Disco Demolition Night
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Disco Demolition Night was a anti-disco event that took place on Thursday, July 12 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. It was held between two games of baseball. During the event, rowdy fans surged onto the field, and a near riot ensued. The event is regarded as the culmination of a backlash against disco music that had an effect on the decline of the genre.
A latent hatred had been brewing in Middle America against disco music resulting in a media supported anti-disco campaign in the 18 months prior to the event.
Popular disc jockey Steve Dahl who had himself hosted Disco parties was fired by local radio station WDAI when it went to an all-disco format. Dahl was subsequently hired by rival station WLUP, "The Loop". Sensing the anti-disco backlash Dahl created a mock organization called "The Insane Coho Lips Anti-Disco Army" to oppose disco, in which Dahl and broadcast partner Garry Meier regularly mocked and heaped scorn on disco records on the air. Dahl also recorded his own parody, Do You Think I'm Disco? (a satire of Rod Stewart's, Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?).
Meanwhile, on May 2, the Detroit Tigers-Chicago White Sox game at Comiskey Park was rained out. American League rules called for the game to be made up at the clubs' next meeting in Chicago. July 12 was to have been a single, Thursday night game, to kick off a four-game weekend series, the last series before the All-Star Break. The first meeting was switched to a doubleheader, and the extra game resulted in the unusual situation of a five-game series. (The White Sox would end up losing four of the five games.)
Dahl and Meier, in conjunction with Mike Veeck (son of then-White Sox owner Bill Veeck), Dave Logan, WLUP Promotion Director, and Jeff Schwartz, WLUP Sales Manager, devised a promotion that involved people bringing unwanted disco music records to the game in exchange for an admission fee of 98¢, representing the station's location on the dial, 97.9. The records would be collected, placed in a large crate in center field, and blown up by Dahl.
The turnout for this promotion far exceeded all expectations. White Sox management was hoping for an additional crowd of 5,000, but a total of 75,000+ turned up instead. Thousands of people climbed walls and fences attempting to enter Comiskey Park, while others were denied admission. Off-ramps to the stadium from the Dan Ryan Expressway were closed when the stadium was filled to capacity and beyond.
White Sox TV announcers Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall commented freely on the "strange people" wandering aimlessly in the stands. Mike Veeck recalled that the pregame air was heavy with the scent of marijuana. When the crate on the field was filled with records, staff stopped collecting them from spectators, who soon realized that long-playing (LP) records were shaped like frisbees. They began to throw their records from the stands during the game, often striking other fans. The fans also threw beer and even firecrackers from the stands.
After the first game, Dahl, dressed in army fatigues and helmet, along with Lorelei Shark, WLUP's first "Rock Girl", and bodyguards, went out to center field. The large box containing the collected records was rigged with a bomb. When it exploded, the bomb tore a hole in the outfield grass surface. After Dahl, Lorelei and the bodyguards hopped into a jeep which circled the warning track before leaving the field through the right-centerfield exit, thousands of fans immediately rushed the field. Some lit fires and started small-scale riots. The batting cage was pulled down and wrecked, and the bases literally stolen, along with chunks of the field itself. The crowd, once on the field, mostly wandered around aimlessly, though a number of participants burned banners, sat on the grass or ran from security and police. People sitting in the upper deck could feel it sway back and forth from the rioters.
Veeck and Caray used the public address system to implore the fans to leave the field immediately, but to no avail. Eventually, the field was cleared by the Chicago Police in riot gear. Six people reported minor injuries and thirty-nine were arrested for disorderly conduct. The field was so badly torn up that the umpires decided the second game couldn't be played, though Tigers manager Sparky Anderson let it be known that his players would not take the field in any case due to safety concerns. The next day, American League president Lee MacPhail forfeited the second game to the Tigers, on the grounds that the White Sox had failed to provide acceptable playing conditions. The remaining games in the series were played, but for the rest of the season fielders and managers complained about the poor condition of the field.
For White Sox outfielder Rusty Torres, who had singled and scored the only Chicago run in a 4-1 loss in the first game, Disco Demolition Night was actually the third time in his career he had personally seen a forfeit-inducing riot. He had played for the New York Yankees at the last Senators game in Washington in 1971 and the Cleveland Indians at the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night in Cleveland in 1974.
The event was deemed newsworthy worldwide.
According to the 1986 book Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone history of Rock and Roll the event was the "emblematic moment" of the anti-disco "crusade" and noted that "the following year disco had peaked as a commercial blockbuster". Steve Dahl himself said in an interview with Keith Olbermann that disco "was a fad probably on its way out" but that the event "hastened its demise." Nile Rodgers, guitarist for the popular disco era group Chic said "It felt to us like Nazi book-burning, This is America, the home of jazz and rock and people were now afraid even to say the word 'disco'."
Although Bill Veeck took much of the public heat for the fiasco, it was known among baseball people that his son Mike was the actual front-office "brains" behind it. As a result, Mike was blacklisted from Major League Baseball for a long time after his father retired. As Mike related, "The second that first guy shimmied down the outfield wall, I knew my life was over!"
To this day, the second game of this doubleheader is still the last game forfeited in the American League. The last game to end in this manner in the National League was on August 10, 1995, when a baseball giveaway promotion went awry and resulted in the Los Angeles Dodgers forfeiture.
Actor Michael Clarke Duncan, a Chicago native and 21 at the time, attended the event. He was among the first 100 people to run onto the field and he slid into third base. He also had a silver belt buckle stolen during the ensuing riot and stole a bat from the dugout.
- Forfeit (baseball) for a list of similar events
- Ten Cent Beer Night
- Bounty Bowl II
- The Last Days of Disco, a Whit Stillman movie, about the era, showing scenes of the event.