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Who can throw the farthest notes? Hays of the Cardinals? His new Baldwin, installed two years ago, carries so far that people in an office building in downtown St. Louis say they hear it better on the 25th floor than they hear the tornado siren from their second floor.
Which organist played the wittiest putdown for a streaker? Was it the Phillies' Richardson? "Remember that epidemic of streakers?" he says. "It went on for six months or so. Opening day, I thought there would be one at the ball park. Sure enough, one came out of the picnic area wearing nothing but a pair of cowboy boots. I played the Peggy Lee song Is That All There Is?"
Which organist had the best won-lost record? Detroit Pitcher Denny McLain, 31-6 for the 1968 World Champion Tigers. He used to sneak up to the press box at Tiger Stadium and sit in for Bill Fox, then the ball park's organist. Once that year, McLain won the first game of a doubleheader, then played the organ for the second game, with the 36,000 fans none the wiser.
Very few ball park organists make a living at it. "You have to have another job," says Topaz, who has been the Padres' organist since the minor league Padres opened San Diego Stadium in 1968. "You can't make enough playing 79 or 80 dates a year to support yourself."
All the organists are baseball fans. "You have to be a fan," says the Royals' Janssen. "because you need to know the game and how the crowd feels so you can relate to them. If I'm psyched up, I can get them psyched up."
"You've got to know what everybody is doing," says the Phillies' Richardson. "In 1976, the early part of that year, I leased my equipment to the team and we put in a very good organist. But he didn't know the game. A month later he got replaced. You can't play when the ball is in play, or alive. And you can't play when the pitcher has his foot on the rubber."
Because of the intricacies of the job, the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in upstate New York will hold the first seminar for sports stadium organists next summer.
Before my appearance during the recent Pirates-Phillies series, I had played the organ twice in my life: two summers ago in St. Petersburg, Fla. at the home of Ray Mosley. tournament director of the world's largest shuffleboard club, and this year at the shopping mall in Holyoke, Mass., where I went to practice when the Pirates agreed to let me play during a game. Two stores at the mall sold organs and I figured it would be good practice to play for large groups of browsers and shoppers. (How would my tunes affect their purchases?) My friend Rose Baumann came with me, bringing her baby girl, Rachael Beth, who sucked on a large buttered bun the whole time.
The salesman at the first store wasn't the least bit amused when I told him why I wanted to try a demonstration model. "I get paid on commission, you know," he snarled. But instead of booting me out he insisted on sitting me down at the fanciest model. He then proceeded with dramatic gestures to push in button after button, thus stripping the instrument of all its talents, shutting down the entire rhythm section, the rhumba, waltz and polka, and all the instruments, the fake trumpets and oboes. He told me I had to play with headphones on. I did. It sounded terrible. I wasn't used to having my right hand seven inches higher than my left and my left arm kept banging against my side. I reached again and again above and below the short keyboards for notes that weren't there.
"Well, how did you like playing the devil's instrument?" he snickered after I had floundered for 10 minutes, several times almost falling onto the foot pedals in my effort to keep my feet off them. It would have been like falling into an orchestra pit.