It's a typical summer night in July. 1979. I'm going to a typical baseball game on the south side of Chicago. Comiskey Park. White Sox vs the Detroit Tigers. The night ended with nothing typical about it.
I've always loved baseball. It never took much to get me to go to a ballgame. Anytime. Anyplace. I was there. Even though I grew up a Cubs fan, I loved going to White Sox games, especially in 1970's. I loved the atmosphere at Sox games. We'd sit in the centerfield bleachers, drink a lot of beer and look for girls. Yeah, there was baseball, but that was usually secondary.
In 1979, the biggest local radio star of my generation was Steve Dahl. He was Chicago's Howard Stern. Shock Jock! He had recently been fired because his former station, WDAI, had changed formats. They went from rock and roll to twenty-four hours of Disco. Remember Disco? Dahl took his act to another rock and roll station, WLUP-97.9. THE LOOP.
Part of Dahl's act became hating disco music. I don't know if was a schtick or real, but it worked. If you were a fan of Steve Dahl in 1979, you hated Disco...and he had a lot of fans.
The 1979 Chicago White Sox was not a very good baseball team. They finished in fifth place in the American League's Western Division. In addition to playing bad baseball, the '79 White Sox weren't very exciting to watch. Their best players from two years earlier, the South Side Hitmen team, were long gone...scattered among other major league teams. The teams biggest addition was their new first time manager, Tony LaRussa. He would go on to lead three teams to World Series championships...in Oakland and St. Louis. Those would be a decade away....when LaRussa would also be long gone. All of this was a bad combination. It would take gimmicks and promotions to bring fans to the games.
The White Sox were then owned by Bill Veeck. He was the king of gimmicks and promotions. His famous ones included "the exploding scoreboard" after home runs and bringing three foot-seven inch Eddie Gaedel to bat, in a crouch, to take a walk. Veeck didn't know it, but Disco Demolition was going to top them all.
Veeck' son, Mike, was then working for the team. He learned from his dad about running promotions. In fact, since then, he's made a career of it while owning various minor league baseball teams. Mike hooked up with Steve Dahl to put on the biggest promotion of their careers. It would make them both famous...or infamous.
On July 12, fans bringing a disco record to the park would be admitted for ninety-eight cents. In between games of the doubleheader, Dahl and his sidekick, Garry Meier, would take the records onto the field and blow them up. Wow! Two games, beer, women and explosions. How could you not want to see that? I'm all in!
In 1979, I'm working on the south side. My office is about fifteen minutes from Comiskey Park. My usual procedure was to work until six pm and then drive over to the game. July 12 wasn't going to be any different. I was going to meet up with my friends in the bleachers. We'd see the end of game one, watch the exploding records and stay for game two. The Sox expected attendance to be around twenty-thousand fans. That would be just a few thousand more than normally attended their games. There should be no problems. Keywords are "should be." There were problems. Big problems.
I'm driving to the game and see that the entrance ramp to the Stevenson Expressway is backed up for a block. That never happens. I finally get on the highway and it's backed up, too. This was something more than the usual commuter traffic. We were inching our way towards the ballpark. This wasn't going to be the normal fifteen minute ride. On this night, nothing was normal.
I turn my car radio to the game. The White Sox announcer, Lorn Brown, says the stadium is packed. There are more than fifty thousand people inside. Many more are outside. They're climbing the walls trying to get inside.
That's what this traffic is about. It's going to take at least an hour to get to the game....probably more. If I get there, there's no guarantee I'll be able to get inside the park. I'm usually fairly adventurous and wouldn't let this stop me. On that night, I was realistic. I headed for home. I was going to see the records explode and game two on television. Too bad there weren't phones in our cars so I could call my friends. That was another decade away.
Game one is over. The Tigers win 4-1. It's time to blow up some albums. Dahl and Meier are on the infield. The records are blown up and they leave. Then thousands of their fans, who aren't supposed to be on the field, take their place. Security was overwhelmed and couldn't stop them. They were running around the bases, sliding into home plate, as if they were players. People were climbing the foul poles. They were also tearing up the grass and setting fires. Veeck and legendary television broadcaster Harry Caray went on the loudspeakers trying to get them to leave the field so game two could be played, to no avail. Eventually, Chicago police entered and the fans went back to their seats. It was too late because the field was unplayable. Game two was cancelled. The White Sox were forced to forfeit the game to the Tigers.
I told you there were problems.
It's now forty years later. Bill Veeck, Lorn Brown and Harry Caray are dead. Mike Veeck is an owner of minor league baseball teams. The Loop has new call letters and is playing Christian music. Steve Dahl is doing podcasts. He's mellowed a lot over the years. The dude has grandchildren. I rarely go to White Sox games these days. The owners did something that pissed me off in 1997 and I didn't walk inside their park for more than a decade. Apparently, Chicago's baseball teams owners like to piss me off. I went back a few years ago. It's a couple of times a season and
usually always when I have free tickets. No more sitting in the bleachers, drinking beer and chasing girls. My current partner would frown on that. Plus, like Dahl, I've mellowed some, too.
I've had the tickets for last nights game for a couple of weeks. I had no idea until a few days ago that this was the night they were going to celebrate the forty year anniversary of Disco Demolition. I was just happy to see the New York Yankees. This was going to add to the event.
It was nothing like the event of forty years ago. Calling it kicked back and low-key would be understating it. We received t-shirts. You can see it in the above photo. Mine is a size medium. It will never fit. I've already given it away. Steve Dahl gave a quick interview and threw out a first pitch before the start of the game. We never saw him again. C'mon man...blow up at least a couple of Bee Gees records. We know you still think they suck, right? Oh yeah, two-thirds of the Bee Gees are dead, too. The only fireworks were after the White Sox hit a couple of home runs.
Man, celebrations sure do suck forty years later. Where did the edginess of our youth go? Apparently, even celebrations have mellowed, too.
Btw, the White Sox won the game. They beat the Yankees 5-4. It was a nice evening at a baseball game. Nothing more than that, and nothing wrong with that, I guess. While I don't miss Disco Demolition, I do miss those days of my youth. They're gone, but I know they're still inside me.....somewhere.
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