take advantage of the promotion. Everybody was wearing Indians baseball caps and Indians batting helmets. As a court-certified expert on brain abuse, it was my educated guess that most of these fans were already loaded on Wild Turkey and whatever medicine it is that truck drivers take to stay awake on long hauls. Their condition suggested that they might be on their way home from, and not on their way to, a 10-cent Beer Night game.
...If it is true the decade of the Seventies was earmarked by behavioral residue of the spirit of the late Sixties, then Beer Night in Cleveland was the archetypal illustration of what all of that was to represent.
...When the game reached the bottom of the ninth inning, the temperament of the crowd became strikingly like that of Billy Martin when he reached his hour of belligerence in the cocktail lounge. What had been a largely congenial gathering turned combative. Woodstock had become Kent State.
...From my safe haven in the pressbox I was delighted by the entire spectacle since my dispatch to the newspaper back in Texas would offer something out of the ordinary and I figured that the players' post-game quotes might not be as clichιd as usual.
...When I talked to the Rangers, most of them appeared rather shaken by what they had clearly regarded as an ordeal. Billy Martin was predictably verbose. "We got hit with everything you can think of," Martin recounted with an air of seeming wonderment. "Chairs were flying down out of the upper deck. Cleveland players were fighting their own fans. First they were protecting the Rangers and then they were fighting to protect themselves. Somebody hit Tom Hilgendorf [Indians pitcher] with a chair and cut his head open."
...About a dozen players were in the bar when I got there. One -- Burroughs -- pulled me aside. "Hey," he wondered, "do the stats count in a forfeit? I hope not. I went 0-for-4, but the marijuana smoke was so thick out there in rightfield, I think I was higher than the fans."
No truth to the rumor that the smoke came from the Indians' management as they dreamed up their next promotional stunt. And sadly for Burroughs, the stats did count, though he was actually only 0-for-3 with a walk. Fortunately, he did recover to hit .301/.397/.504 with 25 homers and 118 RBI on his way to the AL MVP award.
If you haven't read Shropshire's book, I can't recommend it highly enough. My first copy of it, a $6 paperback, circulated to about seven or eight people and traveled around the world before falling apart somewhere in Thailand. It's laugh-out-loud funny, and the Beer Riot is just one of its high (or low) points. Imagine Hunter S. Thompson as a beat reporter for a lousy but eminently colorful ballclub -- managed at times by Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin, brains a-fryin' in the Texas heat, the fire only put out by copious quantities of beer and cocktails. Somebody ought to make a movie.
[Thanks to my friend Willie L. for calling my attention to the anniversary of this event.]
Bouton's ownership group was unsuccessful in securing a team, but his intrepid work did uncover a huge scandal: the land which town paper (and Bouton detractor) The Berkshire Eagle was trying to donate to build Wahconah's replacement was contaminated by carcinogenic PCBs. Meanwhile, rival owner Jonathan Fleisig, who beat out the Bouton group, did to Pittsfield exactly what the old knuckleballer predicted: he left the town high and dry. After his two-year lease of Waconah expired, Fleisig pulled up stakes and moved his Northeast League franchise, the Berkshire Black Bears, to New Haven, once again leaving the Massachusetts town without a team.
Like clockwork, Bouton has re-emerged on behalf of Pittsfield. ESPN's Jim Caple reports that the Bulldog plans to restore the ballpark and purchase a team by raising $4 million through a limited public stock offering. According to the article, $2.5 million is for renovation, $1.5 million for the franchise and operating costs, and the offering is limited to 400 investors (more information is available at Wahconahpark@aol.com). This short article from Capital News 9 says that the offering amounts to 55 percent of the group's stock, with Bouton and his partners, Chip Elitzer and Eric Margenau, holding the other 45 percent.
Caple's article notes the impact Bouton's well-chronicled plight had on the town:
After its publication, the city elected a new mayor, James Ruberto, who asked Bouton and Elitzer if they would be interested in reviving their ballpark plan.
In other words, they beat city hall.
"I never imagined this. It was the furthest thing from our minds," Bouton says. "It's being called the book that changed the city. But it's all about Wahconah Park. It was clear the park was the emotional center of the town. The citizens may not have been able to understand the budget problems with the hospital and the police, but they could understand the park. They voted down three plans to replace the ballpark.
"We came up with the idea to turn the whole system upside down. Instead of being at the mercy of an itinerate team and its owner, we said we'll make an investment in the park and get our own team. Usually, it's the team that holds the city hostage, but we've turned that around. This is going to be a privately-restored ballpark with a publicly-owned team."
