Over the years, certain types of ballpark personnel have been rendered obsolete by technology.
Before the public address system, lineup changes and other announcements were made by a leather-lunged man shouting into a megaphone.
And the early scoreboard operators who either chalked or changed numbers by hand were replaced by an employee sitting inside a cozy control room with rows of buttons and toggle switches.
Another occupation that went the way of the dodo bird was the organist. Bill Fox was the first to climb into the loft on the extreme right-field side of the press box when organ music was introduced to Tiger Stadium in the 1960s. Before the Ilitch regime killed the keys some 30 years later, a handful of others filled the position. None played as long as Dan Greer.
A native Detroiter whose father was a Methodist minister, Greer first played the organ in church. He was a high school music teacher in Taylor when he started moonlighting at Olympia Stadium in 1971. That gig got him the job at Tiger Stadium when Fox retired the following spring. Greer completed a trifecta by playing for the Pistons at Cobo Arena.
“That’s how many people remember me,” Greer said. “I’m the answer to that trivia question: ‘Who’s the only person ever to play for the Red Wings, Tigers, and Pistons in the same season?’ Except they often get it wrong and identify me as the only guy to have played for the Tigers and Lions. That’s wrong. The Lions used bands. They didn’t need an organist.”
And for many years, neither did the Tigers. Practically every ballpark had one in place by the time the hidebound front office finally got around to it.
“I basically agreed with the general manager, Jim Campbell, who was conservative,” Greer said. “He told me to just fill in the gaps: pitching changes, between innings, when there was an argument on the field. I couldn’t play anything demeaning, like ‘Three Blind Mice’ when somebody was arguing an umpire’s call. Of course, nobody said I couldn’t play the first couple lines from the national anthem: ‘Oh, say can you see….’ I think that went over Campbell’s head.”
For his labor, Greer made $75 a game, $150 for a doubleheader or an extremely long extra-inning affair. It worked out to about $6,000 a summer by the time he left the organist’s loft at the end of the 1982 season.
Greer’s playlist included some original compositions by Ernie Harwell, who asked the organist to try them out on the crowd.
Greer was playing ‘The Night Chicago Died’ one evening when the Tigers had the White Sox on the ropes late in the game.
“Detroit led, 8-3, in the top of the eighth,” he remembered. “You know, I was trying to have a little fun. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the bottom falls out. Detroit commits about four or five errors, and the Sox scored eight runs.” When the Sox came to bat the following inning, they were greeted with Greer’s rendition of “Chicago, My Kind of Town.”