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Issue Date: April 2014 Issue


1980


Erick Trickey
trickey@clevelandmagazine.com
Ted Stepien peered down from the Terminal Tower's 52nd-floor catwalk. "This is bad," he said. "I'm really going to hurt somebody." But a promise was a promise. Stepien, the Cleveland Cavaliers new owner, had accepted an invitation to re-create the Indians' famed 1938 Terminal Tower ball drop June 24, 1980. Players from his professional softball team, the Cleveland Competitors, waited in Public Square to catch his throws. Behind them stood 5,000 lunchtime spectators. Someone told Stepien to chuck the balls far, so they'd clear the tower's base.
 
Stepien's first throw hit a car. His next two, which fell at an estimated 144 mph, struck a 66-year-old retired factory worker's shoulder and broke a 24-year-old woman's wrist. As police pushed the crowd back, another ball hit the pavement. Finally, Mike Zarefoss, a blond and muscular outfielder, gloved Stepien's fifth throw. A warning not to throw the last ball came over a walkie-talkie.

"It's unfortunate that there wasn't a practice or a dry run," Stepien said later. "This is a dangerous stunt."

Stepien's errant tosses became a metaphor for Cleveland sports loserdom. Later that same year, he traded the Cavaliers' 1983, 1984 and 1986 first-round draft picks for mediocre players. The team went 66-180 in his three years as owner. The NBA now bars teams from trading first-round picks in successive years — a regulation known as the Ted Stepien Rule.


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