Tuesday, September 3, 2013

July 12- Chicago White Sox

It’s been a while since I’ve kicked off a post with providing a soundtrack for the reader. And for with that, I can’t think of anything more fitting than this.

Now, for those of you who don’t really know music the first question floating around your head is probably something around the lines of, “Hey Ben, what does Detroit and rocking have to do with the Chicago White Sox?” Well, good question. I assure you that this question will be answered several times throughout this post. But first, here’s a little bit of a back-story about the hat. For some weird reason this is not only one of my favorite White Sox caps in their history, it’s also one of my favorite Major League Baseball caps of all time. I’ve never felt that getting flashy with a logo or color scheme has helped with an overall look of a cap, sometimes less is more. The White Sox introduced this cap at the start of the 1976 season in honor of the United States’ bicentennial. A number of teams throughout the league actually did this for only one season, and in most cases those caps have become extremely difficult to find. The most difficult of the bunch being the umpires cap in which I’ve only known of one person to have it in their possession.

This particular White Sox cap was used for all home games and a few road games in 1976 as there was a similar cap with white panels and a navy blue “SOX” used for most road games. This cap is yet another difficult one to track down. After the ’76 season the White Sox used this cap for every game from 1977 through the end of the 1981 season, and upgraded to another amazing cap in 1982. One thing to keep in mind is that it was the ’76 White Sox who were forced to wear this hideous uniform below for three games throughout the season.

There are very few writers who DON’T have this uniform listed as one of the 10 worst of all-time. I definitely have it listed in permanent ink at #2. Needless to say it was one of then-owner Bill Veeck’s ideas that went bust.

7/12/79- Speaking of Veeck, remember that time a full-scale riot almost broke out at a White Sox game back on July 12, 1979? If you don’t, you’re in for a treat.

For those of you who weren’t alive during the 1970s, myself included, it’s hard to argue that disco reined supreme on the airwaves in the latter part of the decade. The film Saturday Night Fever catapulted a "relatively-unknown" (sarcasm) pop group named the Bee Gees into superstardom after they recorded most of the songs that helped fuel the soundtrack and the story for the film. As it stands now, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is still, not only the best-selling soundtrack of all-time, but the fifth best-selling album of all-time. Disco had been pumping over the airwaves and in disco halls for a few years leading up to the successful film; however, Saturday Night Fever and its soundtrack are what put the genre on the map. Nobody was more incensed by this fad as much as Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl.

In 1978, New York's WKTU-FM, a low-rated rock station, switched to disco and became the most popular station in the country; other stations sought to emulate its success. In Chicago, 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 Dahl in 1979, the Cohos were locked in a war "dedicated to the eradication of the dread musical disease known as DISCO". For months Dahl promoted a number of anti-disco public events, several of which became unruly. When a discotheque in Linwood, Indiana, switched from disco to rock in June, Dahl showed up, as did several thousand Cohos, and the police had to be called. Later that month, Dahl and several thousand Cohos occupied a teen disco in the Chicago suburbs. At the end of June, Dahl urged his listeners to throw marshmallows at a WDAI promotional van, which was at a shopping mall where a teen disco had been built. The Cohos chased the van and driver and cornered them in a nearby park, though the situation ended without violence. On July 1, a near-riot occurred in Hanover Park, Illinois, when hundreds of Cohos could not enter a sold-out promotional event, and fights broke out. Some 50 police officers were needed to control the situation. When disco star Van McCoy died suddenly on July 6, Dahl marked the occasion by destroying one of his records, "The Hustle", on the air.

Dahl and Meier regularly mocked disco records on the radio. Dahl also recorded his own parody: "Do You Think I'm Disco?” a satire of Rod Stewart's disco-oriented hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?". This parody song presented discotheques as populated by effeminate men and frigid women. The lead character, named Tony like Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever, is unable to attract a woman until he abandons the disco scene, selling his three-piece white suit at a garage sale and melting down his gold chains for a Led Zeppelin belt buckle.

A number of anti-disco incidents took place elsewhere in the first half of 1979: "the Disco Demolition was not an isolated incident or an aberration". In Seattle, hundreds of rock fans attacked a mobile dance floor, while in Portland, Oregon, a disc jockey destroyed a stack of disco records with a chainsaw as thousands looked on and cheered. In New York, a rock deejay played Donna Summer’s sexualized disco hit, "Hot Stuff"; he was protested by his listeners. But all of these events paled in comparison to what Dahl cooked up in July of 1979.

