White Sox organist, retiring after 41 years, takes a trip down memory lane with Our Guy
E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune
I’m getting attention on steroids, my husband says. It’s quite a sendoff I’m getting. It makes me want to stick around.
No, I’m just kidding. I know the time is right. It’s just difficult. It’s my decision. I have to do what’s best for me, what’s best for progress, the direction that baseball is going with less live music. That’s the way it’s been, and I didn’t want my legend to be, “She did a really good job of playing ‘Charge.”’
This is my 41st consecutive year. I never missed a game until I had my son, Eric. He’s 27 years old now. He took his very first steps in center field.
My mother was a professional musician in Chicago and played for a lot of live functions back in the day when live music was so prevalent. She had a lot of conflicts, so she had me play this sports banquet. I followed up with a brochure because I was doing the same kind of thing my mother did. Stu Holcomb (1) called about a month before Opening Day in 1970 and asked if I was still interested. “Yeah.” He said, “Come down Opening Day.” I’d only attended two ballgames before that time, not as a baseball fan, but just to go to a birthday party for someone who loved Rocky Colavito.
Stu gave me a list of songs that I might want to consider when each player comes up to bat. It was a state song. Like, Bart Johnson, he was from California, so I played “California, Here I Come.” But I have a good ear and I can play anything I can think of, and as I got more comfortable with baseball, I realized there were opportunities to play clever things. I just took more liberties.
As soon as I do something, I kind of forget it.
Harold is the rooster. He’s getting quite old. Iris is the hen. She lays an egg a day. Then there’s Mandy, our donkey. I’ve had her six years. The first donkey I got was the result of a promotion that Bill Veeck ran. One of his door prizes was this old swayback donkey, and I took it home because nobody claimed it.
The year Veeck took over the team again, the organ had been moved from behind home plate. I was more isolated. I asked why. He said, “We can’t take up 10 box seats with an organ.” But the people who had sat around where the organ was and were used to a certain experience circulated a petition and gave it to Bill. He did have high regard for the fans’ comments, so the second or third series, he moved the organ back down.
I can’t sight-read music.
Mercury Records gave me a gold record for reintroducing “Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye.”
It was in 1977, the “South Side Hit Men,” and we were vying for first place with Kansas City, so the fans were really charged and they were responding to everything. But when I played “Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye,” they all sang. I’d never heard anything like that, and neither did the writers, evidently, and it just made such an impact that it was written about. I remember going to the Bard’s Room and someone asking, “What song was that?” I said, “I think it’s called ‘Sha Na Na.”’ Well, it isn’t. I just knew it was a good song.
Del Shannon. He didn’t sing the anthem, but he was at a game. I have a picture of the two of us together. It’s cool because I grew up with his song, “Runaway.”
I was so happy for the people who are great fans and visit me year after year. (2) Then I was real sad for the people who weren’t around anymore. I was real emotional about that. I get emotional easy.