June 26, 2008

THE WAY THINGS 'SPOSED TO BE (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Ensuring It Still Feels Like the Old Ball Game (JOHN BRANCH, 6/23/08, NY Times)

[Lambert Bartak] sat, shoeless, in an enclosed booth, just a man and his weathered 1935 Hammond organ, alone and anonymous in their timeless endeavor. A ballpark organist is part of the unobtrusive background of baseball, or used to be, until most were quietly silenced by time and outsourced by recorded music.

But after decades of playing largely behind the scenes — as an accordion accompaniment to Johnny Carson’s early magic shows (both spent childhoods in Norfolk, Neb.), as a studio musician for a radio station and as a ballpark organist here during the College World Series — Bartak can finally be seen as something more than a lithe-fingered provider of space-filling background music.

He is a reminder of how ballparks used to sound, and feel, and how they increasingly do not.

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, organs gained a place at ballparks after the Chicago Cubs brought one to Wrigley Field for a game in 1941. It was instantly popular. In 1942, the Brooklyn Dodgers added a full-time organist at Ebbets Field.

Other teams followed, and the trend peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Their numbers have dwindled since. The Hall’s director of research, Tim Wiles, traced at least part of the beginning of the end to a change in ownership for the Mets after the 1979 season. The longtime organist Jane Jarvis was nudged out at Shea Stadium in favor of canned music. Teams wanted their music to rock, not reverberate.

Most major league teams do not employ organists anymore. Even the Omaha Royals, Rosenblatt’s primary tenants, stopped using Bartak a few seasons ago. It is possible that none of the players on the eight teams that made this year’s College World Series have played in another stadium with an organist.

The slow death of organ music may soon hit this event, where the organ still thrives as if there were no tomorrow, only yesterdays. A new stadium is planned for downtown Omaha in 2011, and Bartak doubts that there will be a spot reserved for an organist.

Until then, he punctuates every third out with a three-chord coda, and fills part of the still air between innings with a three-song medley. He does not plan the song lists, relying simply on some indescribable intuition and the hundreds of song titles he has scrawled before him.

Change sucks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 26, 2008 7:08 AM

But ... but.. how can you be against Change™? Combined with Hope™, it always results in Progress™, right. (When all most of us really want is a little Improvement in a few places.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 26, 2008 7:39 AM

I'm surprised you haven't commented on Fresno State's CWS title win, OJ. It's the approximate equivalent of a 13-seed in the NCAA basketball tournament winning it all.

Some say this was the biggest upset in North American sports history.

Posted by: Brad S at June 26, 2008 7:45 AM

I like the organ at a baseball game. In church, not so much. It makes every Mass seem like a funeral.

Posted by: Bartman at June 26, 2008 7:50 AM

Figures the Mets, the most bush league franchise of them all, began the trend of ear-splitting pop music at the ballpark.

I bet Mr. Met himself in all his cheesy glory, was behind it.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at June 26, 2008 8:44 AM

Basesball is unbearable at Safeco here in Seattle. It's like being in a crowd control experiment in a very loud discoteque. Horrendous, not a moment of silence. Or class.

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at June 26, 2008 10:25 AM

Murphy's our college baseball guy. We haven't had tv since we moved last Friday.

Posted by: oj at June 26, 2008 11:16 AM


I decided to save my money and watch the game on TV. Three guesses as to how I felt after the announcers kept pointing out that this is a huge historic moment, i.e. the lowest-seeded team to win an NCAA championship, ever.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 26, 2008 6:39 PM


Bartak has been around forever. As I recall my dad once told me that Bartek was an old geezer when he was young.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 26, 2008 6:42 PM
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