Thirty years since Disco Demolition
On-field promotion turned into mayhem on memorable night
MINNEAPOLIS -- As a prominent pitcher for the 1979 White Sox, a fifth-place team in the American League West that finished with a 73-87 record and a home attendance of 1,280,702, Ed Farmer grew accustomed to working at a stadium rarely filled to capacity.
The night of July 12 from this particular season brought about a completely different experience for Farmer and his teammates, and really anyone associated with the game of baseball.
There were fans at Comiskey Park, plenty of them, in fact, with the announced crowd of 47,795 standing as the largest one of the season. For a twi-night doubleheader against Detroit, with an in-between, on-field promotion giving the day a title of Disco Demolition, the South Side supporters were nothing like the White Sox had ever seen before or since.
"I pitched [3 2/3] innings to finish the first game, and I would be throwing, getting the signs, and a 45 record would fly by the mound," said Farmer, the present White Sox radio play-by-play voice, speaking of that July evening at Comiskey Park just days before Sunday's 30th anniversary of this infamous event. "Someone would toss it from the lower deck or the upper deck and it would fly through and on to the field right past you."
Dodging disco projectiles was nothing compared to what was to come. Disco Demolition turned from a promotion developed by the White Sox and Steve Dahl, now a broadcasting legend, but then a 24-year-old Chicago radio innovator, into a moment holding a spot in the city's history, superseding sports.
"You are talking about a famous moment in the city of Chicago," Farmer said. "Things took place in that stadium that never happened before or after."
Here was the basic storyline: Dahl and his broadcast partner Gary Meier were working for WLUP, The Loop, a rock radio station in Chicago and had created a group known as "The Insane Coho Lips" as a sort of fake organization to go against disco. Working with Mike Veeck, the son of then White Sox owner Bill Veeck, a plan was concocted for fans to bring unwanted disco records to the Detroit doubleheader for a 98 cents admission fee.
Ninety-eight cents was derived from The Loop's location on the radio dial at 97.9. These records would be blown up by Dahl in center field in between games, as an entertaining message against disco.
It was an idea that seemed borderline innocent enough, with a hope for a decent crowd to play off Dahl's popularity and another unique Veeck promotion. Ken Kravec, who was scheduled to start Game 2 of this doubleheader after the disco explosion, explains the quick loss of innocence three decades later.
"One thing I recall, when I walked out to the bullpen mound to warm up for the second game and I was looking around the stadium, you couldn't see any aisles," said Kravec, currently a special assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, but a left-handed hurler who finished 15-13 with a 3.74 ERA in 1979.
"Just wall-to-wall people, and I'm thinking that was a fire hazard," said Kravec with a laugh. "I just remember the amount of people. There were like 10,000 or 15,000 people outside the stadium and another 50,000 inside the stadium, if not more."
When Kravec started warming up for Game 2, he had the same Frisbee record experience as Farmer and actually moved his pregame routine to the main pitching mound.
"We went out there for about a minute," Kravec said. "And then after that, the fans stormed the field. I never feared for my life, not at all. Once they came on the field, it was fine. I just grabbed my hat, walked off and nobody hassled you."
Farmer, who picked up 14 saves and finished 30 games as the eventual closer of the 1979 squad, explained how the White Sox closed the clubhouse as soon as Kravec entered. They locked the doors, and actually put a 4-by-6 piece of wood across the door that you would enter coming from the dugout into the clubhouse.
Fans were distressing that 4-by-6, according to Farmer, trying to get into the clubhouse.
"They overtook the park," Farmer said. "They told us rather quickly the game was canceled so we got out of there. We got out of there before most of the people knew it. But the [police] had to come on horseback to get the people off the field. They just stormed the field and came right over the walls."
"Our thought when they stormed the field was that they would clear it off in 15 or 20 minutes, and we would go on and play the second game," Kravec said.
Instead, the second game eventually was forfeited by the White Sox, and is the last forfeit standing in the American League. Farmer and Dahl have been good friends for years, but Farmer said it has been about a decade since the two have discussed this memorable night.
Even 30 years later, the memories remain vivid.
Fans shimmying down the foul poles and hanging from wires. How about, as Farmer described, the rowdy fans' creative use of their cars to get in on the action?
"Some people brought their cars outside left field, where we had these spots in the walls where ventilation could come through. They had half-moons all the way around," Farmer said. "So, they were jumping on cars and jumping into the stadium that way. They showed a Camaro the next day and the thing was totaled. The roof was caved in.
"There were more people at that game, I think, then, like, the Journey concert," said Farmer with a laugh.
For the record, both Farmer and Kravec considered themselves more rock and roll aficionados at the time. And with Bill Veeck at the helm, the players always were ready for just about everything.
A belly dancer performed at one game, by Kravec's recollection. Farmer told the story of the late Herve Villechaize, who played Tattoo on the popular ABC show Fantasy Island, dressing in the White Sox clubhouse.
"Frankenstein was there one night," Farmer said.
Never, though, did anyone directly involved or watching this event unfold on the fringe have an idea Disco Demolition would become a part of Chicago and baseball lore. Thirty years later, it's still a conversation-starter.
"Nothing close to that," said Kravec, when asked if he had ever been involved in something like Disco Demolition after that July evening. "I never went on the field to see the extent of it. It wasn't until the next day when I saw the field all torn up that you realized how bad it was."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.