Hays manned the stadium organ for the St. Louis Cardinals for 40 years before retiring prior to the 2010 season. In an age when more and more ballparks use pre-recorded pop songs to entertain fans, Hays was an outlier who insisted on playing show tunes and classical music.
He is perhaps best remembered, however, for his renditions of the Budweiser theme song, "Here Comes the King."
- Dirty Ernie
The Cardinals' legendary organist tickles the keyboard -- and a lot more
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It was while operating the keyboards in the 1970s for the St. Louis Steamers indoor-soccer team that Hays first struck upon playing the jingle used in beer commercials. So grateful was the brewery for the free publicity that it later signed Hays on to a fifteen-year contract to play corporate parties and events. The song remained a staple at Busch Stadium following Hays' retirement and Anheuser-Busch's 1996 sale of the Cardinals. (Hays, btw, remains the answer to the trivia question: "Who's the only person
to play for St. Louis' professional football, baseball, soccer and hockey teams?")
Behind the scenes Hays was also known for his playful demeanor and off-color sense of humor. A Riverfront Times profile of Hays in 2005
began with him rattling off some of his favorite one-liners. "What's better than a rose on your piano?" quipped Hays. "Tulips on your organ!"
The jokes left some rolling their eyes and Cardinals brass -- at times -- shaking their heads. But for Ernie, the goal was not to offend. He simply wanted to bring a smile to the face.
"I'm a motivational keyboardist," he told Riverfront Times
. "That's something you have to learn over time. If fans are positive, my job is to reinforce their attitude. If their mood is foul, my job is to work like hell to change that."
Hays is survived by his wife of 50-plus years, Loreta, and their children and grandchildren.
This morning the Cardinals issued the following statement:
Local legend Ernie Hays has passed away at the age of 77.