Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 7/14/12

Two days ago marked the 33rd anniversary of Disco Demolition Night for White Sox fans. To this day, it is still one of those most widely recognized events in the history of baseball, as it is the last time that there has ever been a forfeit in an American League game.

Obviously, the word “forfeit” is a term that teams and fans don’t want to hear, but Disco Demolition Night took that word to a whole new level.

On Thursday, July 12, 1979, White Sox owner Bill Veeck and his son, Mike, ran the Disco Demolition Night promotion. The premise of the event was for fans to bring old disco records in exchange for a 98 cent admission, as local disc jockey and anti-disco pioneer Steve Dahl would then blow them up on the field between games of the twi-night doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers.

Obviously, the night was created to raise attendance, as weeknight games frequently drew less than 10,000 people. However, the number of people in attendance far exceeded any expectations the Veecks had, as the crowd exceed the capacity of around 45,000. More than 50,000 fans were in attendance with tens of thousands more entering the stadium by climbing walls and fences. All in all, an estimated 90,000 people were on hand.

The event certainly had a feel not typical of any baseball game, and my father, who was in attendance, recalls a strong stench of marijuana in the park since the beginning of the first pitch. With 90 percent of fans on hand for something other than the baseball games, it certainly was an interesting in-game atmosphere.

After the Sox lost game one of the double-header 4-1, the time came for the disco records to be exploded in center field. When Dahl triggered the explosion, damage was done to the center field grass and there was even a small fire. After Dahl left (he was accompanied by bodyguards), fans started rioting on the field, causing even more damage to the playing field and items such as the batting cage, the bases, and various pieces of equipment from both teams.

Numerous attempts by security and park staff to get the fans off the field were unsuccessful, as the Chicago Police were summoned and managed to do so. However, with all of the damage done to the field, the umpires decided the second game could not be played, so the White Sox had to forfeit.

Since 1970, it was the fifth time a game was forfeited in Major League Baseball and only the third time with the main cause being the fans (Ten Cent Beer Night in Cleveland in 1974 and the baseball promotion in 1995 in Los Angeles being the other two). However, Disco Demolition was the only game where fans caused a forfeit before it even began, and that is why this night may be the most embarrassing thing in the history of the Sox franchise.

As an owner, Veeck did a lot of good things for the White Sox and was always known for his off-the-wall promotions, but how could any one possibly think this event was a good idea?

Before even factoring in the behavior of the fans, didn’t it occur to Veeck or anyone in the White Sox brain trust at the time that using explosives to set aflame disco records in the middle of the outfield would surely cause damage to the outfield grass? Sure, promotions are done to put more fans in the stands, but when the promotion compromises the actual game and it’s condition, it’s a line that should not be crossed.

As far as the fans go, it’s impossible to expect that sort of reaction from them. However, with how big of a rebel Dahl was at the time and how big of a following he had, something was bound to happen. It’s hard for me to believe than when the attendance was that large and the atmosphere was the way it was during the first game, that action wasn’t taken sooner. There had to be some sort of anticipation of riots once this large of a crowd was out there, right?

Anyhow, I’ll guess we’ll never fully understand the thought process of the Sox brain trust during the event that night. Regardless, Sox fans are stuck with this incredibly laughable, but appalling event in their past, and it will always be looked at as one of, if not the, worst promotions in the history of sports.


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