The late 1970’s saw the rise of Disco Music all around the United States. In between numerous chart-topping hits and the dance clubs that were seemingly everywhere it had become clear that this new fad had firmly etched itself into the fabric of American Culture. However this new obsession was not without backlash as Rock ‘N’ Roll fans and disc jockeys alike had a special distaste for this new type of dance music. In fact, this distaste was so strong that it even spilled over into Major League Baseball in an event that became known as Disco Demolition.
It was July 12, 1979 and it was a humid summer night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, where the White Sox were hosting a twi-night doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. As the result of a losing season, the White Sox’ attendance was dwindling down to an average of just 16,000 people per game. White Sox owner Bill Veeck, who was well known for using outlandish PR stunts in order to boost attendance, was looking for another way to boost attendance during another lost season.
Popular local radio DJ Steve Dahl, who worked for WLUP, developed a reputation for his hatred of disco as he would blow up records on his radio show. Representatives from the White Sox and WLUP radio station met to discuss a Disco Demolition themed promotion and they settled on Steve Dahl blowing up a crate of records in the outfield in between the two games. Tickets for that event went for as low as 98 cents if fans brought an album that they wanted to see get destroyed. Though around 20,000 people were expected to show up that night, the total attendance figure ended up being more than 50,000 people as fans continued to sneak in even after the gates had closed.
The first game took place without incident, as the Tigers ended up winning 4-1. Then, around 8:40PM everything changed. Steve Dahl drove out to center field in a jeep, dressed in a helmet and an army fatigue. He led the crowd in a “Disco Sucks!” chant before telling the 50,000+ attendees that this event was the world’s largest anti-disco rally. Dahl had the records in a giant box, ready to be blown up. After counting up to 4, Dahl let loose on the explosion and fiery streaks lit up the outfield followed up by large scores of debris.
However what really is notable about all of this, is the events that followed. After Dahl exited the field following the demolition, a few restless fans stormed the field in a fit of celebration. After the first few, the fans kept coming and coming. Just a few minutes later, Comiskey Park was in total chaos. The bases had been stolen, the outfield was in flames and empty liquor bottles were all over the place. There was even a thick veil of weed smoke that covered a chunk of the stadium due to a massive amount of marijuana consumption among the patrons.
White Sox personnel tried everything in their power to calm things down. Announcer Harry Carray tried convincing fans to go back to their seats over the intercom, Take Me Out To The Ballgame played and security was everywhere trying their best to keep the peace. It was not until the Chicago Police Department arrived dressed in full riot gear that things finally started to calm down. In total, 39 people were arrested for Disorderly Conduct, numerous people suffered minor injuries and the field was too badly damaged for the two teams to play on.
A couple of things happened after that night. First, the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader due to the damage of the stadium. Secondly, the popularity of Disco waned as the 1980’s were just around the corner. Whether Disco Demolition was a direct cause of Disco’s fade into the background has been a subject of debate in the 41 years since. Steve Dahl marked in an interview years later that Disco was more than likely on its way out either way. However, the music faded out so quickly after that night that it seems likely Disco Demolition is at least partly to blame.