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Sports Authority

Kramer: Find yourself a beloved independent team

| Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Buried in a widely overlooked corner of the St. Paul skyline, the unlikeliest of celebrations resounded throughout the busy downtown streets.

Over 7,000 fans flooded the scene to rest their gazes on the shimmering lights that painted the St. Paul Saints’ beloved home field. A massive disco ball — the largest ever constructed — hovered aimlessly above the right field grass with a celestial gleam, twirling to the beat of countless dancers in the stands. After a brief set of Donna Summers covers, the outfield gates creaked open, spilling the eager mass of wigs, metallics and screams of ”Do The Hustle!” onto the dark field.

The day? June 29, 2019. The occasion? A commemoration of perhaps the most infamous night in baseball history: Disco Demolition Night.

A part-owner of the Saints, Mike Veeck, experienced similar antics in Comiskey Park decades prior. As the White Sox’s promotional director, Veeck orchestrated a catastrophically brilliant campaign for a twi-night doubleheader in Chicago, one that resulted in the third (and last) forfeiture in league history.

Amidst various anti-disco protests across America in 1979, Veeck teamed up with his father and team owner, Bill, to build a massive apparatus in Comiskey’s outfield grass. Charging a meager admission of 98 cents for any fan with a disco record, the promotional team collected the donated vinyl, rigged it with explosives and prepared to ignite the new, atrocious music genre between games. Curious fans, more than 15,000 above stadium capacity, flocked to the outfield bleachers.

At detonation, the explosion enveloped the rig with an uncontrollable blaze, leaving a gaping hole in the outfield grass. The Comiskey commotion reached its brink as a wild influx of fans overwhelmed security personnel guarding the gates. Fans jumped fences, climbed foul poles and utterly dismantled team equipment.

Most of the troublemakers never cared about the doubleheader. These fans were fans of chaos.

With Comiskey Park in shambles, the American League president forced the much-needed forfeiture. Some outraged Americans condemned the demonstration as a statement of oppression. Traditional fans lamented the defiled state of America’s pastime.

Perhaps very few spectators will remember the score, slash lines or highlights of the nine innings that came before Disco Demolition Night. Perhaps the narrative of sports history will neglect the (quite unimpressive) 1979 White Sox season altogether. But the disastrous artistry of the promotion inspired an overhaul of the stadium experience that unforgettably and undeniably revolutionized the game at all levels.

Since its inception, the St. Paul Saints organization has championed this innovative spirit with open arms. As part-owner, Mike Veeck instills an infectiously entertaining ethos of sports marketing in the Twin Cities, one that permeates lower levels of professional sports today.

Independent leagues across America offer ingenious and elaborate promotional events as a substantial competitive advantage in an already competitive market. A niche demographic of fans fill small stadiums for a chance to share in the slice of life that erupted in 1979. Unaffiliated teams possess the necessary leverage to amplify the ballpark experience as they see fit. For fans truly hoping to immerse themselves in the game, find yourself a local independent program and bleed their colors.

Nearly 40 years later, Bill Veeck made amends for Disco Demolition Night via informal apology in St. Paul. Despite his hatred for KC and the Sunshine Band, his eyes shone as he dropped the mic near the pitcher’s mound and kickstarted the celebration.

Where else might you uncover the next unforgettable story in American sport?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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