It was George Gordon Byron who wrote “For truth is always strange; stranger than fiction.”
When the famed poet wrote those words, Napoleon was still walking the earth — not Napoleon Dynamite — the one who tried to conquer the world.
But Byron’s words still ring true today. It’s usually the real world that produces the craziest, most bizarre events, not what spills out of the head of a Hollywood screenwriter.
The history of Cleveland baseball has featured a head-shaking, scalp-scratching, jaw-dropping number of odd incidents. And now that I’ve referenced the human head three times to prove my point, let’s look at the five strangest moments in the history of the Guardians né Indians.
5. Trevor Bauer Throws a Baseball Over the Centerfield Wall
When a manager comes to the mound to pull a pitcher from a game, there’s etiquette. The age-old rule is: hand the baseball to the skipper, get a pat on your rear, and go to the dugout.
Trevor Bauer didn’t read the manual. On July 28, 2019, the Cleveland right-hander responded to a bad outing by firing a baseball 375 feet from between home and the mound over the centerfield wall at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The incident drew the immediate ire of his manager, Terry Francona, who ordered him off the field after confronting his pitcher for his behavior.
Bauer displayed his shame later.
“First and foremost, I owe a sincere apology to all of my teammates, my coaching staff, the organization, and all of our fans for how I conducted myself today,” Bauer told reporters after the game. “It’s unbecoming. It was childish and unprofessional. There’s no place for it in the game. I’m happy it didn’t result in any physical injury for anybody else. I realize I put people in danger.”
The unusual tantrum was the final act Bauer ever performed in a Cleveland uniform. The team traded him as part of a three-team deal three days later. Bauer ended up in Cincinnati, where he won a Cy Young Award in 2020, which earned him a huge contract from the Dodgers as a free agent. He’s now out of the game, suspended for a record two seasons for violating MLB’s code of conduct for off-the-field issues.
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4. Good Old Joe Earley Night
Sports teams are known to hold ceremonies to honor their athletes. Such events are popular with the fans, who like to shower beloved players with affection. But, once in 1948, the Cleveland Indians decided to have a special night for a man no one knew. And it turned out to be a celebration like none other in baseball history.
The Cleveland Press ran this letter to the editor on September 9, 1948, when an Indians fan expressed his frustration with the series of “special nights” to honor ballplayers and even the possibility of an event to celebrate Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland baseball club:
“Now they want a “Bill Veeck Night.” It’s a good idea, but here’s another suggestion. Let’s have a “Joe Earley Night.” I pay my rent and my landlord spends it on things that keep business stimulated. I keep the gas station attendant in business by buying gas regularly. I keep the milkman in clover by buying milk. He uses trucks and tires and as a result big industry is kept going. The paper boy delivers the paper, wears out a pair of shoes occasionally and the shoemaker wins. My wife keeps a grocer and a butcher (don’t we all) in business and the department stores as well. A lot of people depend on me (and you) so let us all get together, and send in your contributions for that new car for “Good Old Joe Earley Night.” – Joe Earley, 1380 Westlake Ave.
Who the heck was Joe Earley? Who had ever heard of him? The answer is no one really knew. Mr. Earley was just a regular “Joe” (if you will) who supported his team and wanted to be recognized.
Veeck, a colorful owner whose exploits in the game of baseball included planting the ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley Field, hiring a midget to play for the St. Louis Browns, and having fans hold up cards to tell his manager whether to steal a base, liked Joe Earley’s idea.
On September 28, 1948, the Indians scheduled “Good Old Joe Earley Night,” an event that Veeck heralded as the triumph of the average fan. That evening at Cleveland Stadium was one of the most bizarre in MLB history.
The first 20,000 female fans to enter Municipal Stadium received an orchid that night, flown in on an air-conditioned plane from Hawaii chartered by Veeck. Those were gifts for the paying fans, but Mr. Earley got more than even he bargained for.
With Veeck serving as emcee, Earley was presented with a new refrigerator, a wheelbarrow filled with fresh vegetables and fruit, and a horse that looked ready for the glue factory. Veeck announced that the Indians were giving Earley a new home, and a truck emerged on the field with a ramshackle outhouse on the flatbed. The Cleveland crowd loved it.
Joe Earley got a Model-T with chickens, goats, and pigs in the back, but also a legit gift — a brand new 1948 Chrysler convertible. Mrs. Earley seemed thrilled with that.
Veeck also bestowed Joe with a lifetime pass entitling him to entry into any American League ballpark. All the while, photographers snapped photos and news reporters filed their stories of the spectacle, which is precisely what the Cleveland owner wanted. “All in all,” wrote The Sporting News, “it was a great night for John Q. Cleveland.”
Maybe the special night for Earley was good karma. A few weeks later the Indians finished off the Boston Braves to win the World Series. It remains the last time the franchise captured the title. Joe Earley, where are ye?
