One of the most bizarre events in MLB history occurred on July 12th, 1979 on the south side of Chicago. In the midst of disco fever, enterprising showman Bill Veeck collaborated with local DJ Steve Dahl to host the infamous at venerable Comiskey Park. It was a night for the ages, to be sure.
Disco Demolition Night: The Setup
In 1979, disco fever was sweeping the nation. The movement, fueled by such things as the iconic Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta, was huge and growing. The popular genre seemed almost unstoppable, at least to many music fans. It seemed that there was no end in sight, much to the despair of those who despised the whole disco movement.
A popular DJ in Chicago had different ideas. Steve Dahl, one of the hosts at WLUP (The LOOP), had no use for the music, and happily shared his opinions with his faithful listeners. He even formed an official opposition group, the Insane Coho Lips, to support him in his efforts to eradicate disco music from the face of the earth. Dahl and the Lips were popular, but he felt the need to make a big statement.
MLB History: Enter The Showman
Dahl, an enthusiastic Chicago White Sox fan, sought a bigger stage to promote his anti-disco movement. Where could he possibly find somebody who could help him in his crusade? Who might be a willing partner in his efforts to save the world from certain death and ruination?
Enter Bill Veeck, the maverick owner of Dahl’s beloved White Sox. Veeck, the ultimate baseball promoter and showman, was perhaps the most flamboyant and entertaining owner in MLB history. He was never one to pass up an opportunity to entertain fans, even if it had nothing to do with winning a baseball game. Veeck would be the ideal partner for Dahl in his crusade.
Disco Demolition Night: The Plot Is Hatched
As the 1979 MLB season wore on, the White Sox struggled, both on the field and at the box office. Veeck’s son Mike, the team’s promotions director, alerted his dad to the fact that the team was not doing well financially. Bill Veeck, always conscious of the team’s attendance, was concerned, and the family decided that they needed something to draw the fans back to Comiskey Park.
Meanwhile, Dahl had lost his job at a radio station when the station changed its format to the dreaded disco. He found a new job at rock station WLUP and quickly developed a huge fan base. His anti-disco movement was growing, and he fed the rage. Each morning, he would play a disco record and simulate blowing it up, much to the delight of his growing fan base. Dahl was becoming a one-man movement.
It wasn’t long before the irresistible force met the immovable object. The White Sox financial woes, along with Dahl’s rising popularity were in total sync, and Mike Veeck jumped on the opportunity. He reached out to Sox fan Dahl, and the two put in motion the plan for an event that would go down as one of the craziest nights in MLB history. Disco Demolition Night was born.
The Magical Night Arrives
On July 12th, 1979, the White Sox and Steve Dahl officially hosted Disco Demolition Night. They had a scheduled doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers, and the big event was set to happen between games. All was in place, and the long-awaited night was at hand. What a night it would be.
Fans had been encouraged invited to bring a disco record to the park for the demolition. As was Bill Veeck’s custom, the promotion offered entry to the park for only 98 cents for those who brought a record. The White Sox, who were averaging 16,000 fans a game in attendance, welcomed 59,000 fans into the park. An estimated additional 15,000 fans were outside the park.
The first game went off as usual, as the Tigers beat the Sox 4-1. After the game ended, Dahl took over the stage for the demolition that would save mankind from the scourge of disco. What followed was one of the biggest debacles in MLB history.
The Event Unfolds and Chaos Follows
At the appointed time, Dahl took a crate filled with disco records out to center field. With much pomp and ceremony, he lit the box on fire, creating a huge hole in the field. That should have been the end of it, but it was just the beginning. Fans in the stand, fueled by the explosion, started tossing their records like frisbees. So, there were thousands of records flying all over the field.
That, in itself, would have been dangerous enough. But wait, there’s more! Once the frisbees had all been launched, some fans were not done celebrating saving the planet. So, they decided to storm the field. An estimated 700 fans stormed the Comiskey Park field, overwhelming the police assigned to the park. Chaos ensued, as security and police officials attempted to quell the uprising.
There were fires lit in the outfield, kids climbing foul poles, and ushers getting punched by fans. White Sox players LaMar Johnson and Ralph Garr armed themselves with bats, prepared to deal with any fans who might try to breach the dugout. The scene resembled a full-scale riot, as the overwhelmed police did what they could.
Ultimately, some semblance of peace was restored to Comiskey Park. However, the damage had been done to the playing field. Once the fans were removed, the umpires came out to inspect the field. After their examination, they determined that the field was unplayable. So, they ordered that the game would be forfeited to the Tigers. This was one of the most inglorious moments in MLB history.
37 people were arrested in the aftermath of Disco Demolition Night. That set a new record in all of MLB history for fans arrested at a game. This was surely one Bill Veeck promotion that did not end well. While he drew a record crowd, the White Sox became a laughing stock around the league. The team would never totally live this down. When fans think of all-time debacles in MLB history, the 1979 White Sox will always be at the top of the list. For better or worse, Disco Demolition Night will live on through MLB history.
One last footnote to add to this saga: Strange as it may seem, in 2019, the White Sox “celebrated” the 40th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night. Steve Dahl threw out the first pitch to mark the occasion. While this may strike many as odd, the Sox chose to commemorate the event anyway, reminding fans of that one crazy night 40 years ago. Disco Demolition Night, for better or worse, will be a part of White Sox lore through the ages. Ah, you can’t beat fun at the old ballpark.
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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images