The SF Giants organist knows he’s a ‘dying breed’

0 25

Giants organist Steve Hogan at a recent Oracle Park game in San Francisco.

Giants organist Steve Hogan at a recent Oracle Park game in San Francisco.

Johanna Hogan

Last month, a lifelong musician played for a ravenous 36,798 fans at Oracle Park, all of whom knew the words to his cover-laden set. The selection brought people to their feet and voices to the air. He has performed this gig — sometimes as often as three times a week — for the past 13 years. Yet, while all in attendance can recite the lyrics without fail, few know who provides the entertainment.

Baseball, a game steeped in tradition, arguably has none more fascinating than its music. And Steve Hogan, stadium organist for the winningest team in American sports history, embraces a part-time role just to keep the tradition alive. Inspired by imitating longtime Red Sox organist John Kiley as a kid in Boston, Hogan juggles soundtracks for the Giants with a job as senior director of music analysis at Pandora (leading the Music Genome Project), raising two kids, and playing in everything from cover bands to cocktail lounges.

Advertisement

Article continues below this ad

Music has been played at baseball games since the Civil War. The early performances were often overly complex, team-oriented arrangements, composed by professionals who could not relate to unruly sports crowds. It wasn’t until 1908 that Tin Pan Alley songwriters hatched the universal tune for the game, though it would take two world wars before “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” became the seventh-inning staple it is today.

Lately, baseball is trying harder than ever to remain relevant in a world that demands instant gratification. Pitch clocks and ghost runners are here. And on average, attendance is up 9.2% and game times are down 25 minutes (to 2 hours 39 minutes) — confirming a theory that if baseball can be played quicker, the sport can find a revival. So, if one century-old recipe for success needs speeding up, does another? 

“They had been tinkering around the edges,” says Hogan, who has played through three World Series runs, remembering his rendition of “The Final Countdown” before Travis Ishikawa’s 2014 NLCS walk-off as an absolute favorite. “But I think they’ve cracked the code on the pace-of-game issue with the pitch clock. It is amazing what a difference it has made. The challenge has been adjusting to the reduced time between pitches. MLB doesn’t allow audio once the pitcher and batter are set, so I’ve had to lean heavily on the shortest ‘crowd prompts’ this year.”

As time diminishes, so do the ranks of organists. Fifty years ago, they were treated like local celebrities: Nancy Faust, in her 41 seasons for the White Sox, was featured everywhere from Sports Illustrated to ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Gary Pressy, her crosstown rival, was honored by the Cubs for having beaten Cal Ripken Jr.’s record for consecutive games played (2,632) on his Lowrey. Now, Hogan and his professional compatriots exist as bastions of an underappreciated art, rarely salaried (often making less than those who play in church), part of a sport that is looking to shirk the old and embrace the new. And it shows.

Advertisement

Article continues below this ad

Only nine teams still employ full-time players: the Twins, Red Sox, Yankees (two, splitting time), Reds, Cubs, Cardinals, Braves, Diamondbacks and Dodgers. Half of Major League Baseball does not employ one at all. (The American League is the most concerning, with the West having none, Central one, and the East just two.) Several organizations have admitted to looping pre-recorded organ tracks in order to maintain that “ballpark feel.” The slim remainder, including the Giants, bring in musicians part-time for Sunday or day games.

In the 1970s and ’80s, the old hands had little to contend with. Jumbotrons then boasted the graphical equivalent of “Galaga.” Prehistoric PA systems carried live music about as well as they had for the Beatles at Candlestick. Organists played throughout innings, predating walk-up songs and reacting to what happened on the field. Today, the multimillion-dollar technological marvels at sports venues often rival the players themselves for attention.

Once, maybe twice a game, cameras zoom in on the piano man, clad in his customized orange and black “B3” warmup jacket. The last big update to Hogan’s set came in 2013, his third season, when the Giants permitted 30 minutes of organ music during pregame. 

“That’s provided a nice additional creative outlet,” he says. “I have always seen my primary role as complementing the action on the field, keeping the crowd engaged and participating.”

Advertisement

Article continues below this ad

Ballpark organist Steve Hogan cheers for the Giants at a 2016 game against the Pirates in San Francisco.

Ballpark organist Steve Hogan cheers for the Giants at a 2016 game against the Pirates in San Francisco.

Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The instrument itself is also becoming obsolete. When the Chicago Blackhawks originally acquired a house organ in 1929, all 3,600 pipes were constructed into the arena. With the invention of a much more compact Hammond, MLB stadiums began featuring their own performers in 1941. But what was once directly behind home plate, adjacent to the announcer’s booth, is now often whole sections away. Hogan, a great admirer of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, listens to a soundboard operator for permission to play instead of the live broadcast. From his perch atop a converted walkway, beyond the left field bleachers and beside the Coke bottle slide, Hogan can be easily missed. Still, he remains grateful for the placement of his portable 73-key XK-3, saying: “I cannot imagine a team with a more supportive and enthusiastic fan base.”

With robotic umpiring feeling like less of an alternative and more of an inevitability, it is unquestionable that technological innovation has won the rest of the game. We can know it all, every spin rate and exit velocity, all the once-unquantifiable factors that make our favorite players great. Perhaps we deserve to never see another call contested, a crucial strike called ball, a debatable play at the plate to end a series. Pre-recorded tracks might even give modern baseball the next bit of trimming it needs.

Let’s hope not. Baseball is great because baseball is human; the spontaneous capering of Hogan’s keys is part of that magic. “Sports organists are a dying breed,” Hogan says, a man with no understudy who’s contracted on an annual basis. “But we will stick around for the long haul. The sound gives fans an important sense of connection to the history of the sport. Emphasis will probably wax and wane as the years roll by, and will vary from team to team, but both baseball and hockey fans are traditional, so the pendulum is bound to swing back in our favor someday.”

Advertisement

Article continues below this ad

Chicago, the first city to introduce the organ in sports, was the last to get rid of its invaluable role in 2015 when the Cubs agreed to allow their players to choose walk-up music instead of live tracks — limiting the retiring Pressy and his three replacements. Other teams, like the 1979 Mets, never sought a complete replacement: Jane Jarvis was their first and last full-time organ-player. And the trend continues across sports: Sir Foster has stepped away after performing 14 years for the Atlanta Hawks. The Vancouver Canucks recently released their organist after 22 years.

When asking Hogan how long he sees his future in baseball, he replies: “Easy. If the team will have me, I’m in.”

Advertisement

Article continues below this ad

And packing up after another weekend series, with fans scurrying to other forms of entertainment, he can’t help but add, “I would say my dedication is comparable to the die-hards. But if the job were to vaporize tomorrow, I’d be satisfied with this amazing life experience already.”

Source link

Denial of responsibility! YoursTelecast is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.