Despite Caple's piece, it's tough to tell how seriously to take all of this. The Bulldog's own website has several links and excerpts of articles concerning the Bouton group and Wahconah, most of them coming from the Eagle and none more recent than March 17. The newspaper clearly still carries a grudge:
The bottom of the barrel baseball played by the Berkshire Black Bears was rejected by knowledgeable fans, who stayed away in droves the past two summers, and more of the same will be a tough sell, regardless of how nice the food court is. To make his team a success, Mr. Bouton is going to need the support of the business community he unfairly trashed, most notably Berkshire Bank and GE Plastics, as corrupt and dishonest in "Foul Ball." Mr. Bouton had better hope the business community is more charitable to him than he was to them.
Claws out... But Bouton seems to have come upon a stroke of good luck in recent weeks with a connection to some Pittsfield-related headlines. In mid-May, baseball historian John Thorn (author of Total Baseball) revealed his discovery of a 1791 Pittsfield ordinance mentioning baseball. Thorn shared his finding with Bouton, who told city officials. It's a nice bit of synergy for the Bulldog's bid, not to mention a fascinating discovery in and of itself. According to Thorn, "It's clear that not only was baseball played here in 1791, but it was rampant. It was rampant enough to have an ordinance against it."
No ball in the house? Try no ball within 80 yards of the house. Passed on September 5, 1791, the ordinance (as excerpted in the San Jose Mercury News) reads:
... for the Preservation of the Windows in the New Meeting House ... no Person or Inhabitant of said Town, shall be permitted to play at any game Called Wicket, Cricket, Base ball, Bat ball, Foot ball, Cat, Fives or any other Game or Games with Balls, within the Distance of Eighty Yards from said Meeting House.
I'd wager some kids must have hit a few through the glass of enough dudes in powdered wigs to piss them off so badly that they passed a law. But "New Meeting House" makes me hope that the kids reduced the old one to rubble with their projectiles, as if to say, "We don't need no stinking wigs. It's a whole new ballgame, Jack." In any event, the discovery led Thorn to proclaim, "Pittsfield is baseball's birthplace until further notice. We know that baseball was like a field of dandelions in the late 1700s and early 1800s_it was growing up everywhere"
Prior to his discovery, the earliest baseball reference was thought to be a pair of 1823 newspaper articles. So screw Abner Doubleday and that cheesy Cooperstown 1839 myth. And bully for the Bulldog if the discovery helps Pittsfield get a new club in an old park and what is now the game's oldest town.
Part I: The Fruits of My Labrum OK, I'll admit it. My shoulder injury -- a torn labrum suffered last June in a swimming pool mishap and arthroscopic surgery in November -- was little more than an excuse to milk sympathy and gain fodder and publicity for this column while taking a walk on the wild side of the health care system. A dabble in shoulder injury chic, if you will.
That's not really true, of course, but if I've learned anything over the past year, it's that a labrum tear is baseball's most devastating injury, a virtual death sentence for pitchers in an age where rotator cuff (shoulder) and ulnar collateral ligament (elbow) surgeries are routine, their recoveries predictable. As Baseball Prospectus injury expert Will Carroll summarizes in a recent Slate article (amusingly titled "Labrum, It Nearly Killed Him"):
The leading minds in baseball medicine are flummoxed by the labrum. Doctors can't agree on how to detect a tear, don't know the best way to fix one, and aren't sure why, almost without fail, a torn labrum will destroy a pitcher's career.
The numbers don't lie. Carroll contrasts leading orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews' estimate that 85 percent of pitchers fully recover from ulnar collateral ligament replacment, a/k/a Tommy John surgery, with this bleak assessment:
[I]f pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they'd be destroyed. Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level. Think about that when your favorite pitcher comes down with labrum trouble: He has a 3 percent chance of becoming Rocky Biddle.
Ouch. For those unfamiliar with shoulder anatomy -- and if you're a baseball fan, you might as well learn your way around this crucial joint -- Carroll explains that the labrum, located between the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) and the glenoid fossa (the socket where it attaches) functions as both a shock absorber and as part of the joint's connective structure. The most common labrum injury is a SLAP tear (superior lesion, anterior to posterior), which is what I suffered -- a tear in the tissue from front to back, disrupting normal overhand motion with a slight click or pop. It's a relatively subtle injury in that it's not terribly painful or debilitating unless you're exerting at a moderate level. My own experience felt like my shoulder had somehow had the wind knocked out of it, and I was unable to summon much force when it came to exercise.
