SI Vault
Joan Ackermann-Blount
August 30, 1982
The lady would just at soon play centerfield, but when given a whack at playing the organ at Three Rivers, she gave it her all, zinging the Phillies with a diminished seventh and some minor thirds
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August 30, 1982

Really Getting Organized

The lady would just at soon play centerfield, but when given a whack at playing the organ at Three Rivers, she gave it her all, zinging the Phillies with a diminished seventh and some minor thirds

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It's a famous trivia question around Boston: Who played for the Celtics, the Bruins and the Red Sox—the same season?

Answer: Organist John Kiley.

Their names ought to be on the rosters. In the American League: Frank Charles (Milwaukee), Eddie Layton (New York), Nancy Faust (Chicago), Dick Kimball (Seattle), Ronnie Newman (Minnesota), Shay Torrent (California), John Kiley (Boston), Rick Janssen (Kansas City). In the National League: Lowery Ballew (Atlanta), Ernie Hays (St. Louis), Fernand Lapierre (Montreal), Paul Richardson (Philadelphia), Danny Topaz (San Diego), Jack Doll Jr. (Cincinnati), Don Baker (Houston), Helen Dell (Los Angeles), Vince Lascheid (Pittsburgh). To what degree these organists actually influence the outcome of a game will never be known. Their presence can be as obvious as the fireworks on the scoreboard, or as subtle as the nitrites in the hotdogs. Like players, they get fired by general managers, reprimanded by umpires and applauded by fans. One of them even got traded. When Torrent moved with his family from Chicago to Santa Barbara, Calif., he commuted by plane for three years to Chicago for each home stand. Then when the Angels were ready to switch from Dodger Stadium to Anaheim, Cedric Tallis, then vice-president of operations, got "permission" to talk to Torrent. And so he became an Angel. "I was traded," says Torrent.

Who made the most errors in one game? It might be George Cerutti, ex-organist at San Francisco. "I knew my days were numbered when one day I was distracted by a friend in the booth and I played music during the batting of two hitters in succession," says Cerutti. "The home plate umpire called time and glared up at the booth, but I wasn't watching."

Who is the most pampered? Perhaps Dell of the Dodgers. "We get a new organ every year," boasts the petite grandmother. "I have to check it out like you do a new car."

Who performed in the strangest location? Torrent, when he played for the White Sox? "I was out in centerfield in an open cubicle protected by canvas," he says. "Wool underwear was the uniform of the day more often than not."

Who developed the most popular riff? Was it the great Faust of the White Sox? She is perhaps the most valuable player, to whom other American League teams—for example Seattle, Texas and Kansas City—have sent their organists for coaching. Her use of "Na na hey hey, kiss him goodbye" has been copied in many ball parks as a derisive taunt to a losing visiting team.

Who had the worst time playing the national anthem? Ballew of the Braves? "The singer was terrified and in the wrong key," says Ballew. "He couldn't find the right key so he started talking and then started singing again. I just sort of played chords occasionally. The man fumbled to the end and then ran off the field."

Who most angered a ballplayer? Topaz of the Padres? "The Padres were playing Hawaii and the Islanders brought in Bo Belinsky from the bullpen," says Topaz. "Bo was married to Mamie Van Doren and had gotten all this publicity about being a playboy. When he threw his first warmup pitch, I played the first few notes of You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby. When he threw his next warmup pitch, I played the next few notes. He walked the first batter he faced to load the bases. Before the next batter could come up, I played You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby real fast. The next three or four batters in a row got hits and when they took Bo out of the game, he looked up to where I was sitting and began shaking his fist. I started to leave the press box 15 or 20 minutes after the game ended and a security man stopped me. He said. 'I wouldn't go out there, Danny. There's a player who says he's going to wipe you out.' "

Who is the oldest organist? Baker of the Astros. Baker, 79, started playing the organ at silent movies in 1923.

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