Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Was There for One of Them

My fellow contributors often write about games they have attended. Well, I was at one of the strangest ever. In the past forty years there have been only five forfeits in Major League Baseball and game two of a scheduled doubleheader on July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park was one of 'em.

In early July of that year a friend and I decided to go to Chicago to see some ballgames (and eat 32-ounce steaks and visit the Playboy Club.) Luckily, the White Sox were playing a doubleheader. This was before the owners got greedy and started kicking everybody out and charging again for the second game of a 'twi-night' double header.

Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way into Chicago we stopped at a gas station for a map and a cold drink. The attendant looked at us like we were from Mars. What we soon realized was that we had stopped in the South Side of Chicago - where white people did not go.

The night of the White Sox vs. Tigers doubleheader was perfect. When we got to Comiskey a young boy came up to us as we parked and asked if we wanted him to 'watch our car'. He said he'd keep people from vandalizing it. We gave him the $5 figuring if we didn't, he'd vandalize it himself. We were excited to find our seats, which were in the first row behind the box seats and right near home plate.

But it was Disco Demolition Night at the park. Disco was dead and the Sox's marketing director Mike Veeck, son of the legendary Bill Veeck as in 'wreck', and Steve Dahl, WLUP's new rock jock DJ, had cleverly planned to set up a booth between games so Dahl could blow up disco records. Fans got in for 98 (the station's spot on the FM dial) cents - if they brought a disco record. What a brilliant promotion! Really? Had anyone thought this out?

The White Sox management had apparently deemed it unnecessary to hire any more security than their usual pimple-faced college boys and cute little 18-year old co-eds. And who showed up? Rockers by the thousands, mostly with mickies or joints in their pockets. Having no real interest in what was happening on the field, many of the attendees who had never been to a ballgame in their lives left their seats and started wandering. We almost got into several fights telling people not to walk in front of us during pitches.

It got worse. "Fans" in the outfield hung signs and sheets, most of which read "Disco Sucks", over the outfield fences and the PA announcer had to keep telling them to remove them because they distracted the batters. Then some of the 'fans' realized that their records, especially LP's, made perfect frisbees and they started firing them onto the field. Several lodged in the turf close to players and umpires. Just as it started getting really dangerous the first game ended. Phew! What a relief.

Out came the crew to set up the demolition booth. Steve Dahl and his gang came out and blew the records to smithereens. But instead of a cleanup crew as had been planned, several thousand drunken disco haters, some who had paid to get in and others who had jumped a fence, surged onto the field. After a few minutes there was one small fire in the outfield and both foul poles were on fire! Hoodlums stole the bases, knocked over a batting cage and tried to get into the Chisox dugout to steal bats. Harry Carey, the beloved radio voice of the White Sox, pleaded with the hoodlums to get off the field and was completely ignored.

Finally, after 45 minutes of fun - and repeated warnings - most of the high or drunken rioters staggered off the field. Only a handful remained, stumbling around and laughing their heads off. Then the bullpen gate opened. But the relief that was on its way was not Ed Farmer, the Sox closer. It was several huge, mean, angry Chicago riot police, pulling dogs and carrying big nightsticks. They methodically moved among the rockers and clubbed them viciously in the backs of their legs. The 'youngsters' fell helpless to the ground and were unceremoniously hauled off the field to the cheers of the real ball fans like us.

Out came Sparky Anderson, the Tigers' manager to hand in his lineup card. He looked around, knowing what had transpired. "Gentlemen," he told the umpires, "you have yourselves an unplayable field. This is a forfeit." And it was. We never got to see game two and we hadn't seen much of game one either. But it was quite a night.

For video of the riot go to...

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

Great moments in baseball indeed! Thanks for writing this one up, Will.