Earlier this year, the L.A. Angels of Anaheim became the latest team to sack its keyboard player in favor of prerecorded organ music and rock songs.
Peggy Duquesnel, an accomplished jazz musician who had tickled the ivories for the Angels since 1998, was dismissed before the season started.
Ballpark organists have “kinda gone the way of the dodo bird,” says Nancy Faust, who has been playing keyboard for the Chicago White Sox since 1970 and doesn’t expect to be replaced when she retires.
Duquesnel, whose organ repertoire includes about 1,000 songs from various genres, says prerecorded music lacks spontaneity: “Times change, but I still think live music is valuable. There’s a feeling that comes through that you can’t get mechanically.”
A notable holdout in the audio-video revolution is Wrigley Field. “It’s like walking into a baseball time capsule,” says Chicago Cub spokesman John McDonough. “I’m not sure that playing Velvet Revolver between innings is consistent with what we’re trying to market.”
At least for now. Although live organ music still has the upper hand, rock songs were added to the soundscape a few years ago, McDonough says.
Across town, the White Sox have sharply curtailed organist Faust’s playing time, except on June 22, a throwback game billed as “Nothing but Nancy Day.”
Dodger Stadium scaled back its live organ music last year but reversed course this season after complaints, says Drew McCourt, director of marketing. And various sportswriters have lambasted what one calls the “loud, artless, artificial, force-fed noise” of modern ballparks.
A big irritant seems to be the music used to introduce batters as they step to the plate. In the old days, organists improvised the “walk-up” tunes. When Mark Grudzielanek batted at the 1996 All-Star game, the organist played Jim Croce’s “I’ve Got a Name.” (Such improvs occasionally backfire. At a 1985 minor league game, keyboardist Wilbur Snapp was ejected by an umpire for playing “Three Blind Mice” after a controversial call.)
Now, stadium DJs cue up thumping rock and rap themes chosen by the batters. But Ted Giannoulas, a.k.a. the San Diego Chicken, says that has gotten out of hand: “I don’t think seniors or a family of four can identify with White Zombie. Who’s the game for, the guy at bat or the guy who paid to get in?”
(from left to right, baseball purist, polarizing rock band)
Even DJs sometimes lose patience with the songs. “They’re the biggest thorn in my side,” Bruce McGuire confides during a Friday night game at Angel Stadium. When infielder Dallas McPherson goes to bat accompanied by music from “The Dukes of Hazzard,” McGuire chuckles and says, “If it works for him, great. But for me, hearing it three or four times a night, just shoot me now.”
Faust, the White Sox organist, says replacing organs with rock songs is costing baseball part of its identity. “We’re losing a sound associated with the game,” she says. “Now, we’re hearing the same music you hear at the shopping malls. There’s nothing baseball about it.