Front-office promoter Mike Veeck’s big idea, Disco Demolition Night, was perfect in theory. Guests would come to Comiskey Park on June 12th, 1979, when his father Bill Veeck’s team the Chicago White Sox would be playing a doubleheader, and pay only 98 cents per ticket if they also turned in a disco record. At the end of the first game, the records would be piled in center field and then blown to smithereens. Who wouldn’t want to see that?
No one, it turned out. Mike had hoped that his promotion would boost attendance from 20,000 to 25,000. Instead more than 50,000 people heaped themselves in and around the stadium, all eager to bid farewell to a dark era of music history in the most American fashion possible. Security was inadequate to deal with the horde, and the basemen had to wear their batting helmets for fear of flying LPs and liquor bottles.
At 8:40pm local shock jock Dave Dahl circled the field in a jeep, showered by beer and firecrackers, and led the crowd in a rousing chant of “disco sucks.” Then he set off the bomb, destroying untold poundage of ABBA and Bee Gees and a large chunk of the field in the process. The crowd, riled into a frenzy by so breathtaking a display, promptly stormed the field to destroy it. Only a police squad in riot gear would disperse them half an hour later.
Mike succeeded in pulling in a crowd. It was just the wrong kind of crowd. His father graciously absorbed much of the public criticism, but Mike felt compelled to resign the following year. He licked his wounds for a while in Florida where he worked at a jai-alai fronton, supposing that he would never work in Major League Baseball again. And he was right, but you can’t keep a good dog down. Mike became the principal owner of the St. Paul Saints in 1993, where a promotional genius could enjoy a little more creative freedom — as well as the kind of local population that would never think to throw liquor bottles.
Right away, Mike identified the pig as the superior animal to bring balls to the umpire. Two announcers instead of one would pepper the crowd with impromptu repartee. Whereas most teams get by with a single mascot, the Saints would have Mudonna, Sister Roz, Al Aboard, Miss Adventure, Pig’s Eye Pete, a French chef for good measure, and even more colorful characters to ramp up the enthusiasm. Mike’s creative team has devised stadium-wide popcorn fights, zombie brain eating contests, and the world’s largest game of Twister, and in the summer of 2007 they gave away Larry Craig airport bathroom bobbleheads to everyone in attendance.
They even play baseball there.
“When I first started out, I thought that maybe the entertainment team was just a necessary annoyance to the players,” said Saints on-field correspondent Brian Kelly. “But by the end of the season, a few of the players had cornered me and talked on and on about how much they appreciate what we do. From that point on, I saw it as more of a symbiotic relationship. When our guys are losing, we’re keeping the crowd cheering for them. And when they’re winning, we’re helping the crowd to send them the energy they need to stay that way.
“The entire Saints staff comes up with the themes for our 50 home games, and we and have live entertainment during every half inning of them. We have superhero nights and Star Wars nights every year. When it was the 25th anniversary of Top Gun, we gave away aviators. When we found out the Minnesota Atheists were coming one night, we put on an atheist race with no finish line. And more often than not, there’s a door prize. We get to do all of this because we love it, not because we have to. If you want to see a ball game with someone who doesn’t like baseball, they’re going to love the Saints.”
At the time of writing, the name of the new ball pig has not yet been announced. Beyond that, there is only certainty that the real fun will be at CHS Field this 2020 season. Please visit saintsbaseball.com to learn more about the most explosive show in town.
By David Scheller