July 23, 2005

CHANGE IS BAD:

A key player: Josh Kantor, one of the few organists left in baseball, sees the Red Sox for a song (Bella English, July 23, 2005, Boston Globe)

It's a glorious night at Fenway Park, and Josh Kantor is thrilled to be playing for the Red Sox. No, he wasn't acquired in the trade for Jay Payton. He gets more playing time than Payton ever got, though he'd like more.

Kantor is the organist at Fenway Park, and on this balmy night with the Toronto Blue Jays in town, he's serenading the arriving fans with ''When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)," segueing into ''I Second That Emotion," his fingers moving as deftly over the keys as Johnny Damon's glove catching those center-field fly balls.

He's the guy who plays ''Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch, the one who warms up the fans as they head into the ballpark and who celebrates -- or commiserates -- with them as they head out. On a recent night, after a horrendous drubbing by the Blue Jays, Kantor sent Sox fans home to the tune of ''Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" Once, when some players were on the verge of a fight, Kantor broke into ''Why Can't We Be Friends?" And when they played a video of former Sox slugger Jim Rice on the huge screen, Kantor offered, ''You Don't Mess Around With Jim."

Tucked away on a small platform, ensconced in the lofty luxury of the .406 Club, Kantor, 32, sits at his Yamaha electric organ, waiting for the chance to chime in. There's a lot of waiting. Much of the music fans hear at Fenway is recorded and played by Megan Kaiser, the ballpark's music programmer, who has hundreds of CDs loaded onto a computer, only the push of a button away.

Together, Kaiser says, she and Kantor create ''a soundtrack for your day at Fenway." [...]

The organ first appeared at the park in 1953, when Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey decided to add music to the Fenway experience. He hired John Kiley, who over the next 36 years became a Boston legend. Kiley was known for stirring up the crowd with antics that included playing ''The Hallelujah Chorus" when Carl Yastrzemski hit one out of the park or pumping out ''White Christmas" on a scorching day. By the time he retired in 1989, recorded music had begun to elbow its way into the repertoire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 23, 2005 10:25 AM
Comments

One of the worst things abut the contemporary ball park is the incessant rock/pop music blasted virtually all game long. That every ballpark insists on blaring the gay anthem YMCA at least once every game is the icing on the cake.

As a Yankee fan I hate to admit that Yankee Stadium is one of the worst examples of all this

If I were commish I'd ban everything but organ playing.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 23, 2005 10:47 AM

New York sports arena organist story from the early 1970s:

Eddie Layton, who was the organist for the Yankees, as well as for the Knicks and Rangers at Madison Square Garden and for CBS's New York-based soap operas, apparently had a scheduling conflict during the 1971 NBA playoffs, and the Garden hired another organist, John St. Chamberlain, to replace him. Layton, who died last year, was already well-known among sports fans in New York, who knew all his music to pump up the crowds by heart.

Unfortunately, the substitute organist was a little too cultured or obscure for the fans at the Garden, attempting to get the fans going by playing music such as Beethoven's 1812 Overture and Bizet's March of the Toreadors. This didn't go over well with the Garden crowd, which was comfortable with Layton's familiar musical prompts, and the substitute organist was not only booed, he had fans coming up and chastising him for his poor choice of "charge" songs, since this was back in the days when the organist's perch at the Garden was right in the middle of the seats behind the backset (it also didn't help that the Knicks were in the process of losing their series to Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe and the Baltimore Bullets at the time). They kept a security guard close by after that, until the series was over.

The moral, I guess, is don't fool with N.Y. sports fans' rev-up music, or if you do, hide the organist in a closet.

Posted by: John at July 23, 2005 10:47 AM

Tchaikovsky's

Posted by: oj at July 23, 2005 10:56 AM

Oohps, sorry about that (I guess I've earned a booing by classical music fans).

Posted by: John at July 23, 2005 11:26 AM

Jim,

A special exception should be made for fans who bring their own instruments, like the old Dodger Sym-Phony or what goes on in many Latin American ballparks.

One can only hope that the Boston ownership understands the need for an organist, just as they appreciate the continued use of the hand-operated scoreboard.

Posted by: bart at July 23, 2005 12:10 PM

So it all came apart in '53. Huh. I would have thought earlier.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 23, 2005 3:48 PM

Bart:

Agreed.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 23, 2005 5:41 PM

My decision to stop rooting for that bunch of whining, overpaid tomato cans just keeps on paying dividends. If I were still a fan they'd have replaced that organ with an iPod by now.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 23, 2005 6:00 PM
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