In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Disco Demolition promotion at Comiskey Park turns into a full-blown riot as fans storm the field, causing the Chicago White Sox to forfeit the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. In a cross-promotion with a local radio station, fans bringing a disco record to the game got in for $.98. The records would then be blown up by morning show host Steve Dahl, who led a backlash against the over-saturation of disco music.
Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck was one of baseball’s great showmen, creating the modern ballpark promotions. Veeck, who at one time owned the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns before purchasing the White Sox, had many creative events to draw fans to the ballpark in over three decades involved with baseball. These include having midget Eddie Gaedel appear in a game with the Browns, and another where made the managerial decisions with signs saying what to do in certain situations like pitching changes. While owning the White Sox, Veeck introduced the first exploding scoreboard and cooling showers for fans on hot days. His son Mike Veeck, looking to capitalize on a backlash against the disco’s oversaturation into the pop culture, decided to hold a demonstration involving local Disc Jockey Steve Dahl, who was destroying disco records on his morning show on 97.9 WLUP-FM.
The promotion called Disco Demolition Night was to take place between games of a twi-night doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. Veeck and the White Sox management underestimated the size of the crowd the promotion would attract. The White Sox were in the midst of a losing season, holding a record of 40-46 going into the games. The White Sox drew around 12,000 fans most nights, with 15,520 fans attending the game on the previous night. Dahl and the White Sox goal was for 20,000 fans, with only enough security hired for 35,000 fans. However, when the doubleheader arrived, thousands of fans showed, looking to destroy their disco records and get into the game for less than a dollar. The game was the only sell-out of the season, with an official attendance of 47,795 with thousands of more fans turned away. As the first game began, some of the fans left out of the festivities began scaling the walls and sneaking in through Comiskey Park’s iconic windows. Some estimates that that were upwards of 55,000 fans in the ballpark, well above the stadium’s capacity. Things began to get out of hand right away, as records rained were tossed on the field like Frisbees throughout the opener of the doubleheader, along with empty beer bottles and firecrackers on a hot steamy night. With fans packing the concourse and aisles, concessions were snatched from helpless vendors as a drunk and rowdy crowd more typical of a rock concert seemed to have little interest in baseball. As word of fans sneaking in began circulating, security personnel assigned to watch the field and the stands went outside to prevent more fans from getting in.
After the Tigers captured the opener 4-1, a crate containing the donated records was wheeled out to Centerfield, as Steve Dahl, wearing an Army combat helmet and his morning crew took the field. Dahl, who actually had a parody of Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” led the crowd in chants of “Disco Sucks” as a large explosion sent the records flying in shards and pieces that littered the outfield. As the smoke cleared, Dahl and his crew rode off victorious in a jeep; while the players began warming up for the second game, it was then that things really got wild as fans began running onto the field. What started slowly quickly got out of hand, as the security that would have been watching fans in the stands were at the gates, allowing thousands of fans onto the field at Comiskey Park. As the players took shelter, fans began tearing apart the field and set bonfires among the remaining pieces of the discord records in the outfield. Fans stole bases and raided the dugout as riot police were called in to disperse the crowd, which had by now destroyed the batting cage and made the field unplayable for the second game, as Bill Veeck and White Sox announcer Harry Caray pleaded with fans to return to their seats.
After the smoke cleared, American League President Larry MacPhail stated the White Sox failed to supply adequate playing conditions and awarded the Tigers a 9-0 win as a forfeit. The incident would be the beginning of the end of the Veecks involvement in Major League Baseball, as the White Sox were sold to Jerry Reinsdorf the following year. Steve Dahl used his notoriety to become one of the most popular disc jockeys in the country, as he continued to create parody records and became one of the first true shock jocks on morning radio. Meanwhile, the music craze of disco quickly began to die out, with some crediting Disco Demolition Night as being responsible for helping to bring an end to its popularity. Whether or not Steve Dahl and the White Sox deserve credit is debatable. The truth is the explosion of Disco was phenomenal, as the music was inescapable, with it seeping in all aspects of popular culture. Dahl’s own hatred of Disco began after he was fired from another local station after it switched from rock and roll. The truth is Steve Dahl hit a nerve and tapped into an audience that was overdosing on Disco and wanted more variety and were frustrated that it had begun to cross all entertainment genres. Even the best things in such large qualities could become tiresome, and the overexposure of Disco in 1979 was due to create a backlash, and that day at Comiskey Park is when it became clear just how sick of Disco everyone really was. Despite the disaster of the fan riot, Disco Demolition remains one of the craziest moments in baseball history, and Steve Dahl’s combat helmet is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.