Time has come to vote for ballpark organist

Dan Rodricks

April 22, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

It's time for a show of hands on whether the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards should have a real, live organist playing campy ballpark music.

To all those people who have said "Right on" to the idea since it was proffered in this column a couple of weeks ago, I say what Freddie Graziaplena, the walk-around whiz of Highlandtown, used to say to his friends and neighbors on Election Day: "I need you now!"

If you really want it to happen, then do something about it. Go to the phone. Sit down and write a letter.

I'm not going to pursue this on my own.

No way.

Don't ask me to be the lone man defending organ music, though so far I don't think I am. I've heard a lot of people say they think old-time organ music would complete the revivalist formula for this new old-fashioned ballpark at Camden Yards.

But you've got to do something about it. If I don't hear from the supporters, I'm dropping this issue, and the organ lobby will have to get another boy. So far, the only other person who has made a public statement on this question is Phil Jackman, veteran Evening Sun sports columnist.

He, of course, said he didn't like the idea. In my book, that's all the more reason to pursue it.

If Jackman doesn't like it, there must be something inherently good about it.

Of course, this is not the most important question of the day.

Other questions -- such as "Do Little Italy restaurants put too much iceberg lettuce in salads?" and "The Beltway: inner loop or outer loop?" -- are more pressing. That's why I'm going to drop it unless others sign on for this crusade.

Even if you don't like organ music, consider this an Oriole Management Arrogance Test. Here's an opportunity to determine whether the people who run the home team actually have an ear for the vox populi.

What does it take to make them do something -- in this case, hire an organist -- strictly on the say-so of the people who buy the tickets. We might not have had a vote on whether to build a new hTC stadium in downtown Baltimore -- the attempt at referendum was killed in the courts a few years ago, you might recall -- but here's a chance for fans of Oriole baseball to be heard. If you can't persuade John Oates to make Sam Horn the leadoff hitter, maybe you can persuade Eli Jacobs to hire an organist.

I know detractors of organ music are many. But before you dismiss the idea entirely, remember organ music is a grand old tradition in major league baseball. It's an element of the game that baseball's revisionists could easily discard unless the game's preservationists save it.

Just last year, Tiger Stadium in Detroit dropped its organist for what a team spokesman described as "a more contemporary sound," which is what we have in Baltimore -- loud pop rock music channeled through 1,000 speakers at Oriole Park.

Rock music might be aesthetically one with the Skydome in Toronto or the Kingdome in Seattle. But it's an aural contradiction at Oriole Park.

If the aesthetic police are so keen on reviving baseball traditions in Oriole Park, that mission is incomplete without the proper sound, and the proper sound must include an organist playing ditties on the keyboard, at least a few times each game.

Come on. Get with it. Lighten up.

If we're going to compare Oriole Park to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, fine. Everyone has done it. But those two major league parks, along with 12 others, still have real, live organists. Some of them are legends. In Boston, Jim Kilroy replaced the legendary John Kiley, who played "The Night They Invented Champagne," among other tunes, when the Red Sox clinched the pennant in '67. Nancy Faust is a celebrity in Chicago, playing for years for the White Sox. Gary Pressey plays for the Cubs. Ed Layton is in his 42d season at Yankee Stadium.

Don't get the idea that organists play only in the older stadiums. The Astrodome, for cryin' out loud, still keeps an organist in the house. In fact, the Astros have two musical accompanists -- Tiny Skaggs and Brian Campbell. Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia has Paul Richardson. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati both have organists.

As a matter of fact, you can hear an organist at all but two of the National League parks. Just this season, the San Francisco Giants hired Dieter Ruehle to play at Candlestick, with hope of reviving a classic element of the national pastime. So don't try to say organ music is passe. Even the Dodgers, who play in La-La Land, keep Nancy Hesley at the keyboard, so how uncool can it be?

It's up to you, sports fans. The effort is going to either come to life or die right here. Oriole Park is wonderful, but the art director left something out, and this is it.

Of course, you might have a lot of other gripes with the place. If you're a season ticket-holder, you might not be happy with your new seat assignments. If you sit in the lower boxes down the left-field line, you might think the ballpark designers really blew it, aiming all the seats toward center field. I heard a guy say he thinks the lighting in the ballpark is inadequate. Dozens of people complained about the way the Orioles handled ticket sales going into the new place. You might think the name is too long, too.

Listen, you can't do anything about any of that. But you probably have a shot at getting organ music, even if you don't like it that much, which is the beauty of the thing.

So let me be the first to cast a vote in favor of an organist at Oriole Park. I figure as long as the organist is prohibited, by contract, from playing "Spanish Eyes" or anything by Barry Manilow, we'll be OK.

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