Since this is a site dedicated to film and TV, most of you are asking “Who the hell is Ernie Hays?” right now. Hell, even most baseball fans would ask the same question. Forgive me for taking a break from film and TV to pay homage to someone who made my life better- Ernie Hays, the Busch Stadium organist who passed away on October 31st.
If you traveled to St. Louis, Missouri for a baseball game at any point from 1971 to 2010, then you heard Ernie Hays plying his craft. Music over the speakers at a baseball game usually amounts to background noise at best, and at worst it’s represented by the same handful of pop music hits or goofy sound effects. But that wasn’t the case at Busch Stadium for my entire life, all because of Ernie Hays. The organ music you heard in 1975 was the same you’d hear in 1980, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1996, 1998 during Mark McGwire’s homerun chase, 2001, 2004, and every other year from 1971 to 2010.
He was a quirky icon, someone who made his name simply by adding a tiny bit of flair to St. Louis Cardinals baseball. My childhood was full of once-a-year trips to St. Louis to see the Cardinals. The roster changed, the manager changed, the opponents changed, the year changed, even my voice changed in the late 80s as I hit puberty. But the music over the PA never changed. It was always Ernie Hays. I grew up, and one Hall of Fame manager had been replaced by another. I bought tickets of my own in college as I skipped class to watch the Cardinals, and Ernie Hays was still there, belting out Here Comes the King on the organ before the 8th inning. Then at age 25, I moved back to St. Louis. The Mark McGwire hurricane had come and mostly dissipated, and a new monster- Albert Pujols- was starting to thrill Cardinal fans. The soundtrack the entire time had been supplied by Ernie Hays.
There are no words I can use to express how much I love the game of baseball. It’s an integral part of who I am. It’s the result of spending my childhood learning to love the game. I remember Jack Buck, the Cardinals’ radio announcer. I remember buying popcorn in boxes that doubled as megaphones after you had consumed the product. I remember the smell of stale, shitty Busch beer around the stadium. I remember the 1980s concrete donut stadium, and how awful it could be on a 95 degree night in late July in St. Louis. I remember hating the Mets, who were pond scum. I remember the astroturf, and the runnin’ Redbirds with stars like Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith, Tommy Herr, the big bopper Jack Clark to drive them all in, and my hero, John Tudor.
But most of all tonight, I remember Ernie Hays, whose music made all of the other stuff so much more enjoyable. Rest in peace, Ernie. You’re playing Here Comes the King for the baseball Gods now.