Gary Pressy – Organist, Chicago Cubs

September 8, 2006
September 8, 2006 brett

Gary Pressy was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. He has been with the Cubs for 20 years. He was playing the organ in Harry Carry’s restaurant when the Bartman ball was blown up, and played Take Me Out To The Ballgame at longtime Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse’s funeral. He got the job on April Fools Day and has not missed one game. “I’m nearing sixteen hundred games. I’m trying to break Cal Ripken’s record.”

Wrigley Field is a cathedral. It’s like the church of ballparks. You hear the organ when you’re at church, just like you do here.

We were the first team to have an organ. They used it for one game in 1941 and brought it back permanently in 1967. It’s traditional. At what more traditional park could you have it?

They sell out every game at Wrigley. It doesn’t matter if they win or lose, there are forty thousand people here. We get to do the seventh inning stretch with Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Different people from all walks of life sing it. We’ve had athletes, actors, actresses, Olympic heroes, Sinatra Jr., a priest did it once…so we run the gambit on that. It’s pretty cool to meet those people. They sing it in the TV booth four booths down, but they come in here and rehearse. Sometimes it’s hard for them, but you know what, it’s not Carnegie Hall. They do a good job. Usually they’re on key, and most of the time they know the words. It’s all fun.

The game is at 3pm today, and I get here around noon. I arrange the music so everything is all set. I sit at the organ bench during the games. The message board operator sits there (points to a few feet away). The PA announcer sits next to her. Its cramped quarters. When we had that hot spell it was brutal.

Rain delays are always something because I’m always playing. Lighting, thunder, all that. We had a doubleheader here once that started at noon and didn’t get over until 10:30. Rain delays, all that stuff…that was a long, long day.

I’m on my own when the batter comes up. When Aramis Ramirez bats, he’s number 16. So I’ll play “You’re 16, You’re Beautiful.” Jacque Jones, he went to USC, so I’ll play the USC fight song or “Jumping Jack Flash.” Sometimes relief pitchers have something recorded on CD they want played when they come in. We try a mix. We do a lot of organ music and a lot of CD. We try to mix everything up and please the crowd.

I work eighty-one games a year, plus sponsor parties, which we have a lot. In the winter, my job is to do trivia for the Cubs. Stuff like, “This day in Cubs history…or great Cubs moments.” That’s my winter job with the Cubs. Plus we have the Cubs convention in the middle of January where fifteen thousand people show up for the weekend. We bring all the old Cubs back. They sign autographs and have special events. It’s crazy. It’s a madhouse.

I also do a lot of work for the Lowrey Organ Company. That’s the organ that I play on, and they’ve been with the Cubs since 1967. I do the organ high school hockey games and tournaments. I do special events here and there. It’s a full schedule, and we’re in the middle of a twelve game homestand right now, so it’s definitely a full schedule.

Growing up, I think every team had an organist. Now, it’s probably half. But I noticed a couple teams get rid of the organ and then bring it back. Hopefully tradition stands, especially with these new ballparks being built that are taking bits and pieces from old ballparks. Texas got the right field roof idea from Detroit. Houston has the center field from Old Hauser Field. So maybe because the look of the old ballpark is coming back, maybe the sound will come back too. That’d be nice.

Everyone likes the organ. Kids in their 20’s, who you would think like rock n’ roll, enjoy the organ because they’re at a ballgame. Even kids who are 10 tell me they like the organ. You’d think they’d listen to their iPod while they’re watching the game, but they’re not.

It’s a great job to have, and fitting for me to have a job like this because I was always a traditionalist. I liked the history of baseball. What more could you want?

Interview

Overlooking Wrigley Field.  From the Organist booth.

I’ve been here with the Cubs for 20 years.  I started full time in ’87, and filled in for the guy in ’86 for a few games.  But I’ve been playing for college basketball, the Chicago Sting soccer team, the Chicago Bulls in the early 80’s, before Jordan…I’ve been doing this stuff since like 1977.  So I was like eighteen or nineteen years old before I really started getting into the act.

I was writing letters to the Cubs, writing letters to the Cubs, that’s how long it’s been (Laughs) from 1977 to 1987.  I was interviewed for the job in 1984 but unfortunately somebody knew somebody and that guy got in.  So I held off.

My big break came in ’87 when they called me on April Fools Day.  That was some joke.  So I came to Wrigley and auditioned.  It was four days before opening day, and it was snowing.  I should have been playing Jingle Bells instead of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. 

But I got the job on April Fools Day and have not missed one game yet.  I’m nearing sixteen hundred games.  I’m trying to break Cal Ripken’s record.

Born and raised on the Southside Chicago.  I was both a Cubs and Sox fan, and then I started seeing my check from the National League ballclub and figured I better be a Cub fan (Laughs).

What’s great about being here is that I’ve always loved baseball.  I’ve always enjoyed the music being played at the baseball games.  I said to myself as a kid that it’d be cool to play the organ for a professional baseball team. 

Being here, you get forty thousand people. It doesn’t matter if they win or lose, there’s forty thousand people here.  It is an amazing situation here at Wrigley Field.  They sell out every game.  So it’s a neat thing to be playing the organ for a professional team. 

