"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Goodnight Sweetheart

[Editor’s Note: The Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series will continue tomorrow.  But first, enjoy this special treat…]


By Ed Alstrom

Ed Alstrom playing the organ on the final day of Yankee Stadium behind a framed picture of Eddie Layton

Ed Alstrom playing the organ on the final day of Yankee Stadium behind a framed picture of Eddie Layton


There’s always something about the ‘last time’ you do something, especially when you know for sure it’s going to be the last time. Preparing for the last game at the existing Yankee Stadium was was a little easier than it might have been, because by that time we all knew it would be the last time. I was able to walk around and soak it all in with a sense of closure, and smile and say my silent farewells to this and that (jeez, it even extended to the bathroom and the elevator), without any nagging doubts that maybe we’d be back yet again.

I arrived early, as I customarily do, at noon, about an hour before the gates opened. There is always a sense of calm at that time at the Grand Dame, but especially so on this day. The place looked stunning, as it always does. The red-white-and-blue bunting always comes out for the special occasions, and the place seemed to have an extra halo around it just for the day.

This was gonna be a longer day that usual for those of us working there. The gates were opening at 1:00 for an 8:00 game (and this was the Orioles, so we could expect a marathon game), in order to allow early-arriving fans their own moment to smile and say their own silent farewells. Heck, they could even exit Monument Park via the warning track, where they could soak in the glories of that hallowed field firsthand. Our memories of this place make our minds race in so many different ways.

I started playing organ at 1:00 when the gates opened, and I played for a good hour and a half. I don’t remember exactly what I played; probably some of my favorites (When You’re Smiling, Eight Days A Week, Take The A-Train, The Shape I’m In, Because, Come Fly With Me, Oye Como Va, Patricia, Chest Fever, Sunny Side Of The Street, Sir Duke, Rehab, etc.), some ‘Sunday’ stuff (Groovin’, Beautiful Sunday, Sunday Will Never Be The Same), and maybe just jammed to fill some of the time. I then had a break for about an hour while they showed video of great Yankee Moments, and went back to play another hour or so.

During this break, I grabbed my camera and took a walk, and this time turned it into a pictorial ‘walking tour’ of my usual route from the parking lot to the press box, thinking someday when I’m old and gray that I’ll revisit it through these pictures. From getting out of the car and seeing the DiMaggio quote on the façade (which still brings a grin each time I see it; that never gets old), to the press entrance to the elevator, down to the basement to the press dining room. When I walked in there to grab a cup of Joe, I couldn’t do so because Bernie Williams was doing a press conference there, and I hung around long enough to hear him answer a question about his greatest moment at the stadium. He said there were so many, but one of the best was him walking o ut to center field one time before the game and seeing Paul Simon sound-checking with his guitar; he was going to do ‘Mrs. Robinson’ live that day. Then, back up the elevator to the Loge, down the concourse to the press box, and through the narrow corridor to my booth, which adjoins the PA booth. These are all halls and pathways down which many luminaries walked, to be sure.

The only deviation this time was after initially leaving the parking lot, I had to stop for a minute and take a few shots of the construction site across the street, where the new palace is emerging. Now, I know the idea of a new Yankee Stadium has its detractors, but here’s my take on it. I’ve been to every other major league city to see games, and I’ve seen the new parks in almost every one. And in sitting in those shiny new cathedrals, with their wide concourses and comfortable seats and spacious bathrooms and myriad amenities and culinary choices and state-of-the-art sound systems, I’ve always had one overriding thought: gee, why can’t WE have one of these? Doesn’t NY deserve this? And now we’re finally gonna get one, and it’ll surely trump all the others. As for the ‘vibe’ and the ‘aura’ and the ‘ghosts’, I believe Mr. Torre hit the nail on the head when he glibly said something li ke, “The ghosts will get up and walk across the street”. And you know they will, as soon as the team brings home #27. Heck, the ghosts will probably be there to greet us opening day, like some ethereal maitre d’s in Yankee uniforms as we enter the new shrine. (And yes, the organ will be there, same one as now.)

Anyway, I did my pre-game organ hit at 6:21, for fourteen minutes. My playlist was: “New York, New York”, “You Gotta Have Heart” (always open with those, as props to Mr. Layton), “The Way You Look Tonight”, “NY State of Mind” (I do this as a samba, works pretty well), “Bye Bye Blackbird”, “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “Thanks For The Memory”, and “More Today Than Yesterday” (not only apropos, but props to The Mighty Burner, Charles Earland, of course).

The actual pre-game festivities started around 6:50 PM. They kicked it off with the U.S Army Field Band doing a house-wrecking version of the “Stars and Striped Forever”, which for me kicks as much ass as any piece of music there is when done right. These fellas did it right! That sheer volume of sound and air moving, the push-and pull of the different sections, the harmonic tension in that piece… wow.

