The Organist

Gladys at the organ

Gladys Gooding from Find  Grave

One of the glories of sports in general and of baseball in particular is the sounds that go with the game. Think about the “crack” of the bat, the “roar” of the crowd. Another sound that frequently goes with the game is music. Some of it is the special song done for a particular player as he comes to bat. Sometimes it’s the “Jeopardy” theme as the visiting manager takes the stroll to the mound. And in big league parks there’s the organ. Easily the most famous baseball organist was Gladys Gooding.

Gladys Gooding was born in 1893 in Missouri. She learned to play music, had a brief marriage, children, and a divorce. The latter was unusual in early 20th Century America so she had to find her own way. That way led her to New York and the silent movies. She wasn’t an actress, but even silent movies required sound. The in-house soundtracks for movies could be quite elaborate. You can pick up a silent like “The Battleship Potemkin” and watch it today. If you do, make sure you notice there’s a soundtrack that goes with it. It’s all music and someone had to play it in the theaters. Gladys Gooding found a profession as the organist at a movie house in New York.

It got her noticed. There was the Chautauqua circuit, there were concerts, there were various musical concerts. I’m unsure whether she ever made it to Carnegie Hall or not, but the crowds thought she was good and she became, in her circle, quite famous.

In the 1940s it got her a new gig; her most famous. She was hired to play the organ at Ebbets Field. She became something of a celebrity in her own right. Her rendition of the National Anthem became famous. She played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch (and at other times), had her own list of numbers she’d play for particular situations (Couldn’t find out if “Charge” was one of them). Her most infamous moment occurred in the 1950s when one of the umpires for the day’s game at Ebbets Field was sick. When only three umps showed up on the field to call the game, Gladys Gooding serenaded them with “Three Blind Mice.” It seems to be the only time an organist was thrown out of a ball game.

She was there when the Dodgers moved away from Brooklyn, playing the organ for the last time at an Ebbets Field game. She also took over the music responsibilities at Madison Square Garden where she played for both the Knickerbocker basketball team and the Rangers hockey squad. That led ultimately to a great trivia question: “Who played for the Dodgers, Knicks, and Rangers?” She also did the National Anthem for a number of major professional boxing matches, including championship bouts. She died in New York in 1963.

Much of this is taken from a short article at the “Find a Grave” website. The article is written by a Barbara Dines Hoffman. Ms. Hoffman also included a picture of Gladys Gooding away from her organ. It’s above. You can also find Gladys Gooding performances on You Tube.

 

 

 

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9 Responses to “The Organist”

  1. Jackie, The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    What a great story! I wish there were more organs in baseball … pre-recorded music just isn’t the same. I’m a big, big fan of Josh Kantor who is the organist at Fenway. He takes “requests” during the games via Twitter. I asked him once what his most requested song was and he said it was a song by the band Phish. I’m not sure I would have guessed that in a million years.

    • glenrussellslater Says:

      I’m sorry to say, but it was actually the Baltimore Orioles general manager who did away with the live music first. I’ve read that general manager Frank Cashen (in my view, a villian who quashed the Mets career of Terry Leach) hated organ music. Well, I hated his stupid bow tie, but I didn’t tell him not to wear it.

      I remember the Texas Rangers at Arlington Stadium had piped in music back in the 70s, too, so I’m not sure which was first to wreck a great baseball tradition, the Rangers or the Orioles.

      When he joined the Mets in 1980, the first thing he did was get rid of beloved Mets organist Jane Jarvis. Thanks, Frank!

      Glen

  2. wkkortas Says:

    As I wrote over at our mutual friend Steve Myers’ site, I so lament the relegation of organists to second fiddle behind 110-decibel recorded walk-up music. One of my favorite memories is that when Jim Morrison played for the Pirates back in the 80s, Vinne Lasheid (who was the organist at Three Rivers) would play “Light My Fire”. It does not get better than that.

    • glenrussellslater Says:

      I read an article back in the early 70s that Billy Martin got pissed off at the organist at (I think) Oakland Alameda Stadium when he or she kept on playing organ music when the batter Tigers pitcher was ready to pitch. He got into an argument over it. Gee, who ever heard of Alfred Martino (i think that was his original given name) arguing????

      I recall reading an article in the Daily News (or maybe it was Newsday) in 1974 that Harmon Killebrew, who Jim Bouton said was referred to (presumably not to his face) as “The Fat Kid’ was towards the end of his career in his later years in the league, got pissed off when he came up to bat for the Kansas City Royals when he came up to bat at Bloomington Stadium (his old stomping grounds) when the organist would play “Roll Out The Barrel” when he came up to bat! I think that ’74 was his last year in baseball.

      Glen

      • wkkortas Says:

        I’m wondering if there’s any job associated with a franchise that Martin didn’t punch out someone who did it at some point.

  3. Gary Trujillo Says:

    I had the good fortune to go to a minor league game with only organ music played. It was refreshing to not hear all the piped in pop music that one would be normally bombarded with.

  4. keithosaunders Says:

    I once met Yankee organist, Eddie Layton. He showed me the Yankee Stadium organ. It was really old there were cigarette stains on the keys.

  5. Gary Gilchrist Says:

    Remember watching a New York Ranger game from the Gardens on the Day Gladys Gooding passed away after the National Anthem was played several of the Ranger Players looked up to where the organ was situated.

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