Lucky Rusty

Rusty TorresRusty Torres, a Puerto Rican-born baseball player, was one of the few baseball players in history to deal with not one, not two, but three baseball-related riots in his career.

22 year-old Rusty made his Major League debut on September 20, 1971 with the New York Yankees. Just a few days later, Torres was playing right field when the Yanks traveled to Washington to play the Senators’ final home games before moving to Texas and becoming the Rangers. It was the top of the 9th, with one out, and Torres was in the on-deck circle. Bobby Murcer hit a ground-out, and angry Washington fans, thinking it was the third out and the end of the game, stormed the field to protest their team’s move to Texas. Torres escaped without injury.

After the season was over, Torres was traded to the Cleveland Indians. Torres had a decent, but not spectacular, couple of seasons… and then June 4, 1974 rolled around… a date known in baseball history as Ten Cent Beer Night.

As the name suggests, fans were sold all the 8 oz. cups of Stroh’s beer they could drink for only 10¢ each. And the promotion worked: 25,134 fans showed up that night, compared to the 8,000 the team had been averaging.

But there was a problem: only a week before, the same two teams – the Indians and the Rangers – had been involved in an on-field brawl during a cheap beer night in Texas! In that game, Texas player Lenny Randle took a hard slide into second base to disrupt a double play in the fourth inning, and so the Indians retaliated in the bottom of the eighth when Randle bunted and hit pitcher Milt Wilcox with a forearm. This infuriated the Indians’ first baseman, who punched Randle in retaliation. Both benches cleared, and fans started throwing food and beer at the field. The crowd began to storm the field, although security was able to keep in under control… this time.

So, in Cleveland a week later, there was not only a lot of beer flowing, there was a lot of anger and talk of revenge in the air. And when the Rangers took an early 5-1 lead, things got ugly. One woman rushed the field and flashed her breasts, a streaker ran out onto the field, and a father-son team ran out on the field and mooned the crowd. When the Rangers’ pitcher fell to the ground after being hit in the stomach with a line-drive hit, the crowd chanted “Hit ’em again! Hit ’em again! Harder! Harder!”. One Ranger was pelted with spit and half-eaten hot dogs and narrowly missed getting hit in the head with an empty gallon jug of Thunderbird wine.

It all came to a climax in the 9th inning. A fan rushed the field to try and steal the cap of Ranger outfielder Jeff Burroughs. Burroughs tripped trying to get away from the man, and Rangers’ manager Billy Martin thought Burroughs had been attacked. So he rushed on to the field, with several teammates following, most carrying bats. Angry Cleveland fans rushed the field, armed with chains, knives, bottles, and metal bits of seats that had been torn apart. Ken Aspromonte, the Indians’ manager, thought that the Rangers might be in real danger, so he ordered his team on the field, armed with bats, to protect the Texas players. Several players and the home plate umpire were injured in the melee, but Torres was able to escape by literally running for his life from second base, where he represented the winning run. The umpire eventually forfeited the game to Texas… and all remaining 10¢ beer nights were limited to four drinks per person.

The rest of the 1974 season was a miserable one for Torres, and he was traded to the California Angels the following year. Perhaps shaken by being involved in two riots, Torres couldn’t seem to get his mojo back, and was sent down to the minors for the entire 1975 season. He bounced back in 1976, having his best season yet. In 1977, Rusty was traded to (get this) the Texas Rangers, but before playing a single game for them was traded again to the Chicago White Sox. The Sox initially used him only as a utility player, but Torres was hitting so well that the team gave him the starting position in right field on July 12, 1979.

Unfortunately, that night would go down in history as Disco Demolition Night.

Steve Dahl, a popular Chicago radio DJ, had been fired by rock station WDAI when the station’s management decided to switch to an all-disco format. Dahl was hired by competing station WLUP, and he used his airtime to rail against disco as much as possible. Along with sidekick Garry Meier, Dahl mocked disco at every opportunity. He recorded a parody of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” called “Do You Think I’m Disco?”  and even enlisted audience members in a group called “The Insane Coho Lips Anti-Disco Army”.

As fate would have it, a May 2 game between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers had been rained out, so the July 12 game between the two teams was turned into a double-header. Dahl and Meier teamed up with Mike Veeck (son of the White Sox owner Bill Veeck, a man said to have “never met a a promotion he didn’t like”) to create “Disco Demolition Night”, in which fans could pay 98¢ admission (after WLUP’s 97.9 frequency) and bring in disco records, which would be placed in a large crate in the outfield and blown up by Dahl between games.

The promotion was far more popular than anyone could have imagined. White Sox management had expected around 12,000 fans for the game, and were absolutely gobsmacked when over 90,000 people showed up at the Comiskey Park, which only held around 52,000 people. And there were still thousands of fans stuck in cars out on the interstate. Off-ramps had to be closed to prevent even more people from showing up, and fans without tickets soon started scaling fences to get in.

The crate that was supposed to hold all the disco records was quickly filled to capacity, and fans were told to just hang on to their records. It didn’t take long for some fans to figure out that disco records made excellent frisbees, and soon records rained down on the field, along with beer and firecrackers.

Amazingly though, the first game was completed without too many problems, and between games a camouflage-clad Dahl emerged with Lorelei Shark, the stations “rock girl”. He led the crowd in chants of “disco sucks!” before blowing up the records. He then hopped in an army-painted  Jeep and circled the warning track a couple of times before leaving the field. Fans stormed onto the field and began lighting fires, stealing bases and starting fights. The field was eventually cleared by Chicago police in riot gear, but the field was in such poor shape, especially thanks to a crater in center field caused by the explosion, that the White Sox were forced to forfeit the game:

httpv://youtube.com/watch?v=MpQfCcsqQ0E

Thankfully, Torres was not injured in any of the incidents. But there are some interesting postscripts to this story. Game 2 of Disco Demolition Night remains the last game forfeited in the American League. Actor Michael Clarke Duncan, then 21, was one of the first people to storm the field on Disco Demolition Night, and he slid into third base and stole a bat from the dugout. And newscaster Tim Russert, then a law student, attended the Ten Cent Beer Night in Cleveland. Coy about what happened, Russert would only say “I went with $2 in my pocket. You do the math.”

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