The labrum's position between the shoulder bones makes injury to it difficult to detect even with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and multiple orthopedists might disagree on the same MRI. The current state of the art in repairing the damage is an arthroscopic procedure to reattach the labrum to the scapula by inserting plastic anchors for the sutures; in my case two were required, each leaving a scar about 1 cm in diameter.
Carroll runs down a few recent high-profile pitchers whose careers have been derailed by labral tears:
Giants closer Robb Nen, one of the game's hardest throwers, has undergone three surgeries in 18 months and hasn't pitched since 2002.
White Sox starter Mike Sirotka was traded to Toronto for David Wells in 2000 before his torn labrum was discovered. He hasn't thrown a pitch in the majors since.
6-foot-10 Seattle Mariners prospect Ryan Anderson, known as "The Space Needle," has missed all of 2001, 2002, 2003 and this year. Fellow Mariner pitcher Gil Meche missed 2001 due to labrum ailments and couldn't pitch well enough to make the big club in '02. His 15 wins in '03 made for a minor success story, but the attached 4.59 ERA isn't worth all that much in the Safeco environs. And it gets worse: thus far he's 1-5 with a 6.96 ERA this year and showing some ominous signs. Wrote Carroll recently:
The labrum curse may be biting Gil Meche. His continued ineffectiveness in the Mariners rotation is pushing him to the bullpen, but there are open questions about his shoulder's health. Not only is his stamina down, there have been reports of him wincing after pitches and altering his mechanics in ways that indicate some shoulder pain or weakness. I'm unsure how Meche will adjust to the pen as well, making him risky in multiple ways.
Not good. Position players, of course, aren't exempt from the dreaded injury. Troy Glaus, the Angels fine third baseman, missed much of last season with a tear but elected not to have surgery. After a hot start in which he was leading the league in homers with 11, Glaus reinjured the shoulder and finally went under the knife in the past week. He's almost certainly done for the year. Dodger outfielder Shawn Green's power outage last season was due to a severely torn labrum; his offseason surgery was more drastic, requiring the removal rather than repair of the cartilage, resulting in an unappetizing bone-on-bone scenario which Carroll covered last fall.
As Carroll explained to me last fall, another problem besides detecting the injury is the lack of an established rehabilitation protocol. Whereas Tommy John surgery timetables have become quite predictable (one year, with new-wave techniques pioneered by Yankee secret weapon Mark Littlefield cutting that time down to ten months), and rotator cuff surgery is, if not nearly as successful, at least somewhat moreso than its shoulder counterpart, there's no model of success for a baseball player to emulate. My own rehab consisted of a month wearing a sling and then four months of arduous physical therapy; only recently have I taken up my mitt again to chuck the ol' horsehide around, and though my comfort zone is increasing with each game of catch, I'm not sure I could break glass with my tosses yet.
If there's been a silver lining to my torn shoulder lining, it's that the work I put into writing about it impressed Carroll so much that he included it in his excellent new book, Saving the Pitcher. The recently-published volume combines vital, well-researched information about the anatomy and mechanics of throwing a ball with cutting-edge expert advice on how to treat -- and more importantly prevent -- injuries to the most fragile segment of the baseball population. The fruits of my labrum (sorry, I've been waiting six months to use that line), an adaptation of my November 11 entry, take up pages 49-51 of STP. Carroll also told me that Dr. Andrews -- the leading surgeon in sports medicine -- was quite impressed with my writing on the topic. All of this somewhat dampens the blow that my injury caused, but I still wouldn't recommend it as anything more than a painful learning experience.
Part II: Chasing Casey Carroll isn't the only author I've had the opportunity to assist recently. This past weekend I headed up to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the company of Steven Goldman, who writes both for Baseball Prospectus and YES (the oft-referenced "Pinstriped Bible") to assist with some photo research he was doing for his forthcoming book about Casey Stengel, Forging Genius (due this fall). I'd already taken a trip to the Brooklyn Public Library in the service of the project with Goldman, and while the returns on that investment weren't so high, the chance to bond with a writer whose work I greatly admire was unsurpassed, and so I willingly volunteered for the whirlwind roadtrip to Cooperstown.
We departed on Sunday evening, cruising to upstate New York in about four-and-a-half hours. Our baseball chatter in the car was virtually nonstop, alternating a discussion of current affairs (centering around the Yankees) with Goldman's narration of an annotated Cliff Notes version of his book. Tough to beat that.
