Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bright White Sox

In July 1979, a Chicago radio disc jockey hatched a plan he hoped would increase his national profile, step up his ratings, and maybe sell a few thousand tickets for the White Sox.
In between games of a doubleheader against Detroit, he would set fire to a bunch of disco records piled up in center field to the delight of Southsiders who embraced the "disco sucks" movement.
Of course, the idea was brilliant to Bill Veeck, then the owner of the White Sox, who was always looking for attention-grabbing ways to raise attendance figures. At the time, the White Sox were in a several-decade slump, 20 years removed from their last pennant.
The idea worked way too well. Drunk and riled by the incendiary nature of the stunt, which included destroying disco records with fireworks, the fans started to riot. They stormed the field, tearing up grass and dirt. Police couldn't restore order, and eventually, the American League president's office ordered Chicago to forfeit the second game. Veeck made the announcement to the crowd from the field.
The incident became known as "disco demolition night," and it was the punchline that defined the White Sox for years.
Not that the White Sox were completely inept. They fielded their share of fine players in the 26 years since. Notables such as Harold Baines, Sammy Sosa, Lance Johnson, Jack McDowell, Carlton Fisk, Alex Fernandez and Wilson Alvarez spent some or most of their careers in Chicago.
McDowell won a Cy Young Award in 1993. Bobby Thigpen set an American League record with 51 saves in 1990. Tony La Russa got his managerial start with the White Sox, leading them to a division title in 1983.
But all the small victories did not completely erase disco demolition night from the face of the franchise. The White Sox were still the less-appealing, working-class alternative to Chicago's beloved Cubs. While the Cubs routinely pack Wrigley Field, the White Sox struggle to draw half-capacity crowds to the South Side.
As such, it probably shouldn't surprise anybody that a group of baseball yeomen brought the White Sox their first title since 1917 Wednesday night.
Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, David Wells and Bartolo Colon didn't bury disco demolition night once and for all. It was Aaron "That dude in center field" Rowand, Juan "How do you say his last name?" Uribe, Scott "How do you spell his last name?" Podsednik, and Jermaine "That guy who used to play for the Braves" Dye.
The White Sox played the last three weeks like a team that has had to work for everything they have. They took nothing for granted, treated every aspect of the game like it was the most important, and never lost focus.
It is true they had a lot of questionable calls form umpires to aid them. It is also true that they had to take advantage of those calls with clutch hits.
The White Sox ended the season winning 16 of 17 games, including an 11-1 record in the postseason. To put that in perspective, the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 regular season games, a World Series, and were arguably the best single-season team in baseball history, went 11-2 in the playoffs.
Which reminds me -- the following trivia question could earn you some cash in the future: Who is the only pitcher to beat the White Sox in the 2005 postseason?
The baseball gods are apparently in a curse-purging mood right now. The titles of the White Sox this year and Red Sox last year now leave the Cubs (1908), Indians (1948) and Giants (1954) with the longest title droughts.
So, as fan interested in ending his own Cleveland suffering, do the baseball gods need their lawns mowed? Windows washed? What typed of baked goods do they like?

3 comments:

Abrasivist said...

What delicious irony for a Clevelander to bring up "Disco Demolition Night" without mentioning their own notorious "nickel beer night". Pass me an Old Style and a helping of those sour grapes please.

Erik said...

What sour grapes? Did you notice I mentioned that the World Series trumps disco demolition once and for all?
If I really had a case of sour grapes, I'd be playing up disco demolition as something the White Sox can never live down, regardless of titles.
It's really a laudatory piece I wrote.
Trust me, compared to my reaction when Boston won the Series last year, I am downright giddy that the White Sox won.

(A side note on nickel beer night. It had just as many drunk, slovenly fans and was nearly the embarrassment that disco demolition was, but it had one highly-combustable ingredient that disco demolition didn't: Billy Martin.)

Abrasivist said...

My comment not meant to make you angry, but to create conversation which it did.

Truthfully, I don't know many of the details of nickel beer night. Did Billy Martin really ignite that somehow?

Please post your detailed memory of the scene or suggest a link where I can fill myself in.