On This Day

disco demolition night, comiskey disco, disco demolition
Fred Jewell/AP
Fans storm the field at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on Disco Demolition
Night, July 12, 1979.

On This Day: “Disco Demolition Night” Causes Riot at Chicago White Sox Game

July 12, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On July 12, 1979, a promotion mocking disco music incited a crowd of 90,000 to trash Comiskey Park and storm the field, forcing umpires to declare a forfeit for the White Sox.

White Sox Forfeit After Disco Demolition Disaster

In the 1970s, the ubiquitous disco music craze annoyed many, including popular DJ Steve Dahl, who fulminated against disco and symbolically exploded records on air for WLUP. Mike Veeck, son of White Sox owner Bill Veeck, who was famous for combining baseball with inventive publicity stunts, hatched the idea with Dahl and WLUP’s station manager to cash in on the increasing hatred of disco with Disco Demolition Night Promotion.

Fans who brought disco records to Comiskey Park would be admitted into the White Sox doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers for just 98 cents; the collection of records would then be destroyed by Dahl in an on-field ceremony between games.

The event attracted an estimated 90,000 people to the 52,000-seat stadium, leaving tens of thousands roaming around the stadium and trying to sneak in. Comiskey was packed with what announcer Harry Caray deemed “a lot of funny-looking people,” most of whom were under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.

They were vulgarians who came to Comiskey Park to be ruffians. … All of the signals of imminent riot had been flashed during the first game,” wrote Bill Gleason in the next day’s Chicago Sun-Times.

The players completed the first game nervously as fans tossed records onto the field like Frisbees, or threw fireworks. With the crowd chanting “disco sucks,” Dahl walked out to center field dressed in military regalia and set off an explosion of disco records. Many in the crowd took this as a cue to storm the field, and they began tearing up grass, scaling foul poles, starting fires and overturning the batting cage.

The understaffed police were helpless. Veeck and Caray pleaded for calm, and organist Nancy Faust played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to help quiet the crowd. Chicago police finally restored order after about 37 minutes, but the umpires ruled that the field was unplayable, forcing the White Sox to forfeit the second game.

Key Player: Bill Veeck (1914-1986)

One of baseball’s most colorful owners, Bill Veeck was known for publicity stunts like signing 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel, originating the “exploding” scoreboard, and staging Disco Demolition Night.

“Veeck’s longest surviving idea was having announcer Harry Caray sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ during the seventh-inning stretch,” writes Nick Acocella of ESPN. “His most copied idea was having players take curtain calls after homering. His least copied idea was putting his players in short pants.”

Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and White Sox during his career, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989. His autobiography, “Veeck As In Wreck,” is available in the Dulcinea Media Store.

Background: Disco

Disco began in the 1960s but reached its apex as the dominant form of dance music in the 1970s. “Its popularity was matched by an equally ferocious criticism as the genre’s commercialization overwhelmed its subversively homoerotic and interracial roots,” explains Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Related: 10-Cent Beer Night

Before the disaster of Disco Demolition Night, there was “10-Cent Beer Night,” a promotion conceived by the Cleveland Indians in 1974, when the team and the city were both struggling.

The flow of beer helped bring about baseball violence on an unprecedented scale, as an all-out riot erupted in the ninth inning, when the Texas Rangers and the Indians sparred with weapon-toting fans. Cleveland had to forfeit the game, and the teams fled the field for their own safety.

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