Forging Genius focuses on Stengel's "wilderness years" managing the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves, with minor-league stints at the helm of the Toledo Mud Hens, Milwaukee Brewers, and Oakland Oaks before he assumed the Yankee job in 1949. Winning seven World Championships and ten pennants in 12 years gave Stengel a reputation for genius, but Goldman's thesis is that the traits and tactics which brought him success in pinstripes were present during his earlier stops. His preference for platooning, for example, dated all the way back to his playing career, when Giants manager John McGraw (who pioneered the strategy) limited outfielder Stengel's role to hitting against righties, resulting in two excellent seasons near the end of his playing career. In his first two major-league managerial stops, Stengel's teams finished in the second division for eight years in a row, as he was primarily hampered by skinflint ownership which couldn't provide the quality and depth of his later Yankee teams.
Which isn't to say that those teams weren't interesting; on the contrary, Goldman has done exhaustive research into the stories of the clubs and their players and other attached personalities. As I've gotten to know Steve, I've been impressed to find that he's as good recounting decades-old tales of both obscure and famous incidents with as much wit and verve in person as he does in print via his weekly "Bibles" and epic BP "You Could Look It Up" columns. My favorite yarn about Casey (if I'm recalling it correctly) involved his dual role as the Mud Hens' manager and president; when he needed to get out of his contract to take the Braves' job, manager Stengel wrote a letter to president Stengel, asking to be freed from his contract, and president Stengel wrote back, granting him release. Baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis wasn't happy about this stunt, but then happiness and the judge didn't belong in the same sentence anyway, and he was apparently powerless to stop the wily Stengel.
Having finished the book's writing, Goldman is now looking for photos to augment it, and for this he desired a second pair of hands and eyes to help him root through the Hall of Fame's archives. We nestled into the Hall's library shortly after the building opened on Monday morning and donned white cotton gloves to leaf through five bins -- office-box-sized crates -- full of photos. I pre-screened folders devoted some of the book's characters, magically named obscurities (to our generation, at least) such as Van Lingle Mungo and Frenchy Bordagary, along with legends such as McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, and Billy Martin. Steve would make the final selections for one or two photos of each one, usually a head shot and an action shot, or perhaps a group shot of a couple of the book's more central characters. Often he'd regale me with an anecdote about the player. One of the more memorable ones was outfielder Len Koenecke, who attacked a pilot (or made improper advances towards him) mid-flight and was killed when the co-pilot struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher. Creepy... For each photo, I'd dutifully record the information and reference number, then photocopy it, absorbing the mundane tasks so as to allow Goldman to focus on the bigger picture(s).
Steve insisted on seeing each and every photo in the Stengel file -- a bin unto itself -- and I viewed most of those as well. Having seen several hundred examples, I can safely conclude that in addition to being a sportswriter's best friend due to his quotabilty, Stengel was also a photographer's favorite as well, his rubbery face full of expression in virtually every shot.
After about five or so hours of this -- in which we tabbed over 50 photos for a book which will likely contain about 20 -- Goldman then paged through the Hall's clipping file on Stengel, photocopies of newspaper and magazine articles, jotting down notes to augment some of the book's tales. While I wandered throughout the rest of the building, he put only a minor dent in the bin before the library closed at 5 PM, but he said he'd gleaned enough choice quotes to include in his tale to make the exercise worthwhile.
A word about the Hall of Fame: if you're planning on visiting this summer, I strongly advise you to think again. Those looking for the complete picture of the game's history are in for bitter disappointment if they're trekking to upstate New York for this sole purpose. With the exception of the bronze plaques and the writers and broadcasters' wing, the entirety of the Hall's first floor, containing the game's most ancient relics, is closed due to construction, as is much of the rest of the museum, which won't reopen until June 2005.
But a great selection of those artifacts can currently be found in the Hall's traveling road show, the "Baseball as America" exhibit which is now in Washington, DC (here's my review of the show from when it was in New York in 2002). While the Hall's current state is a bit unfortunate, the construction should give the museum a much-needed facelift. I found the Hall I visited in 2000 still somewhat mired in the Doubleday myth -- the reason for the Cooperstown site, after all -- which has been thoroughly debunked by the game's historians. "Baseball as America" reflects a more critical, historically accurate take on the national pastime, and if you're looking for an alternative to the Cooperstown parade I've just rained on, hit DC for your baseball fix.
Back to my trip, though a lot of what I did was mundane, it was a pleasure to accompany Goldman through this tour of the Hall's archives, to come off the bench and provide a small amount of assistance for what I expect will be a great book. If that isn't in a Futility Infielder's job description, then I don't know what is.
But my motives weren't entirely selfless. Someday I hope to be in the enviable position Goldman is in, looking to put the finishing touches on a baseball book I can call my own. That day is likely at least a couple of years away, but having learned a few of the ropes from one of my peers, I'll be that much better equipped when my moment arrives.