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.”
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.
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