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3. Albert Belle and The Corked Bat Caper
Something funny was going on July 15, 1994, at Comiskey Park in Chicago when the Indians were facing the White Sox. During the game, Chicago manager Gene Lamont asked the umpires to check the bat being used by Cleveland slugger Albert Belle. He suspected it may be illegal. The crew confiscated the bat for later inspection. But Belle was unhappy, and also had some clandestine ideas of his own.
First, Belle got into a heated exchange with Lamont and the Chicago bench, at one point flexing his muscles to show that it was his Popeye biceps that were helping him hit homers, not a tricky bat.
But after the bat was taken, Belle convinced teammate Jason Grimsley to crawl through a space in the drop ceiling between the Indians’ clubhouse and the umpire’s room. Grimsley got to the Belle bat and replaced it with another — Mission: Impossible-style.
Ah, but the umpires learned of the trick, and Belle was threatened by police and even the FBI if he didn’t return the bat. Belle’s lumber was sawed in half by the league office and wouldn’t you know it…there was cork in it!
Belle was suspended for 10 games, but Grimsley was never apprehended. His role in the shenanigans wasn’t confirmed until years later in a tell-all book by teammate Omar Vizquel.
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2. Snakes on a Train: Jackie Price’s Pet Pranks
Jackie Price was an average ballplayer. That’s why you’ve never heard of him. But he was a remarkable showman and trick artist, and in 1947 during spring training, the Cleveland infielder unleashed chaos when he set loose his pet snakes on a train.
Price appeared in seven games in the major leagues, but he could do amazing things on a baseball field. Price could throw two baseballs from one hand and have them land perfectly in the glove of two teammates several feet away. He could hang himself upside down from a pole, swing the bat, and hit a pitch. Price could catch baseballs while riding in a Jeep. It was unbelievable.
But in 1947 while he and several Cleveland teammates traveled west for exhibition games, Price let loose a few of his pet giant boa constrictor snakes on a train. It so happened that there were dozens of women on the train traveling to a convention. The women (and most of the men for that matter) were freaked out over the appearance of mammoth snakes, and Price was asked to leave the train.
For many years after retiring as a player, Price performed at ballparks across the country as one of the “clown princes of baseball.” His amazing stunts can be seen in his short film, Diamond Demon, which can be viewed on YouTube.
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1. Ten-Cent Beer Night Riot
June 4, 1974, may have been the scariest date in baseball history. On that day, the Indians held the most misguided promotion in the history of professional sports: “Ten-Cent Beer Night.”
Even in 1974, ten-cent beer was a heck of a deal. So, when fans heard that the Cleveland front office had authorized a special deal to make cups of beer just 10 cents at Municipal Stadium, thousands of people who otherwise may have stayed home or gone to the neighborhood saloon, showed up at the ballpark.
It ended up being a fiasco that threatened the health of many involved.
The normal price of beer at Municipal Stadium in 1974 was 65 cents. Fans could suddenly get a “six-pack” for less than that. And there was no limit placed on how many beers an individual could consume. Somehow, no one seemed to imagine there may be problems.
It didn’t take long for the fans to get greased by the cheap alcohol.
When Texas pitcher Fergie Jenkins was struck by a batted ball early in the game, fans threw objects on the field and chanted “Hit Him Again!” Later that inning an inebriated female fan ran onto the field, flashed her breasts, and tried to make out with the home plate umpire.
In the middle of the game, after a Texas player hit a home run, a naked drunken man ran onto the diamond and slid into second base. Not to be outdone, a father-son duo made their way onto the field and mooned the opposing dugout.
By the seventh inning, well-behaved sober fans and families had fled the ballpark for fear of the drunken mob. A close play at third base resulted in an argument by the Indians, which promoted fans to toss anything and everything onto the field. The game was held up for several minutes, but it got worse.
In the ninth inning, a 19-year-old fan went onto the field and tried to steal the cap off the head of Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs. Texas manager Billy Martin, having seen enough, led members of his team to the outfield with bats to confront a mob that was growing around his player. Eventually, more than 200 drunk Cleveland fans swarmed the field and surrounded the Texas team, which was fighting to keep from being pummeled by drunken people.
Members of the Indians ran to the fray and tried to help, while umpires and stadium officials tried unsuccessfully to restore order. The players managed to flee the field and retreat to the safety of the clubhouses, but not without a few drunken fans chasing them into the dugouts and the tunnels. The few police in attendance tried to beat the crazed mob away. It was later learned that a few of the fans had knives.
Ultimately, the Cleveland police arrived in force and arrested dozens of people, clearing the field, which was unsuitable for a baseball game.
The game was declared a forfeit to the Rangers, and not replayed or resumed. A month later, Cleveland (amazingly) held another ten-cent beer night, but this time there was a two-beer limit.
AP Photo/Colin E. Braley