Posts Tagged ‘disco’

The Landmark Case of Ludtke vs. Kuhn

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

In the 1970s—the decade of disco, Watergate, and bell bottom pants—the women’s rights movement escalated to a new level, continuing a legacy ignited by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida Harper.

Billie Jean King’s defeat of Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes tennis match underscored the women’s movement.  More than a sports event, it was, indeed, an occasion of spectacle, news, and social commentary.  “I was playing to prove that men and women had the same entertainment value, which is why we should be paid equally,” wrote King in her 2008 book Pressure Is A Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes, co-written with Christine Brennan.

Barbara Walters became the first female anchor of a network news broadcast when she combined with Harry Reasoner to co-anchor ABC’s nightly news program, CBS hired Jane Chastain as the first female national sportscaster for NFL games, and Melissa Ludtke became the first female journalist allowed in a Major League Baseball team’s locker room.

Ludtke’s journey took her through a legal battle that highlighted an additional burden for women to compete in sports journalism.  It hinged on equal access to athletes, coaches, and managers—if the locker room paradigm excluded female reporters, then they would not have the same opportunity as male reporters to get quotes, insights, and background information from players.  A level playing field, pardon the expression, would not exist.

“We saw the women’s movement emerging in the political realm and the nation had just come out of the civil rights movement,” says Ludtke, then a reporter for Sports Illustrated.  “In our court case, we relied on the Fourteenth Amendment and a number of precedents developed in legal arguments and judicial decisions about racial discrimination.”

Ludtke’s lawsuit for equal access took her to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.  In Ludtke vs. Kuhn, Judge Constance Baker Motley—who had argued many key civil rights cases as an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Attorney—reasoned, “By definition, female reporters who are excluded from baseball clubhouses are not given the same access to the news and newsmakers as their male colleagues and competitors.  This denial of equal access places female reporters at a severe competitive disadvantage because they miss stories witnessed or heard by male reporters inside the clubhouse, because they are unable to take advantage of the group questioning inside the clubhouse and because they are unable to talk to some players at all.”

One of the defendants, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, led the policy of exclusion.  At issue in Judge Motley’s court were privacy for players, due process, and state action—a financial connection between New York City and Yankee Stadium had been established during the rebuilding of the iconic ballpark in the mid-1970s.  Kuhn’s positions suffered under legal scrutiny.

Motley ruled, “The undisputed facts show that the Yankees’ interest in protecting ballplayer privacy may be fully served by much less sweeping means than than implemented here.  The court holds that the state action complained of unreasonably interferes with plaintiff Ludtke’s fundamental right to pursue her profession in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 12, 2016.

The Kingdome Welcomes the Mariners

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Famed for its portrayal in Jim Bouton’s tell-all book Ball Four, the Seattle Pilots lasted one season—1969.  While the Mets inched toward an improbable World Series victory against the Baltimore Orioles, the Pilots went 64-98.  After the ’69 season, bankruptcy disrupted Seattle’s major league plans.  New ownership—future Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig—brought the team to Milwaukee under the Brewers label.

Seattle became an MLB city for the second tie when the Mariners took the field on April 6, 1977.  A 7-0 loss to the California Angels inaugurated the Mariners, joined by the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League’s expansion during the year of the New York City Blackout, the disco craze ignited by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and the death of Elvis Presley.  In the Los Angeles Times, Ross Newhan wrote, “The young, inexperienced Mariners were outmanned in the field and at the plate, made errors that led to runs, failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities and were forced to go with pitchers who would probably be in some other line of work had it not been for the dilution of talent generated by baseball’s repeated expansion.”

Angels pitcher Frank Tanana dominated the Mariners—he struck out nine, walked two, and left nine Mariners on base.  Diego Segui started for the Mariners, leaving the game after three and 2/3 innings; the Angels scored five hits and four earned rungs against the veteran pitcher, who went 0-7 in 1977, his last year in the major leagues.

It was not only the Mariners’ first game—it was the first MLB game in the Kingdome, a stadium following the pattern of indoor facilities for professional sports begun in 1965 with the Houston Astrodome.  Seattle’s new stadium, while architecturally imposing, had a few trouble spots for the players.  Newhan quoted Angels manager Norm Sherry, who opined, “Generally, it’s a very impressive place.  But a few things do concern me.  The dirt of the mound is so soft the pitcher almost disappears when he comes down on it.  That has to be fixed.  I think the fielders will have to be reminded constantly that they can’t take their eye off the ball or they’re going to lose it in all that gray of the dome.  And there are two big ridges that distinguish the football sidelines.  One runs through the outfield.  The other funs along the left-field foul line.  They could cause problems.”

