One, two, three times the noise at the old ballgame

By Gary Kodner

I can remember my first visit to a game at Wrigley Field.

In contrast to the larger, louder, electronic stadiums, it was pleasantly quiet. It had thick green grass and just green ivy covering the outfield walls. No AstroTurf, electronic scoreboards, video advertisements or blaring loud music. I could actually hear the umpire. At times I could even hear the players!

It was intimate. It was special. The game itself was the focus of attention. Baseball was “the show.”

Unfortunately, that almost perfect ballpark serenity caved in April, 2015 when Wrigley Field completed its recent renovation. Diamond Vision screen was installed in center field. A modern sound system was installed to make louder announcements and blast rock music at you, just like all the other stadiums. They even started following the trend of “walk-up music” for each player coming to bat. Too bad. They had it right for a long time.

I came home from the Cardinals game the other night and I was hoarse. Not from cheering too much…we lost the game. But rather from trying to communicate with those sitting around me, over the constant bombardment of noise, most of which has nothing to do with baseball. Busch Stadium has installed new, brighter, larger video displays. They’re everywhere. The park is lit up like a pinball machine on steroids.

We are invaded by commercial messages, idiot fan games, kiss cam, guess the player, the hat dance, the wave, the organ player, and really loud grinding rock music pre-game and during inning breaks. If we are lucky, the Cardinals will hit a home run so they can blast some fireworks. The game I recently attended featured: The “Cha-cha dance,” “Press your luck,” “Relish the moment,” “On The Run Home Run Game,” Powerade Flex Your Muscles Cam,” “Kiss Cam,” “Clarkson Eye Care Guess The Girl Scout Cookies Names.”

How did this get started and where and when will it stop growing?

Coincidently, ballpark music was first introduced with an organist at Chicago’s Wrigley Field back in 1941, and it had spread to most Major League ballparks by the 1960s.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, pre-recorded pop and rock music began to supplement the organ music (or replace it entirely) at most ballparks. Many teams have even adopted their own theme songs. “Go Cubs Go” OY! 

Most ballparks have jumped on the bandwagon of playing “walk-up music” as each player comes up to bat. The players select their own personal themes, usually rock or country hits to enhance their plate appearances. 

In 2004, The Wall Street Journal reported that the longtime organist at Dodger Stadium “has been usurped by a DJ who sits directly below her. He plays a selection of hip-hop and rock, interspersed with devices designed to pump up the crowd and the stadium’s volume.”

Atlanta’s Turner Field is known for an organist whose primary duty is to play the visiting players’ walkup music, which can be fan-selected or plays on a player’s name, often with sarcasm. Former Braves are greeted with the theme to “Welcome Back Kotter.” Then there is the constant semi-musical moan of “the chop,” accompanied by a tomahawk arm motion that I guess is supposed to be reminiscent of American Indian war chanting. Give me a break.

At Boston’s Fenway Park and New York’s Citi Field, Neil Diamond’s song, “Sweet Caroline,” is played during the eighth inning of the Red Sox and Mets games.

At Busch Stadium we have to do the “Star Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “Here Comes the King,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and they even throw-in the “Green Acres Theme.” Everybody Clap Your Hands. Is that even a song? The time allotted for the organ at Busch Stadium is fairly generous, including 45 minutes of pre-game tunes, 20 minutes of post-game ditties, and interactive game chants and clap-along throughout the game and between innings.

The actual ballgame is becoming the side show. No wonder why the incidents of fans getting hit with baseballs is up. They are not paying attention to the game. Busch Stadium erected wider and taller screens this season. They also installed 140 new signs warning people to pay attention to flying baseballs.

Major League baseball has succeeded in eradicating any silence, personal reflection time or quiet conversation focused on the actual ballgame. Why does the stadium need to be like the disco, the stereo, the rock concert, the TV commercial, the video game, the game show? All at the same time. Don’t we get enough of that stuff? I would like to see ballparks try focusing the attention on just the game itself, like the Cubs used to do. Hmmm, maybe that’s why they haven’t hosted a World Series since 1945?

The song I am hearing is: “one, two, three times the noise at the old ballgame.”