On April 26th 1941 at Wrigley Field, Ray Nelson played the first strains of organ music ever heard at a Major League baseball game. During the game he was limited to playing only songs written by BMI writers, not ASCAP writers, which means about half of all written songs would have been off limits. Fortunately these days blanket licenses are paid to both PROs and ballpark organists can play whatever they want.
Organ at the ballpark is one of the many unique and quirky traditions that makes baseball awesome. I am thankful that the tradition has stuck around and even seen a mild resurgence in the past 15 years or so. The tradition has had its own modest history in San Diego.
The legendary Danny Topaz was personally recruited by the Krok family in 1974 to play organ at San Diego / Jack Murphy Stadium. For many years he was the sole source of music during ball games in Mission Valley. If you watch any of the home games from the '84 playoff run on Youtube, you'll hear him playing all kinds of strange and incredible stuff at random times throughout the game. (apparently when they clinched the NL, Tim Flannery doused Danny Topaz with champagne!). Danny Topaz stopped playing organ for the Padres in 1985 because of failing health. After that the history gets a little murky, but from what I gather they occasionally had organ, including during the '98 World Series when they flew in Bobby Freeman (the Diamondbacks organist) and Dieter Ruehle (longtime LA Kings organist) to play.
In 2010 with the advent of Throwback Thursdays, the tradition of organ at the ballpark was resurrected, and I was recruited (more like I relentlessly pursued and ended up getting the gig) to be the organist for the Padres. Throwback Thursdays have since morphed into Wayback Wednesdays, and through the transitions I've stayed on playing organ at day games and certain night games.
It's a fun job man.
But I and all my organ playing associates throughout the league can all trace our history back to that first moment the organ was played at a Major League Baseball game, some 75 years ago today.
Check out this article in the Chicago Tribune to read the original account of that fateful day in baseball organ history.