Ballpark needs organ transplant

Dan Rodricks

April 10, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

I'm going to jump on the bandwagon with those who want to hear organ music at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Before you cringe, please, hear me out.

Organ music is perfect for this new ballpark with the old-time baseball aura. It looks like an old-fashioned ballpark. It smells like an old-fashioned ballpark -- even if the Esskay hot dogs I had the other night were cold and the lines for them too slow-moving. With Rex Barney's voice on the public address system and fans giving the traditional and lusty "O" during the big finish of the National Anthem, it sounds like an old-time ballpark. But an organ would provide the classic finishing touch to the aural aesthetics of our ballyhooed park.

Sure, organ music is campy where rock music is hip, but which is more conducive to baseball? There is plenty of precedent for it. At Boston's fabled Fenway, a man named John Kiley played the organ for years. He was a living legend. The joke used to be that Kiley was the only man to have played for the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, his "Doot Doot Doot" having been heard at both Fenway and Boston Garden. Kiley retired a few years ago, but the Red Sox still keep an organist in the house. His name is Jim Kilroy.

Nancy Faust played for years at Comiskey in Chicago at all the White Sox games. She used to play the "Rice-A-Roni" jingle when Boston's Jim Rice came to bat, and she popularized "Nah Nah Nah-Nah, Hey, Hey, Goodbye" as a send-off for ejected managers.

In 1980, White Sox owner Bill Veeck, the late, great P.T. Barnum of major league baseball, sponsored "Nancy Faust Music Night" at Comiskey, and thousands of fans got in at half-price for showing up with a musical instrument. They came with kazoos, tambourines, whistles and one even brought a spinet piano. In the seventh inning, the whole ballpark joined Faust in "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." I'd pay to hear a recording of that.

Vince Lascheid played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he once described the home team organist as "a necessary evil," believing firmly that the organist was the 10th man on the field, his music vital to rousing the fans at critical times when the home team needed runs.

"An organist's job is to draw the fans into the game," said Terry Martindale, who bangs an old Hammond during Skipjack hockey games at the Baltimore Arena. "And the players react to it, it gets them pumped up. And when the organist pulls fans into the game when the team needs to score, the team scores runs, and when you score runs you win games, and when you win games, you win championships."

At the Baltimore Arena, Martindale has become a fixture.

"I play the 'Mexican Hat Dance' and people clap to it. I play the Addams Family theme, and people love it. When an opposing player gets charged with a penalty, I play, 'Dum-Dee-Dum-Dum,' the 'Dragnet' theme. When the ref blows a whistle for a penalty against an opposing player, I play nya-nya music. When a puck goes sailing off the ice and into the stands, I play 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow,' and when they cut off the beer sales (in the second period), I play, 'In Heaven There Is No Beer.' I can play both the Canadian and American anthems. The organist is hockey's seventh man. I think the organist is as much a part of hockey and baseball as the bats and balls, the sticks and skates."

I would love to hear an organist sound the "Charge" at Oriole Park. (According to Robert Freeman, of the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music, the "Charge" is musically an "arpeggiated second inversion triad," and almost every sports organist knows it.)

Don't think for a moment that an organist would be a new thing at Oriole games. Just a couple of months after the Birds came to Baltimore to open the 1954 season at Memorial Stadium, the front office auditioned several organists and hired a man named Roger Hoffman to play. They removed 10 seats and set him up in the rear of the lower deck behind home plate. I don't know when organ music was last heard at the stadium, but it's too bad it ever stopped.

I say bring it back to Baltimore. Martindale says it would be "a thrill and an honor" to play at Oriole Park. But, of course, there are probably others out there who would like to give it a shot. I say let's have auditions at the ballpark before an upcoming game. The organist who plays the best "arpeggiated second inversion triad," as judged by the fans, gets the job.

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