Seattle sports fans induced the Kingdome in 1976, a year prior to the Mariners’ début, with a soccer game between the New York Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders.  Additionally, the NFL expanded in 1976, providing footholds in Seattle and Tampa Bay; the Kingdome created a new outlet for Washington State’s football passion.  According to King County’s web site, the eight-day Billy Graham Crusade at the Kingdom in 1976 achieved the largest attendance for a “specific event” with 434,100 recorded attendees.  During its tenure, the Kingdome hosted the NCAA Final Four, the NFL Pro Bowl, and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.  On March 26, 2000, an implosion captured by video both inside and outside the Kingdome marked the end of an era for professional sports in Seattle.

The Seattle Times reported, “Dust choked downtown for nearly 20 minutes, blocking out the sun and leaving a layer of film on cars, streets and storefronts.  The dust cloud reached nearly as high as the top of the Bank of America Tower and drifted northwest about 8 miles an hour.”  Nearly 4,500 pounds of explosives and more than 21 miles of detonating cord brought down the 25,000-ton Kingdom roof in 16.8 seconds.

Today, CenturyLink Field stands on the Kingdome site.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 21, 2016.

Disco Demolition Night

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Disco’s transition from musical genre to mainstream phenomenon occurred when John Travolta mesmerized movie audiences in 1977 with his portrayal of fictional Brooklynite Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever.  After Travolta’s bravura performance, disco pervaded nightclubs, Top 40 radio, and parties.  Its dominance in popular culture received confirmation by prominence in movies, television shows, and record stores.

On July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox attempted to kill disco.  Sort of.

Disco Demolition Night was a promotional stunt that went awry.  Inspired by WLUP anti-disco disc jockey Steve Dahl, White Sox executive Mike Veeck took action.  Veeck learned about baseball promotions from his father, Bill Veeck, who created buzz.  For example, the elder Veeck sent midget Eddie Gaedel to bat for the St. Louis Browns in a 1951 game against the Detroit Tigers.

Mike Veeck’s brainstorm had Dahl emphasizing his dislike for disco by exploding a wooden crate filled with disco records.  It would take place in center field between games of a twi-night doubleheader against the Tigers.

In the 2012 book Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, Paul Dickson wrote, “Dahl’s followers were told they could get into the game for 98 cents if they brought a record to be destroyed.  Mike was in charge of the event and hired security for an expected crowd of 35,000.”  With Bill Veeck in the hospital for tests, Mike oversaw the promotion.  Then, a surprise occurred.  Bill Veeck showed up.”

The man who sent a midget to bat said that the stunt could be “catastrophic.”

Indeed.

Approximately 50,000 fans stormed Comiskey Park, armed with records that they tossed like Frisbees without regard to people’s safety.  Dahl announced the explosion, which left vinyl shrapnel scattered across center field.  Then, Dahl’s followers galloped onto the field with the energy of Secretariat.

They started at least one fire on the field and another one in the stands.

They ran around the bases.

They ripped the field apart.

They slid down a foul pole.

They went into the opposing team’s dugout.

They destroyed the field.

Police dispersed the crowd, but the damage had been done.  Because the field’s conditions were not playable, the White Sox forfeited the second game of the doubleheader.  Dickson explained, “After this announcement, players from both teams had to lock themselves in their clubhouses for hours to protect themselves from rampaging fans.  The action spread to the parking lots, where players’ wives who had come to pick up their husbands were forced to lock themselves in their cars while fans rocked the cars back and forth.  The fans were finally removed by police in full riot gear.  Thirty-seven fans were arrested.”

Disco Demolition Night could easily be renamed Disco Demolition Disaster.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 15, 2013.

Battle of the Bands

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

RemingtonSusan Dey enjoyed a second wave of television success as Los Angeles Assistant District Attorney Grace Van Owen on NBC’s L.A. Law when she hosted Saturday Night Live on February 8, 1992.  Dey’s first stint in the spotlight occurred in the early 1970s as feminist keyboard player Laurie Partridge on ABC’s The Partridge Family.

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Cartoon Tunes

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Hard rock sounds of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors emerged as musical touchstones in the late 1960s.  A decade later, disco ruled, largely because of the phenomenon of the movie Saturday Night Fever and its soundtrack anchored by the Bee Gees.  In between, bubble gum music thrived in the early to mid-1970s, particularly on Saturday morning cartoons.

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