Plus, we get to do the seventh inning stretch.  Take me Out to the Ballgame.  We have different people from different walks of life.  We’ve had athletes, actors, actresses, Olympic heroes, a priest did it once, Sinatra Jr. did it…so we run the gambit on that.  It’s pretty cool to meet those people.  They sing it in the TV booth four booths down, but they come in here and rehearse.  Sometimes it’s hard for them, but you know what, it’s not Carnegie Hall.  They do a good job. Usually they’re on key, and most of the time they know the words, but hey, it’s all fun.

I started playing the piano when I was about four years old and did that for six months.  I always liked the organ because of the different sounds.  I can play the piano too, if I have to. 

I work eighty-one games a year, plus sponsor parties, which we have a lot.  In the winter, my job is to trivia for the Cubs.  Stuff they put up on the board, like, “This day in Cubs history…or great Cubs moments.”  So that’s my winter job with the Cubs.  Plus we have the Cubs convention in the middle of January where fifteen thousand people show up for the weekend.  We bring all the old Cubs back.  They sign autographs and have special events.  It’s crazy.  It’s a madhouse. 

I also do a lot of work for the Lowrey Organ Company.  That’s the organ that I play on, and they’ve been with the Cubs since 1967.  I also do the organ high school hockey games and tournaments.  I do special events here and there.  It’s a full schedule, and we’re in the middle of a twelve game homestand right now, so it is a full schedule.

Do the players ever make requests?

Actually, I’m on my own when the batter comes up.  When Aramis Ramirez bats, he’s number 16.  So I’ll play “You’re 16, You’re Beautiful.”  Jacque Jones, he went to USC, so I’ll play the USC fight song or “Jumping Jack Flash.”  Sometimes relief pitchers have something recorded on CD they want played when they come in.  We try a mix.  We do a lot of organ music and a lot of CD.  We try to mix everything up and please the crowd.

Wrigley Field is a cathedral.  It’s like the church of a ballpark.  You hear the organ. 

Are you ever recognized on the street?

Yeah, for tickets (Laughs). 

We had an announcer here, Jack Brickhouse, who was here for forty, fifty years with the Cubs and he passed away eight years ago, and his wife asked me to play at his funeral.  I never played for a funeral.  So it was a little different playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at a funeral. 

Memorable Game?

The game we clinched the division title in ’89.  1990 we had the All-Star game.  1998 with Sosa and McGwire.  2003, when we were just five outs away…I was at Harry Carry’s restaurant, three feet away playing the organ when they blew up that ball.  There’s so many games here.  1998 was crazy year…we’re down 10-2 and we win 15-12.  The wild card race is always exciting. 

The first night game here was 8/8/88.  And it was hot as anything, and it got rained out in the fourth inning.  Before night games at Wrigley, they would play doubleheaders and if they didn’t complete them, they’d have to carry it over to the next day.  We had a whole bunch of those. 

Growing up, I think every team had an organist.  Now, it’s probably half.  But I noticed a couple teams get rid of the organ and then bring it back.  Hopefully tradition stands, especially with these new ballparks being built that are taking bits and pieces from old ballparks.  Texas got the right field roof idea from Detroit.  Houston has the center field from Old Hauser Field.  So maybe because the look of the old ballpark is coming back, maybe the sound will come back too.  That’d be nice.

I sit at the organ bench during the games.  The message board operator sits there (points to a few feet away).  The PA announcer sits next to her.  It’s cramped quarters.  When we had that hot spell it was brutal. 

Rain delays are always something because I’m always playing.  Lighting, thunder, all that.  We had a doubleheader here once that started at noon and didn’t get over until 10:30.  Rain delays, all that stuff…that was a long, long day. 

I went to high school.  Took two years of conservatory music.  Went to Daly College.  Was going to go for a business degree, but I got that switched around. 

It’s hard now.  You just have to be at the right time at the right place, and have contacts.  That’s so important.  You can be the best at what you are, but if you don’t pull yourself out, no one is going to hear you or see you. 

We’re nearing a hundred years without a World Series.  You see that sign that says AC 0260097.  Well that is 2 years since we won a division, sixty years since we’ve been in the World Series, and 97 years since we’ve won a World Series.  That will be updated this year to 0361098 (Laughs).  We haven’t won a World Series since 1908.  I don’t even think there was electricity then. 

We were the first team to have an organ.  They used it for one game in 1941 and brought it back permanently in 1967.  It’s traditional.  At what more traditional park could you have it?

Everyone likes the organ.  Kids in their 20’s, who you would think like rock n’ roll, enjoy the organ because they’re at a ballgame.  Even kids who are 10 tell me they like the organ.  You’d think they’d listen to their iPod while they’re watching the game, but they’re not. 

It’s a great job to have, and fitting for me to have a job like this because I was always a traditionalist.  I liked the history of baseball.  What more could you want?

The game is at 3pm today, and I probably get here around noon.  I arrange the music, get the music all set. 

We don’t have a jumbotron.