Then they started introducing the Yankee greats. They honored the deceased greats with a ‘field of dreams’ kind of thing, replete with yellowed uniforms (the ones Yogi said he doesn’t remember wearing), and even some actors who looked eerily like the people they were portraying. Now, I’ve read that some people thought this was ‘creepy’, but it certainly was novel and effective, and no other organization would have the creativity, the cujones, or the greats to do it. Then the parade of the living began, and so what If some of them weren’t ‘all-time greats’? They were Yankee greats who continue to conjur up great memories for all those present.

My part in this was to play short fanfares on the organ for each player as they were announced. In some cases, they were plays on words, as any organist would do; coulda been the player’s name, where they were from, a snippet of a song tied to something they did. Stuff like the ‘Yogi Bear’ theme for Yogi, ‘This Magic Moment’ for Don Larsen, ‘Oklahoma’ for Murcer, one of Bernie’s compositions when he came out. I’ve now done enough Old Timers’ Day games to know that there are some people you just can’t come up with anything clever for (what do you play for Ross Moschitto, for example? I’m sure some of you will hav e ideas…). So those people just get a generic fanfare, but with the same gusto as the others.

I had a copy of the script of the pre-game introductions that Sterling and Kay were reading from in my possession (a nice memento), since I had to follow it to play the fanfares. You may get a kick out of just reading the names of the living that were introduced, just to get a handle on the magnitude of the honorees and the event: Roy White, Winfield, Cora Rizzuto (representing Phil of course, and escorted by Mariano), Gene Michael, Nettles, Boggs, Brosius, Maris (represented by his son Randy), Reggie, O’Neill, Billy Martin (by his son), Richardson, Randolph, Skowron, Chambilss, Tino, Yogi, Elston Howard, Munson (by his son Michael), Girardi, Whitey, Larsen, Catfish (by Helen), Goose, Guidry, Wells, Cone, Mickey (by his son David), Murcer (by Kay and his children Todd and Tori), and finally Bernie.

Prior to that, in the ‘dream sequence’ they introduced the 1923 team stand-ins (Huggins, Shawkey, Schang, Pipp, Aaron Ward, Dugan, Everett Scott, Meusel, Whitey Witt, Ruth), and the stand-ins for Gehrig, Dickey, Gomez, Ruffing, McCarthy, Reynolds, Stengel, and DiMaggio. That’s a hell of a guest list, no?

The biggest cheers went up, it seemed, for the modern-day dynasty: Brosius, Tino, Boomer, Conie, O’Neill, and the last great hurrah for Bernie. There was a relentless tide of love and appreciation for these people, and it had to have warmed their hearts, too. And I couldn’t help but notice: almost no one sat down for the whole hour of this ceremony. Think about that!

As regards the brouhaha about Joe Torre, bear in mind that the way it was organized was in segments for each position on the field (a video montage followed by the attendees’ introductions at that position), but there was no segment of on-the field intros for managers. Torre was indeed featured in a video montage that honored the managers, and got a nice ovation at that time. The nonsense on a lot of blogs about Torre not being there was obviously absurd; I think he may have been a little busy that night (as was Mattingly). And as for him not being honored, he most certainly was, within the confines of the format.

My organ booth is secluded behind several panes of glass, and I can’t really hear the crowd, but I could see that that the place was electric that night. No one throws a party for themselves (or has the ammo to) like the Yankees. I thought this was a nearly perfect event, with great plannin g and execution, a real honor to the people being honored, and crowd-pleasing to the max in every sense of the word. Anyone who disputes that is nitpicking, and kudos are due to everyone that organized this. It must have been one heck of an undertaking.

The game finally began, and the Yanks did what they could by playing a crisp game and beating the O’s. Bernie even made an appearance in the scoreboard ops booth late in the game, by now in a suit looking quite dapper, to say hello to some friends there. There were more festivities after the game, as the Yanks did a victory lap around the field. Then, Jeter grabbed a mike on the infield and saluted the crowd and the Yankee tradition, in an apparently impromptu, yet elegant and concise, speech. And of course, one idiot had to try and run onto the field. You could do that in the late 80s/early 90s, but not no more. This person was engulfed instantly by an overwhelming cadre of uniformed and armed personnel of every stripe (horses, too), and seemingly disappeared into a black hole, never to be seen again. The incident was gone and forgotten almost as soon as it happened.

My great honor of the night was to get the last word musically. It was requested by the organization that I play a song called ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’, which Eddie Layton apparently used to close games with. On research ing this, I found there to be two songs with this title: one written in the 1940’s and recorded by Bing Crosby and Dean Martin, among others; and the second, perhaps more widely known by us ‘youngsters’, the doo-wop hit by the Spaniels recorded in 1955 (and a blanched version as covered by the McGuire Sisters was also a smash).

