"The worst promotion in the history of baseball"July 12, 1979. Comiskey Park in Chicago. Baseball, music, fire, chaos and explosions. One of the most notorious nights in baseball history.
- White Sox broadcaster Jimmy Piersall
"Like Woodstock on 35th Street"
- Steve Dahl, DJ
"Center field was on fire"
- White Sox groundskeeper
Disco seemed to be taking over popular music, a dismal period indeed for many of us. The Chicago White Sox, under their eccentric marketing genius owner Bill Veeck, the man who installed the first exploding scoreboard in baseball, hired little person Eddie Gaedel (who walked in his only at bat) and along the way integrated the American League when he owned the Cleveland Indians in 1947, were also pretty dismal. Severely under financed when he returned to baseball in 1975 by purchasing the White Sox, Veeck could not put a competitive team on the field and was constantly searching for new promotions to bring more fans in. Then came disco.
Disco became big on the music scene in 1977 and its reign extended into 1980. THC could not stand it. In Chicago, a 22 year old DJ, Steve Dahl, had been fired when his station converted to disco. Hired as the morning music man at rock music station WLUP-FM, Dahl started a crusade against disco. He went to Bill Veeck's son Mike with the idea for Disco Demolition Night and Mike got his father to agree with the expectation that an extra 5,000 fans might show up for the event which was planned to take place before the first and second games of a double header against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday night, July 12.
The plan was to offer 98 cent admission to any fan who brought a disco record with them to the park that night. The records would be collected and then after the first game ended a large container with all the records would be brought onto the field and blown up with Dahl leading the crowd in a rally. What could possibly go wrong?
To start with WLUP frenetically promoted the event. And a lot of people really hated disco.
The double header on July 12 would be the 5th and 6th games on the home stand of the 5th place Sox who had a record of 40-46. The prior four games had averaged 20,000 attendees and the Sox's four previous Thursday home games only averaged 8,000. The official attendance on July 12 was 47,795 but everyone agrees the number exceeded 50,000 and possibly by a substantial amount. In addition, thousands of fans were left outside in the streets unable to get into the park.
It was chaos from the start as it turned out many fans had extra records and started sailing them out onto the field narrowly missing several players during the first game, won by the Tigers. Then it got worse. Dahl fired up the crowd, the records were blown up and then, as crews began to clean up the debris, fans began to swarm onto the field. For the next 35-40 minutes the fans controlled the field until the police showed up. The field was wrecked, in part because of the bonfire built in center field and the umpires ordered the second game forfeited by the Sox to the Tigers.
You can watch the chaos and learn more about the story below.