In the weeks prior to Disco Demolition Night Dahl invited his listeners to bring records they wanted to see destroyed to Comiskey Park. For a while he feared that the promotion would fail to draw people to the ballpark, and that he would be humiliated. The previous night's attendance had been 15,520, and Comiskey Park had a capacity of 44,492. The White Sox were not having a good year, and were 40–46 going into the July 12 doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. Detroit, see where this is going? The White Sox and WLUP hoped for a crowd of 20,000. Mike Veeck, the son of Bill, hired enough security for 35,000 just in case. The stipulation for the night’s events was that if you brought a disco record you could get into Comiskey Park for 98 cents.

Owner Bill Veeck was concerned the promotion might turn into a disaster and checked himself out of the hospital, where he had been undergoing tests. The elder Veeck's fears were substantiated when he saw the people walking towards the ballpark that afternoon; many carried signs that described disco in profane terms. The doubleheader sold out, leaving at least 20,000 people outside the ballpark. Some were not content to remain there, leaping turnstiles, climbing fences, and entering through open windows. It was like the first day of Woodstock, except if you can only imagine all of the peaceful hippies as bloodthirsty, disco-hating hooligans. The attendance was officially announced as 47,795; however, nearly all observers believed the crowd was far larger than that. Mike Veeck believed the actual attendance was closer to 60,000. Bill Veeck estimated that there were anywhere from 50,000 to 55,000 in the park, easily the largest of his second stint as White Sox owner. Others estimate the crowd was as large as 90,000. Whatever the case, the crowd was well over capacity, prompting the Chicago Police Department to close off-ramps from the Dan Ryan Expressway near the stadium. Attendees were supposed to deposit their records into a large box, but once it filled many of the patrons held onto their records which would later turn out to be equally as disastrous.

The first game was to begin at 6 pm, with the second game to follow. Lorelei, a model who did public appearances for WLUP and who was very popular in Chicago that summer for her sexually-provocative poses in the station's advertisements, threw out the first pitch. As the first game began, Mike Veeck got word that thousands of people were trying to get into the park without tickets. He sent his security personnel to the stadium gates to keep the would-be gate crashers at bay. This left the field unattended, and fans began throwing the uncollected disco LPs and singles from the stands. 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." Attendees also threw firecrackers, empty liquor bottles, and lighters onto the field. The game was stopped several times because of the rain of foreign objects. Dozens of hand-painted banners with such legends as "Disco sucks" were hung from the ballpark's seating decks.

White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray could see groups of people, who were clearly music rather than baseball fans, wandering through the stadium. Others sat intently in their seats, awaiting the explosion which was set to take place in between the games. Mike Veeck later remembered an odor of marijuana in the grandstand and said of the attendees, "This is the Woodstock they never had." The stench permeated the press box, which both Caray and his broadcast partner, Jimmy Piersall, commented on over the air. The crowds outside the stadium threw records as well, or gathered them together and burned them in bonfires. Detroit won the first game, 4–1. I’m pretty sure the feeling by both teams at this point was mutual, “We have to play another game!?”

The first game ended at 8:16 pm; at 8:40 Dahl, dressed in army fatigues and a helmet, emerged onto the playing surface together with Meier and Lorelei.

They proceeded to center field where the vinyl-filled box awaited, though they first did a lap of the field in a Jeep, showered by his troops with firecrackers and beer. The large box containing the collected records had been rigged with explosives. Dahl and Meier warmed up the crowd, leading attendees in a chant of "disco sucks". Lorelei recalled that the view from center field was surreal. On the mound, White Sox pitcher Ken Kravec, scheduled to start the second game, began to warm up. Other White Sox, in the dugout and wearing batting helmets, looked out upon the scene. Fans who felt events were getting out of control and who wished to leave the ballpark had difficulty in doing so; in an effort to deny the intruders entry, security had padlocked all but one gate. Oops!

Dahl told the crowd, “This is now officially the world's largest anti-disco rally! Now listen—we took all the disco records you brought tonight, we got 'em in a giant box, and we're gonna blow 'em up reeeeeeal goooood.”

Dahl set off the explosives, destroying the records and tearing a large hole in the outfield grass.