It was not easy to find out which one they meant, as no one really knew. Layton obviously was not available for comment. I asked Bob Sheppard and he naturally assumed it was the older one, but wasn’t 100% sure (he’d never even heard of the Spaniels’ tune). My final arbiter was Bill Shannon, the official scorer, who had ironically had just mentioned this a few days prior to me being asked to do it, and he assured me it was the older one.

So, after the victory lap and Jeter’s message, and a few more rounds of Frank singing “New York, New York”, I was given the cue, and played the song. On the scoreboard, it was posted in tribute to Eddie Layton, although I can’t really see the scoreboard from my seat in the press box. “Goodnight, sweetheart, ‘til we meet tomorrow; goodnight sweetheart, sleep will banish sorrow…”: it was all pretty emotional to me, although I may have been the only one who knew what was going on. As an ad ded bonus, on the official list of ‘stadium lasts’ distributed to the media, it was listed (with my name alongside) as the last piece of music to be heard at the old Yankee Stadium. So, I’m at least part of the answer to a trivia question.

The idea was that most of the people would be gone by then (it was now about 12:30 AM), and it would be the last thing played, but there were still a lot of people hanging around, soaking it in. Francis Albert inevitably came roaring back in after I was done, so technically the Chairman of the Board got the last word, but still… it was a pretty cool moment for me.

After almost all of the people were finally gone, we had a little private party in the scoreboard booth. At about 2:00 in the morning, we were summoned down onto the field for a staff picture. Then, I got my final opportunity to bask in the history from that hallowed ground for just a moment, and commune with the ghosts on their turf.

People ask me what I took from the stadium. There were no seats, no signs, no toilet fixtures. Only a little bag of dirt and grass from the field, the script from the formalities, and the name plate from my ‘office’ that says “Ed Alstrom – Organist”. They were the only ma terial things I got. But a flood of feelings and memories from this old place and all the great times I’ve had there are what I really take with me.

And this last spectacular and beautifully-paced night tied it all together in grand fashion.

Ed Alstrom is the weekend/holiday organist for the Yankees.


1 thelarmis   ~  Nov 3, 2008 2:29 pm

that was a terrific piece! i'm not sure why it couldn't be considered part of the "lasting yankee stadium memories" series. seems to fit it rather nicely. btw, how many more in that series and are we treated to one by alex belth?

i'm pretty positive a drummer buddy of mine from back home played a gig w/ ed in nyc the other year...

oh, will the clock here at the banter get changed to match up w/ daylight savings?!

2 thelarmis   ~  Nov 3, 2008 2:45 pm

brewers exercised cameron's $10mil option, so that small 2-year rumor can now die. gardner will probably get every shot for CF next season. not sure if this ended up in the 'news of the day' comments (it wasn't there when i checked before)...

3 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 3, 2008 3:01 pm

Hey, Ed already did a lasting stadium memory so I guess that's why I didn't include this...although Will Weiss had a two-parter...

There should be about two more weeks of Lasting Stadium Memory pieces, and sure, I'm a have one! Stay tuned...

I've been consumed with a side-project for the past few days. I'll be back to blogging more shortly...

4 thelarmis   ~  Nov 3, 2008 3:09 pm

ah, my bad! i've read every single one of them. i see on the sidebar that ed did indeed have one - #14 was a long time ago! thanks again for the John C. McGinley one, that rocked seeing Dr. Cox at the banter...

good luck on your side-project, alex - i'm sure it's great, whatever it is...!

i keep getting confused seeing my comments come in an hour later than it really is and i freak out for a quick sec, thinking i'm gonna be late for work! : ~

5 edalstrom   ~  Nov 3, 2008 5:47 pm

Alex, thanks for putting this up!

And thelarmis: thanks for the comment!
I always enjoy your (and mr. OK jazz's) commentary on Blue note and such. I especially liked the 'haiku' phase'. Haiku and post-bop seem to go together (pretty well.

So who is your friend that I might have played with? If you don't wanna put names up here, drop me an e-mail at http://www.edalstrom.com.

6 thelarmis   ~  Nov 4, 2008 12:20 am

hey ed! thanks for the reply here. it turns out, my good pal did indeed play a gig with you. if you're back checking this comment thread at all, please look for an email from me via your website. the subject title is: "bronx banter - thelarmis" ...so hopefully that'll give you a good heads up!

it was written to the Blue Note sounds of Art Blakey's "Buhaina's Delight" : )

7 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 4, 2008 4:17 am

[5] Hi Ed, that was a great article, thanks! more Haiku and jazz chat (along with baseball of course) to come this winter I would imagine...am sure thelarmis and myself can easily get to 100 comments on Blue Note alone! and if the Yanks end up signing Burnett and Tex....

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver