On July 12, 1979, the schedule called for a twi-night doubleheader between the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. The Tigers took the first game 4-1 on the strength of a Tom Brookens triple in the second inning that drove home Jerry Morales for what would prove to be the winning run (boxscore). As it turned out, the second game never got played, resulting in a forfeit by the home White Sox and a sweep of the doubleheader for the Tigers.
Thing is, an anti-disco riot broke out in between the two games. A large collection of disco LPs was detonated in an explosion—this part was planned—but it tore a large hole in the outfield grass and eventually turned into a bonfire. The game was attended by many thousands of disco-hating baseball fans—actually a lot of them probably didn’t care much about baseball—a good percentage of whom would take the field during the insanity. It’s one of the most memorable promotions that baseball ever threw.
The director of promotions at that time was Mike Veeck, son of Bill Veeck, longtime owner of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and the White Sox. Bill Veeck was a genius deployer of gimmicks, including, when he owned the Browns, the stunt of hiring a midget named Eddie Gaedel to lead off a game in August 19, 1951, for a guaranteed base on balls. Mike’s decision to host a Disco Demolition Night would prove every bit as memorable.
Wikipedia supplies some background:
Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl was fired from local radio station WDAI on Christmas Eve 1978 when the station switched formats from rock to disco. The 24-year-old DJ was subsequently hired by rival album-rock station WLUP, “The Loop.” Sensing an incipient anti-disco backlash and playing off the publicity surrounding his firing (Dahl frequently mocked WDAI’s “Disco DAI” slogan on the air as “Disco DIE”), Dahl created a mock organization called “The Insane Coho Lips,” an anti-disco army consisting of his listeners. According to Andy Behrens of ESPN, Dahl and his broadcast partner Garry Meier “organized the Cohos around a simple and surprisingly powerful idea: Disco Sucks.”
According to Wikipedia, the capacity of Comiskey Park at that time was only 44,492, yet estimates of the crowd that night range from 50,000 to 90,000. (As with the Beatles’ 1965 concert at Shea Stadium, the number of people who claim to have been in attendance is probably several hundred thousand by now.)
An air of menace permeated the first game:
Tigers outfielder Rusty Staub remembered that the records would slice through the air, and land sticking out of the ground. He urged teammates to wear batting helmets when playing their positions, “It wasn’t just one, it was many. Oh, God almighty, I’ve never seen anything so dangerous in my life.” ... Mike Veeck later remembered an odor of marijuana in the grandstand and said of the attendees, “This is the Woodstock they never had.”
Tigers outfielder Ron LeFlore said afterward, “It seemed like there was kegs in every aisle of the ballpark that night, you know, because everybody was drunk.”
Attendees would pay an admission fee of 98 cents (!) provided they brought at least one disco LP with them; Dahl would then destroy the pile of recordings in an explosion. (Many people got into the park without paying, however.) Dahl took the field in an army jeep wearing an army helmet to lead his anti-disco “army” and led the crowd in a rousing chant of “Disco Sucks!” “This is officially the world’s largest anti-disco rally!” cried Dahl to the crowd. And then things totally got out of hand.
The detonation scattered the broken album shards all over the outfield. Several thousand disco-haters took the field, some of them carrying banners with slogans like “LONG LIVE ROCK & ROLL.” The explosion quickly became a bonfire, and there was at least one similar fire in the upper deck of the stadium. Reportedly, 39 people were arrested (looking at the footage, that figure seems remarkably low).
Here’s a great little documentary from ESPN about the mayhem: