Recently, the Chicago White Sox commemorated what must rank with Cleveland’s Ten Cent Beer Night as the most disastrous promotion in baseball history: Disco Demolition Night, which was July 12, 1979.
I can’t see why the Sox would be commemorating one of the most embarrassing moments in baseball history, and the second most embarrassing moment in the history of the White Sox franchise (the 1919 World Series and the Black Sox Scandal hold the No. 1 spot). Those White Sox uniforms from the late 1970s were a disaster and a embarrassment, but they were not quite as bad as Disco Demolition Night.
I'm not alone in asking why anyone would commemorate this event. There are others who are saying this event should not be commemorated, but not for the reasons you might think.
Here’s what happened. Disco was the American sound of the late 1970s. Popularized by the 1977 film “Saturday Night Fever,” disco dominated the record charts. However, disco was resented by rock ‘n roll fans. Early in 1979, Chicago rock n' roll disc jockey Steve Dahl lost his job when the radio station he worked for went to an all-disco format. He soon got a job at another station, and used his morning drive-time show to play disco records with crazy sound effects to make it sound like the records were being destroyed.
Dahl knew Mike Veeck, who was the son of White Sox’ owner Bill Veeck. The three of them concocted a promotion, “Disco Demolition Night,” where people could turn in disco records and get tickets to the game for 98 cents. The plan was to dump the records in a dumpster and blow them up between games of a double header with the Detroit Tigers.
The promotion became a disaster. Expecting a crowd of 25,000, Comiskey Park was filled to its capacity of 45,000, and some 20,000 others were turned away. The crowd chanted “Disco Sucks!” during the first game, which the Tigers won, 4-1. The disco records were put into a dumpster in center field, and Dahl ignited them to be blown up.
They goofed on the explosives. The explosion was too big and left a crater in centerfield. To make matters worse, the crowd surged onto the field and a riot started. Pleas for order over the public address system from Bill Veeck and radio announcer Harry Caray fell on deaf ears. It took the arrival of 300 police officers in full riot gear, along with mounted officers, to restore order. By then, the field was a shambles and the second game was forfeited to the Tigers.
As I said, I don’t see why anyone would want to commemorate such an event. It was embarrassing. However, there are others who say the event never should have taken place at all. Their reason? The whole thing was racist, homophobic and sexist.
Here’s their reasoning: disco came from marginalized groups like blacks, Latinos and homosexuals. Some of the top disco stars were black women, like Donna Summer. In their view, opposition to disco came from white males opposed to these groups moving onto the music scene.
Much has been made of how overwhelmingly white the crowd at Comiskey Park was for Disco Demolition Night. In addition to having a large black population, Chicago’s South Side is also home to neighborhoods like Bridgeport and Marquette Park, which are notorious for being racist and anti-black. Many of the records brought to the ballpark featured black R&B artists who plainly weren’t disco.
To put it in modern terms, Disco Demolition Night featured privileged white heterosexual males attacking music from marginalized groups that threatened their white male heterosexual privilege.
Maybe some of these people just didn’t like disco music.
As I see it, the event was such a disaster that adding the “marginalized groups” element can’t make it any worse than it was.
Any way you look at it, this was an embarrassment and should be left as a footnote in baseball history.
Some of the reports I read said disco music became “toxic” after this event, and that’s what killed it. I believe disco was a fad that played itself out. By 1979, too many disco songs sounded too much alike, and music fans grew tired of it. Many of the elements of disco were absorbed into other genres, so one really can’t say disco ever actually died.
It grew and changed, just as we all must grow and change.