The smell of spring awakens the little kid in most baseball fans. Back before ballpark Jumbotrons and digital audio systems, the music that pushed fans to root for the home team came from an organ. Often squirreled-away in a booth high above in the upper rafters, the organist was responsible not only for motivating fans but also entertaining families before the game and in-between innings. To this day, the sound of a baseball stadium organ makes me hungry for bright yellow popcorn and a hot dog or two.
With this, let me introduce you to the late Eddie Layton [pictured at top and above], who died in 2004. Back in the early '80s, when I was fresh out of college and working full-time in the New York Times sports department, I pitched the editor on a Layton feature. It came on the heels of a successful article I had written on flipping baseball cards. After getting the go-ahead, I went out to Yankee Stadium when the team was out of town to interview Layton.
Way up there, in a Gemini-capsule sized room sat Layton, wearing a sailing captain's hat and a pair of oversized aviator glasses—slightly out of fashion by then. I interviewed the organist, he played me a few things and let me mess about on the keyboard so I could hear how it sounded in the empty stadium—the music-lover's equivalent of running the bases.
As I recall, my profile made it through the first edition before being replaced by breaking news for the remaining two editions. I'll have to dig it out. As unfortunate as that bump was, I was still smitten by the sound of an authentic stadium organ—especially when the organist knew what he was doing.
Here's Layton quoted in 2003, when he retired, in Dick Goldstein's New York Times obit the following year:
"I've had my day. Playing with 50,000 watts of power, what rock star has an amplifier like that? I play for up to 56,000 people a night. Not even Madonna has done those kind of numbers."
So a bunch of years ago, when I spotted a CD of Layton playing his favorites, I pounced. Now I'd like to treat you Layton playing You've Got to Have Heart—a song he was likely to play during a game's seventh-inning stretch, to remind fans what it took to be a fan. I'm afraid you're on your own with the yellow popcorn and dogs...