It was right about here.

No… actually it was right here.

With most of the security personnel still watching the gates per Mike Veeck's orders, there was almost no one guarding the playing surface. Immediately, the first of what would be thousands of attendees rushed onto the field, causing Kravec to flee the mound and join his teammates in a barricaded clubhouse. You can see that here. Between 5,000 and 7,000 people are estimated to have taken the field. Some climbed the foul poles; others set records on fire, or ripped up the grass. The batting cage was destroyed; the bases were pulled up and stolen. Among those taking the field was 21-year-old aspiring actor Michael Clarke Duncan: during the melee, Duncan slid into third base, had a silver belt buckle stolen, and went home with a bat from the dugout. What’s actually a really interesting tidbit about Duncan is that on the day he passed away, September 3, 2012, that was actually the first day I ever attended a game at US Cellular field. I’ll get to that post in a month of so.

Bill Veeck stood with a microphone near where home plate had been, begging people to return to the stands, a bonfire raged in center field.

Years later, Lorelei remembered that she had been waving to the crowd when she was grabbed by two of the bodyguards who had accompanied the Jeep and placed back in the vehicle. The party was unable to return to home plate because of the rowdy fans, so the Jeep was driven out of the stadium and through the surrounding streets, to the delight of the many Cohos outside the stadium who recognized the occupants. They were driven to the front of the stadium, ushered back inside, and taken up to the press room where they had spent most of the first game.

Caray unsuccessfully attempted to restore order via the public address system. The scoreboard, flashing "PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR SEATS", was ignored as was the playing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". Some of the attendees were dancing in circles around the burning vinyl shards. Dahl offered his help in getting the rowdy fans to leave, but it was declined.

At 9:08 pm, Chicago police in full riot gear arrived to the applause of the baseball fans in the stands. Those on the field hastily dispersed upon seeing the police. Thirty-nine people were arrested for disorderly conduct; estimates of injuries to those at the event range from none to over thirty. Bill Veeck wanted the teams to play the second game once order was restored. However, the field was so badly torn up that umpiring crew chief Dave Phillips felt that the field was still unplayable even after White Sox groundskeepers spent an hour clearing away debris. Tigers' manager Sparky Anderson let it be known that he would not allow his players to take the field in any event due to safety concerns. Phillips called American League president Lee MacPhail, who postponed the second game to Sunday after hearing a report on conditions. Anderson, however, demanded that the game be forfeited to the Tigers. He argued that under baseball's rules, a game can only be postponed due to an act of God, and that, as the home team, the White Sox were responsible for field conditions. The next day, largely upholding Anderson's arguments, MacPhail forfeited the second game to the Tigers 9–0, holding that the White Sox had failed to provide acceptable playing conditions. All of the ridiculousness of that night from start-to-finish can be seen here.

The morning after, Dahl began his regular broadcast by reading the indignant headlines in the local papers. He mocked the coverage, "I think for the most part everything was wonderful. Some maniac Cohos got wild and went down on the field. Which you shouldn't have done. Bad little Cohos." Tigers manager Anderson stated of the events, "Beer and baseball go together, they have for years. But I think those kids were doing things other than beer." Columnist David Israel of the Chicago Tribune commented on the day after that he was not surprised by what had occurred, "It would have happened any place 50,000 teenagers got together on a sultry summer night with beer and reefer." White Sox pitcher Rich Wortham, a Texan, suggested, "This wouldn't have happened if they had country and western night."

Although Bill Veeck took much of the public criticism for the fiasco, his son Mike suffered repercussions as the actual front-office promoter behind it. Mike Veeck remained with the White Sox until late 1980, when he resigned; his father sold the team to Jerry Reinsdorf soon afterward. He was unable to find a job in baseball for several years, leading him to claim that he had been blackballed from the game. For several years, he worked for a while for a jai-alai fronton in Florida, battling alcoholism. As Mike Veeck related, "The second that first guy shimmied down the outfield wall, I knew my life was over!" Mike Veeck has since become a successful owner of minor league baseball teams. Steve Dahl remained a disc jockey and radio personality in Chicago until 2008; he has continued to reach his listeners through podcasting.

