9363Clip: Hoekstra on Disco Demolition 25 Years Later
- Jul 9, 2004Channel 11 in Chicago will air a special about the melee next week; if they
interview Jimmy Piersall, I would beg for a tape.
who was a very puzzled young White Sox fan watching at home that evening.
The local broadcast kept the cameras off most of the action, but apparently
the Detroit telecast covered a lot more chaos.
The night anti-disco fans went batty at Sox Park
July 9, 2004
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA STAFF REPORTER
Bill Veeck danced to the beat of a different drummer. Just as leisure suits
dressed up disco, the late White Sox owner brightened up baseball.
In July 1979, Veeck gave the lime-green light to his son Mike's idea of
having radio personality Steve Dahl burn disco records in center field
between games of a White Sox-Detroit Tigers doubleheader at Comiskey Park.
Any fan who brought a disco record to the game was admitted for 98 cents,
to tie in with Dahl's radio frequency, WLUP-FM (97.9).
The White Sox lost the first game 4-1. About 15 minutes before the second
game was to begin, fans started streaming onto the field and tore up the
infield grass. Comiskey had become a Field of Screams. The White Sox
forfeited the second game.
I was there.
I behaved myself, most likely because I didn't drink Schlitz or Stroh's,
the Comiskey house brews.
I sat in the right field upper deck with my girlfriend Miller from Beverly.
The dimly lit upper deck at Comiskey was a good place to watch a ballgame.
The stands hung over the outfield like the morning after. They were also a
safe place to watch people fling disco 45s onto the field. Several players
rightly remarked they were afraid of getting hurt by a Commodores single.
This night was not easy. Like Sunday morning.
The Sox were definitely B-side material in 1979. They had a 40-46 record,
and the apathy that surrounded the team contributed to the gathering's lack
of interest in baseball. I wasn't a regular Dahl listener (Miller was), so
his getup of military fatigues and helmet as leader of the Insane Coho Lips
Army didn't mean much to me. As Dahl, assisted by WLUP's provocative
"Goddess of Fire" Lorelei, led the crowd in chants of "Disco Sucks!," I
couldn't wait to see "Sweet Lou" Whitaker of the Tigers play game two.
Once the riot began, we departed immediately and I don't recall any pushing
and shoving. Chicago police were worried that crowds outside who couldn't
get tickets would also riot, but that never happened. Those were the days
when Bridgeport was all about peace and love.
I was living in an apartment a block east of Wrigley Field. In 1979 people
argued which neighborhood was more dangerous, Wrigley or Comiskey. There
were as many compelling baseball bars around Comiskey (McCuddy's and
O'Brien's next door) as there were around Wrigley (Ray's Bleachers, Piano
When the Sox were on the road in July 1976, Veeck had made Comiskey
available to music fans for the all-day "World Series of Rock" concert that
featured Aerosmith, Jeff Beck, Ted Nugent and opening act AC/DC. Only a
month before Disco Demolition, Veeck presented "Disco Night," with a dance
contest before a game against the Seattle Mariners (according to the 1979
White Sox program I saved). But then June 23 was Lithuanian Day and Aug. 26
was "Beer Case Stacking." Veeck knew his audience.
The 1979 White Sox were a cast of characters who actually had musical ties.
Reserve outfielder Thad Bosley was a better rhythm and blues singer. One
spare infielder was named Jim Morrison. Appropriately, as fans
reinterpreted "Light My Fire," rookie Sox pitcher Britt Burns sat on the
White Sox roster.
After the melee, Sox pitcher Richard Wortham told reporters he was a fan of
Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, then added, "This wouldn't have happened
if they had country and western night."
Over time Disco Demolition has taken on the fablelike characteristics of
baseball's best lore, like Gabby Harnett's "Homer in the Gloamin'." It has
been reported that "60,000 people were in the ballpark! 10,000 people were
on the Dan Ryan! 20,000 people were disco dancing at Dingbat's!" Dahl even
copyrighted the term "Disco Demolition." His attorneys filed a cease and
desist order when Mike Veeck planned a 20th anniversary Disco Demolition
Night for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Veeck left Tampa in May 1999, but Tom
Whaley was Tampa Bay's director of corporate sales.
"We thought the letter was a gag," Whaley said Thursday from St. Paul,
Minn., where he is executive vice president of the St. Paul Saints, a minor
league team owned by Veeck and actor Bill Murray. "But it wasn't. They
wanted to negotiate a rights fee to use the term 'Disco Demolition.' We
said, 'Forget it.' We were just trying to have some fun."
I liked twi-night doubleheaders and I loved all things Veeck. My name is in
the program for Bill Veeck Night, and I sat in the bleachers for the 1976
Opening Day Bicentennial shtick where Veeck, manager Paul Richards and
business manager Rudie Schaffer marched around the stadium in Bicentennial
During the opener Veeck actually walked around the stadium asking fans how
to improve his product. I know this is true because Veeck and his wife,
Mary Frances, sat with me for an inning in the bleachers. Times change.
Veeck loved the fun of paradox. His father, William Sr., was a theater
critic before becoming a sportswriter. In his 1962 biography Veeck as in
Wreck, Veeck remembered going to the theater with his father to see
"Hellzapoppin." He never forgot the running gag, which began with a small
plant being brought onstage. As the show progressed, the plant grew bigger
and bigger. Finally, just before the curtain, the huge plant was presented
to an audience member. Veeck wrote, "It should be no secret by now that
this is the kind of incongruous situation that I love."
Disco Demolition was the perfect alignment of incongruous characters: the
Veecks, Dahl, Sox announcers Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall, all set
against the strange soundtrack of music from the Trammps and Sylvester. On
that fateful July night 25 years ago, Harry Caray kept chanting, "People,
please get off the field! Please get off the field!" as if he was dealing
warnings at Woodstock. The only boring thing about the entire scenario was
Sox player-manager (and ex-Cub) Don Kessinger. Kessinger was a good
Christian man cast adrift on a Donna Summer night.
Veeck and Dahl caught disco at its perfect downspin. The party was over.
The guests were restless. By 1979 disco had bottomed out with poseurs like
Rod Stewart, the Bee Gees and the Rolling Stones ("Miss You") capitalizing
on the urban dance mix. These Brits were as much about disco music as Harry
Caray was about warm milk.
Disco's roots are full of integrity, ranging from the breathy raps of Isaac
Hayes to the lean, uptempo arrangements of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.
The 1974 Gamble-Huff MFSB instrumental "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia")
is regarded as one of the primal disco hits. Disco was also about excess, a
characteristic any White Sox fan can appreciate. In 1975 Donna Summer's
orgasmic, 16-minute "Love to Love You Baby" was the first disco record to
take up the entire side of an album.
Every anniversary encourages a point of reflection. But over time the
legacy of Disco Demolition has become as inflated as the music in its dying
days. Disco Demolition did not have any of the magic of the Beatles at
Comiskey, nor was it as explosive as the original Who at Chicago Stadium.
It was a silly moment in time that only Chicagoans, with all our passionate
provincialism, could still embrace.
I still want to see game two.