There’s an 802 musician who has had a box seat at every Yankees home game since 1967. But his box had to be large enough for him and his instrument: a giant Hammond organ. He’s Eddie Layton, and he was the regular organist for Yankee Stadium until this year, when he retired after the World Series. The job has been an 802 union gig with pension, and Eddie is an honor member of the union.
A typical game day would start with the Yankees sending a limo to pick up Eddie at his home. He would get to eat dinner in the press box before heading to his organ booth to collect his thoughts and his music. Then he would start playing about 30 minutes before game time.
Eddie says, “Everybody who has a job – no matter what kind of job, be it music, teaching, instruction, law, medicine – you’re either going to get fired, you’re going to resign or you’re going to retire, as I did. It’s best to retire, if you can.”
Allegro editor Mikael Elsila called Eddie and asked him what it was like to play for the home team.
ME: Could you describe how you decided exactly when to play during a game?
EL: That’s a tough question, because it’s all instinct. I didn’t want to disturb the pitcher from the opposing team or the Yankees. When his foot is on the rubber, the music is out. Usually, I decided to play little ditties for each player based on their name or what team they’re on. When Claudell Washington was with the Yankees, I used to play the “Washington Post March.” Once a player picked a bat up and got into the box, I’d take the music out right away, not to disturb or offend anyone. During the seventh-inning stretch, I would play “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
ME: What about after a player hits a ball and there’s some action on the field?
EL: No, I don’t interfere with that until the play is stopped.
ME: Where are you situated in the stadium?
EL: My booth has a great view of the field, between first base and home plate, leaning towards home plate on the first level off the ground. It’s a great vantage point for me.
ME: Do you hear your music through a monitor or reverberating through the stadium?
EL: I have to wear a headset because there’s usually a one or two second delay for the music to get back to me.
ME: What happens when you make a mistake?
EL: I’ve been a lucky guy, career-wise. Whenever you hit a clinker, no matter what instrument you play, you repeat it three or four times and no-one will ever know…except on the national anthem!
ME: What kind of organ is it?
EL: It’s a Hammond Colonnade model. Two little wires come out of it into the public address amplifiers – and lo and behold 50,000 watts are produced. If I want to, they could hear me on the George Washington Bridge.
ME: Are there any tricks or techniques playing the organ that’s different when you play in the stadium than if you play in a concert hall?
EL: Not at all – it’s usually the same technique.
ME: Is it possible that in the stadium, since there’s so much reverberation, that you have to play more staccato?
EL: There’s very little reverberation in the stadium. They spent about a half million dollars on a new sound system about ten years ago and it’s one of the finest sound systems in the country. There’s no reverb there at all.
ME: How have you changed your repertoire over the years?
EL: I haven’t that much. I’ve kept it my style. I’ve enjoyed the Broadway show tunes and what I call easy jazz. I’ve kept the repertoire practically the same from what it was all these years. Things like “New York, New York,” “Chicago, My Kind Of Town,” “On the Sunny Side Of The Street,” and “On Broadway.”
ME: So you didn’t go with any rock or newer tunes?
EL: No, I didn’t want to incorporate rock music. Some of it is good; most of it is immature music and I’ve avoided that all these years.
ME: Have you gotten much feedback from the players or the fans?
EL: Yes. Around the beginning of October, at the seventh inning stretch, they announced my retirement on the P.A. system. They had almost 50,000 people there yelling “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie!” That was quite an event for a musician to hear that from the fans; usually that’s reserved for athletes. And then both teams – the Orioles and the Yankees – stood up on the top bench and all started applauding.
ME: Did you have good interactions with George Steinbrenner throughout your career?
EL: Yeah. You know, he plays the organ also. He knows the instrument. And he does play and he’s a fine musician. He had an organ at his home in Florida. I suggested that he take over my spot; he broke up laughing.
ME: When did you start playing the organ?
EL: I was in the Navy at the time – about 45 years ago. They had an organ at the naval base auditorium at Lakehurst Naval/Air Base in New Jersey, where the blimps are. After I saw it and the wonder of it, I started taking lessons on it. I played the piano before that.
ME: What did you think of the playoffs this year against the Red Sox?
EL: I thought they were exceptional this year, especially game number seven. I’ve never seen a baseball game like that in my 38 years here. It was the most exciting game of all time.
ME: What are the Yankees going to do now? Are they going to replace you?
EL: It’s a good question; I have no idea. George Steinbrenner asked me if I would consult with them during the winter as to what we should do at Yankee Stadium – should they replace me or should they use something else? He told me, “As long as I own the team, Eddie, you’re invited back anytime for the rest of your life.”