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White Sox, 1980

July 10, 2009

White Sox 80

The word suck, used as a disparagement, used to really have some heft to it. I don’t have a dictionary handy that’s any older than my 2003 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), but I would guess that at a certain point the definition of this sense of the word carried the “usually considered vulgar” tag line. That tag line no longer accompanies the current definition: “to be objectionable or inadequate.” Gone is the implied direct object, a word also ending in the hard “ck” sound that is the unchallenged superstar of vulgarity phonetics. Gone, then, is another little piece of my childhood.

Not that I understood that there was such an implied direct object connected to the word back in the late 1970s when I was a kid. But I knew the word suck meant something beyond just what you did with a straw. For example, though my Free to Be You and Me house was far from being a place where someone who loosed an occasional obscenity would get his mouth washed out with soap, my mom refused to let me buy the article of clothing I most coveted in the world: a pinstriped T-shirt with the word “Yankees” across the chest and below that word, as if scrawled in red spray paint: “SUCK!” It was still a somewhat shocking word, especially to see on a T-shirt, especially if that T-shirt was going to be on your own son. If only I had been a little older, like these guys (scroll down to see the second picture on the page), I would have had the autonomy to express my feelings to the world about what did and did not suck.

Anyway, the word suck had its biggest day thirty years ago Sunday, when it featured heavily in chants from the packed stands throughout the first game of a doubleheader involving some of the fellows seated in the picture shown in this 1980 team card (the obscure figure in the upper right hand corner inset was not on the scene thirty years ago Sunday but was promoted from the club’s triple A managing job a couple weeks later after player/manager Don Kessinger was fired).

I’ve taken a stab at describing the events before on this site, noting Fred Howard’s place in the proceedings, but if anything’s worth more than one look, it’s Disco Demolition Night.

Craig Calcaterra has a great take on it that links to a recent Chicago Tribune column by the event’s central figure, disc jockey Steve Dahl.

Also worth a look is the Baseball Think Factory discussion growing out of the link to Calcaterra’s piece.

The Chicago-based novelist Brian Costello also paints the scene while directing readers to an exhibit of photos from the night the records exploded.

And here’s an interesting consideration of the possible undercurrents of an event featuring a stadium full of white people chanting about something they hate.

Finally, some local news coverage from that night (featuring a young Greg Gumbel, a brief cameo by Gene Siskel, and a lot of shirtless longhaired yahoos):

11 comments

  1. I thought some disco was cool and some was lame. I don’t think it deserved the public backlash though. Honestly, if I had to pick a musical genre that needs similar treatment . . . it’s country. Man that stuff SUQKS! It actually hurts my hair . . .


  2. What year was that White Sox game? Was it before or after the Pirates “We are Family” WS win? They seem closely related, no . . . what came first?


  3. Those White Sox unis are classic. Ugly, but I do love that wide 70’s collar though. About 18 months ago I bought a few original 70’s wide collar shirts from ebay. I grew in nice long and wide Joe Pepitone-like sideburns and my girlfriend thought I went nuts. I still think it’s a cool look man . . . dig it.


  4. catfish326:
    Disco Demolition Night happened in the summer of 1979, right smack in the middle of the Pirates’ disco-fueled run to the title.


  5. I kind of forgot that La russa was already in Chicago in 1980.

    I remember those “Yankees Suck” tee shirts back in the late 70’s. You’re right Josh those were kind of controversial back then. I grew up a Mets fan but switched to the Pirates from 1979-1983 because the Mets had just become an awful a team to follow everyday and there was no way I was going to root for the Yankees.

    Most of my friends switched to from being Mets fans to Yankee fans overnight kind of the same way my entire New Jersey town switched from being a solid Democratic town to a solid Republican town.

    In hindsight I don’t really undsterstand the whole “Disco Sucks” and “Disco Demolition” movement. It’s like If you don’t want to listen to disco music just don’t liten, you don’t have to blow the records up. It’s extremely hypocritical when you think that this came from the Rock and Roll people. These people were the same people 10 years before screaming about all the Southerners buring the Beatles records.

    Take a step back and try to imagine how it would have been received if a group of black people staged a “Rock and Roll” demolition night and burned a bunch of Kansas, Boston, Styx and Meat Loaf albums.


  6. Yesterday morning on ESPN I saw footage of this event to an extent that I had never seen before. My mouth was hanging open as I watched. Truly one of the most insane spectacles I have ever witnessed, and somehow emblematic of all of the worst excesses of the 70s.


  7. Steve Dahl really must have been a dope. Disco had been over for 2 years by then. Punk was in it’s heyday (at least for me). My guess is that Dahl was playing Foreigner/Kansas/Boston type junk.


  8. You know, Josh…the faux grass (excessively green) of this picture gives the collective an other-worldly hue…It’s almost as though they were going for a Srgt Pepper’s-album-cover motif…I dunno..


  9. Good catch Slimbo, it does have a pepperesque quality to it.

    Also adding to the bizarre nature of the photo is the pajama top uniform the White Sox are wearing.

    Seriously only in the ’70’s could someone have thought that uniform was a good look for a major league team. From a distance it looks like some men’s rec. softball ball team circa 1979.


  10. I was there that night, easily the most famous–and infamous–event I have yet attended. I didn’t bring a disco record, because I had bought tickets to the game well before the doubleheader and eventual disco promotion had been announced. For the entire first (only) game, I was concerned about being hit by a record or firecracker thrown from behind me toward the field. After people first headed for the field and then filled it up, it was practically a relief, even as the batting cage was taking a beating. My friend and I got out of there quickly during the announcement of the cancellation of Game 2.

    Dahl, as I remember, had been fired (or quit) at his previous radio station which had switched to an all-disco format about six months before this. So when he landed at a rock ‘n’ roll station he pretended to “blow up” a disco record on the air. One thing led to another and the promotion was a much much bigger deal than anyone realized it was going to be.

    The Sox uniforms were designed by Bill Veeck’s wife, supposedly based on the uniforms from the early days of baseball. And the Sox games at the time were actually broadcast on a country music station (yes, on AM … that’s how long ago this was).


  11. jt60:
    Thanks for the eyewitness account!



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