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Bring It Back!: Ill-conceived promotional nights from the '70s

Big League Stew

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Most of our regular readers know that we have no problem with being wistfully nostalgic here on the Stew. From old television commercial clips to old players from the '80s, there isn't anything from the past that we won't pine or long for.

It's that kind of backward-looking obsession that has made us create "Bring it Back!" — a dedicated outlet for our wishes. Our second installment of the series is offered up by occasional contributor and old friend Tim Snips, a Minnesotan who previously eulogized Shea Stadium and made a case for Barry Bonds on the Twins. His request? Bring back the danger of the 1970s.

I'm not an unclassy person, per se. More often than not, I prefer a certain degree of peacefulness at baseball games. Going to a Twins game with my buddy Dave, ordering a Dome Dog and keeping score is my idea of summer content. I appreciate the sublime beauty of a well-turned double play, or the cat-and-mouse game between a pitcher and a would-be base stealer. I have read George Will's Men at Work. To me, watching baseball can be a truly ethereal experience, and 95 percent of me appreciates the game's nuances above all else.

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That other five percent of me, however, really loves a little hell being raised.

And that is why the topic of this "Bring It Back!" is "Ill-Conceived Promotional Nights From The '70s."

The 1970s are fascinating for about a million reasons, not least of which is the decade-long suspension of good taste. In hindsight, it's not that difficult to understand how a time period that gave us "Three's Company" and Billy Carter could also give us so many tasteless and dangerous promotions. But that's not to say they didn't rule.

Cleveland's "10-Cent Beer Night" went just as poorly as anyone in their right mind would assume. Reports indicate that fans of the 1974 Indians-Rangers contest could buy up to six cups of Stroh's for a dime a cup. Fireworks, weapons and the need to blow off some pent up Rust Belt steam were supplied by the attendees themselves. The game itself was a heated contest that included an eighth-inning fight between Cleveland first baseman John Ellis and Texas second baseman Lenny Randle.

It's safe to assume that at this point in the evening, the fans were ready to rumble themselves. All night long, they had been throwing cups onto the field and engaging in random acts of exhibitionism. Things finally came to a head, so to speak, in the bottom of the ninth, when fans stole Texas outfielder Jeff Burroughs' hat, prompting the both teams' benches to confront the fans.

That, in turn, led to an on-field riot, complete with ballplayers wielding bats. One can only look at the above situation of the Rangers trying to get back to their clubhouse and immediately think of scenes from The Warriors. Following the inevitable forfeit of the game to the Rangers, AL president Lee MacPhail said "There was no question that beer played a part in the riot." What?

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Five years later, Mike Veeck, the son of baseball's master of invention Bill Veeck, staged perhaps the most notorious promotion ever held, "Disco Demolition Night." (Yes, the same Bill Veeck that gave us Eddie Gaedel, the exploding scoreboard and these, ahem, short pants to the right.)

At that time in Chicago, prominent DJ Steve Dahl had developed a passionate anti-disco following. Responding to his working class fans' distaste for disco music, Veeck and Dahl came up with a promotion where attendees could toss disco records into a huge bonfire constructed in the outfield between games of a Sox-Tigers twinight double-header.

The fun began right away. Stoned and hammered as they were, many of the 50,000-plus fans figured out that vinyl 45s have the same general characteristics as Frisbees. Firecrackers went off. Tigers outfielder Ron LeFlore was almost beaned with a golf ball. After the teams completed the first game, a buxom blonde named "Loreli" ignited the bonfire in the outfield. Naturally, thousands of people ran onto the field and tore the stadium apart, prompting a forfeit to Detroit.

One can only assume Bob Seger would have approved.

While these two were the most notorious promotions of the ‘70s, they certainly weren't unique. Atlanta promotions man Bob Hope (no, not that Bob Hope) staged some pretty gaudy stunts at Fulton County Stadium for some really lousy Braves teams. "Headlock and Wedlock Night" gave Atlanta fans the natural pairing between a mass wedding of 34 couples with a wrestling exhibition. On another night, an Atlanta DJ was permitted to dive into the world's largest ice cream sundae on the field (nearly killing him, as it were).

Perhaps best of all, the Braves held a "Wet T-Shirt Night" in 1977, drawing 43 contestants and a crowd of more than 27,000. "A month into the season, we knew we had another last place team," Hope said of the promotion. "Our attitude was that you can't disgrace a disgrace ... We had long since gone beyond any resemblance of good taste."

Yes, it was a simpler, less politically correct time in this country. A time when you could give a great pitcher an elephant as a retirement gift, or when you might need a switchblade to get back to your car. Take your fan-friendly parks and corporate boxes on the first base line and give me a simple wet t-shirt contest at a Padres game in 2009 or a 10-cent beer night redux back in Cleveland. Five percent of me still longs to be reckless.

Tell us: What would you like to bring back to baseball? To suggest a topic and possibly write your own case for BLS, email 'Duk at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com.

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