What Was The First Major League Baseball Team To Use Organ Music?

Sports and music enjoy a mutually-beneficial relationship. At stadiums and arenas across the country, according to Bleacher Report, teams hype up the crowds by playing songs that get the adrenaline pumping, including, for example, Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" before Cincinnati Bengals' home games. Similarly, teams across Major League Baseball play "walk-up music" – that is, a snippet of a player's favorite tune as he walks up to the batter's box. The St. Louis Cardinals even provide a list of their players and the songs they choose, and the tunes range from Mexican Banda (Giovanny Gallegos) to Christian Rock (Tommy Edman) and everything in between.

Another form of music that's part of the baseball landscape is the organ. Just about everyone who's been to a major or minor league ballgame is well aware that the humble organ, even in an age of piped-in digital music produced in professional studios, provides much of the background music for the action. Perhaps surprisingly, organ music has only been a part of baseball for about half of its 160-year history, according to National Geographic.

PK Wrigley Brings The Organ To Chicago's North Side

Back in the 1940s, the Cubs were owned by Phillip "P.K." Wrigley, the son of the former owner, chewing gum-magnate William Wrigley. For reasons perhaps known only to him, in 1941, according to National Geographic, Mr. Wrigley installed a pipe organ in the ballpark bearing his name, and on April 26, organist Ray Nelson tickled the keys to the delight of the crowd. Unfortunately, the Cubs lost that day to the visiting Cardinals, 6-2.

Even in the 1940s, the team was bedeviled by the same menace that these days causes YouTube videos to be demonetized: copyright claims. "Mr. Nelson was obliged to still his bellows at 2:30 because his repertoire includes many restricted ASCAP arias, which would have been picked up by the radio microphones hooked up a half hour before game time," wrote the Chicago Tribune, via Chicagology. However, Nelson promised to come up with a copyright-free repertoire to play as the season progressed, and even asked fans to submit ideas.

Fits and Starts

Though it was on the eve of World War II that Major League Baseball first got introduced to the organ, it would be decades later before the instrument became ubiquitous across the league. Even the Cubs would retire their organ for a few decades.

The organ enjoyed a brief period of popularity in MLB ballparks for a few years after the Cubs introduced it, but it fell by the wayside after a decade or so. The Cubs brought their organ back in 1967, according to National Geographic, coinciding with a resurgence in popularity of the organ at ballparks that took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s — oddly juxtaposed with the exploding popularity of rock & roll at the time, notes the magazine.

These days, the organ is part of a larger musical apparatus at MLB ballparks. The man or woman who tickles the keys may share the same "studio" (so to speak) with a DJ just a few feet away, computer screens at the ready, playing digitized music recorded by other musicians.