30 Years Later: Disco Demolition Night

Jeremiah Graves@cheapseatchronAnalyst IJuly 12, 2009

As the first-half winds to a close today, fans and players are looking forward to this week’s All-Star festivities. Fans in Chicago, however, have a reason to look back today.

It was 30 years ago today, July 12, 1979, that one of the most infamous ballpark promotions of all-time took place at Comiskey Park—Disco Demolition Night.

The 1979 White Sox were a mediocre team that was, as always, playing second fiddle to the lovable losers across town, the Cubs, both in terms of record and especially in attendance.

The event was conceived by popular Chicago disc jockey, Steve Dahl, and Mike Veeck, son of team owner, Bill Veeck.

Veeck invited Dahl to blow up a bin full of disco records in center field between games of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. All fans who brought a disco record to the stadium were charged 98 cents admission (as in 97.9 FM, the call numbers of Dahl’s radio station) which was good for both games.

On July 11, Disco Demolition Eve, the White Sox drew just over 15,000 fans to Comiskey Park, filling less than a third of the roughly 52,000 seats. By all accounts, the Veecks and Dahl were hopeful that the promotion would draw an additional 5,000 to 10,000 fans.

On game day it  became abundantly clear that they had underestimated the lure of 98 cent tickets for a doubleheader, Chicago’s hatred of disco and/or the loyal following of Dahl.

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Either way, the stadium was packed to the hilt. Fans scaled the walls and pushed past ticket gates, filling the stadium to an estimated 75,000+ spectators waiting to see disco go up in flames.

Through the first game the rowdy crowd tossed disco records, cherry bombs, beer cups and whatever else they could get their hands on down toward the players on the field.

The record crowd watched the White Sox lose the first game to the Tigers 4-1 before Dahl, dressed in army fatigues, took to center field. He worked the crowd to chants of “Disco Sucks!” before turning things over the pyrotechnician.

With a thunderous boom thousands of records went up in flames, shooting hundreds of feet in the air. The explosion sent an already rambunctious crowd to a fever pitch.

While security had been sent outside the stadium to keep the massive crowds from storming the gates, the fans inside Comiskey took the opportunity to take the mayhem to another level.

Fans began storming the field. First it was a trickle, a few fans here and there as White Sox pitcher Ken Kravec began to warm up for the second game. The trickle quickly turned into a flood as swarms of fan left the stands to join the growing legions on the field.

It was absolute pandemonium.

Thousands on the field showed little to no regard for the game still to be played and began plucking grass from the field. People climbed the foul poles, knocked over the batting cage, and started bonfires around the smoldering record sleeves lying on the field.

Bill Veeck, Dahl and then-White Sox announcer Harry Caray all took turns on the microphone in failed attempts to urge the fans to return to their seats. When all of the pleasantries failed the Chicago Police were called onto the scene and the crowd dispersed quickly.

The White Sox grounds crew attempted to ready the field to play the second game, but Tigers’ manager Sparky Anderson argued that his team could not play under the conditions of both the field and the crowd. The umpiring crew eventually agreed and the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game.

To this day Disco Demolition Night stands in infamy as one of the most ill-advised promotions of all-time, but arguably one of most successful as 30 years later we’re all still talking about it.

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