The unplayed second game remains the last American League game to be forfeited. The last National League game to be forfeited was on August 10, 1995, when a baseball giveaway promotion at Dodger Stadium went awry, forcing the Los Angeles Dodgers to concede the game to the St. Louis Cardinals. According to baseball analyst Jeremiah Graves, "To this day Disco Demolition Night stands in infamy as one of the most ill-advised promotions of all-time, but arguably one of the most successful as 30 years later we’re all still talking about it."

My last thoughts on the matter revolve around the song I linked above, “Detroit Rock City” by KISS. I’ve seen a lot of movies in my lifetime, as a major in film studies for a bit during my time at the University of Oregon I kind of had to. One of my guilty pleasure films just happens to be Detroit Rock City, the story of four kids who will do whatever it takes to see their favorite band, KISS,  live at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

1. Because the movie is pretty funny.

2. Because I'm actually a huge KISS fan.

The battle between rock and disco is a prevalent theme throughout the film, but in the end the message is pretty loud and clear, “rock will never die.” In the case of the Disco Demolition Night incident Dahl later admitted in an interview in 2004 that disco was on its way out, but Disco Demolition Night helped usher in its demise a little bit quicker. In the case of the song it’s hard to deny that all who took to the field were avid rock and roll fans, but at the end of the festivities, it was Detroit who gained the most by winning two games in one day, but for only having to play one. In the end, Detroit rocks!


  1. Hey Ben, I enjoy your blog. Really interesting stuff. It's nice to know there are people just as nuts about hats as myself. Impressive collection. I'm waiting patiently to get my hands on a '98 brewers cap and hopefully the larger Chief Wahoo road cap again. I've worn both of them down to the bone and they have special significance to moments in my life. I'm glad someone can relate to the symbolism involved. It makes sense to me at least. Anyway, keep up the good work, buddy.

    1. Thank you very much! Just out of curiosity, what size are you looking for in the 1998 Brewers cap? I wear a 7 3/8 and still have a brand new on with the tags in case you're interested. Like yourself, I have one from the original season that's still in wearable condition.

      As for the Chief Wahoo cap, I assume you mean the all-blue large headed cap. If that's the case, Ebay always has them.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Great blog.
    This White Sox cap is my favorite cap of all time. I have four of them (three Roman Pro and one Cooperstown Ball Cap Co.) as well as three of the '76 white cap (two Roman Pro and one New Era). I was a teen living in Chicago at the time of Disco Demolition, and a fan of Steve Dahl. I watched Game One against Detroit and the aftermath between games. I have a videotape of the news coverage, too. What a crazy night. I remember wishing I went to the game. Today I'm kicking myself for not going.

    About 10 days after Disco Demolition, Comiskey Park hosted the Day in the Park concert, featuring Molly Hatchet, Eddie Money, Santana, Thin Lizzy and Journey. Great lineup, definitely better than the Sox lineup in 1979. The field was so beat up after Disco Demolition, and you could forget it after Day in the Park.

    Thanks for the memories.

    1. Thank you very much for the awesome feedback. On my short list of places and times I'd visit if I had a time machine, Disco Demolition Night is very high on the list. Hell, I'd have to hang around for a bit longer to catch that concert as well. I'm a huge Thin Lizzy fan.

      Comments like yours are why I do this. I appreciate it very much. Also, I'm incredibly jealous that you have the white version of this cap. Been looking for it and the red-billed version everywhere.

    2. I'm not familiar with the red-billed version.
      I got the New Era white cap online last year at a place near Comiskey Park. Looks like they still have it: https://grandstandsox.com/shop/white-sox-1977-1980-alternate-hat-p-419.html?zenid=21097494ad455f2aadbef675e3c0ff0a

  3. Hi there, great post.

    This hat is very special to me because it's the reason I became a White Sox fan wayyyy back in the early 80s. I was a little kid back then, living in Hamilton Ontario. Baseball cards and sticker books were the only means I had of seeing what major league teams looked like. Newspapers were still mostly black and white then. (Man I feel old writing this!)

    Anyway, as I was collecting cards and stickers, these Chicago White Sox uniforms always stood out. The navy blue and white colours looked nice. I liked the old fashioned "CHICAGO" script on the front. I didn't mind the big floppy collars because every shirt looked like that at the time. Best of all were these "SOX" hats with the cool squared lettering. I loved those hats. And so, another lifelong White Sox fan was born.

    Never got to see Old Comiskey, but I still love this hat and wear it a lot.