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March 21, 2009 - John Mehno
Vince Lascheid, long-time organist for the Pirates and Penguins, died the other day at 85.
When I first started covering hockey, the organ was stuffed at one end of the press box, right next to a dusty old spotlight. That's how I got to know Vince Lascheid. He tolerated my bad musical suggestions, possibly because he appreciated the rare times when one of them was useful. Vince was facile enough to carry on a conversation while he played, so we got to know each other. Vince's corner was a popular gathering spot for writers during the game's intermissions.
It was a big day when the Pirates hired him back in 1979 -- he had left in the early '70s in a dispute over pay. Vince played piano in an upscale restaurant and wasn't going to sacrifice those nice paydays (complete with tips) unless the Pirates would make it worth doing. They wouldn't budge on the budget, and Vince played amid the clinking of wine glasses instead of the rowdy cheering of fans. A new Pirates regime reconsidered, and Vince was back with his unique style. Most of the themes were his own. When he got stuck, he'd solicit suggestions. The idea was to come up with something that would make people think, then smile. "Grease" for Jason Kendall? Sure, you know....Kendall Motor Oil....greasy stuff. Vince loved the groaners.
Somewhere along the way, MLB teams decided that traditional organ music in the ballpark was passe. Had to have more bells and whistles. Players were told they could choose music to be played when they came to the plate. That's why you get those snippets of hip hop these days. The old way was more fun. Remember the snake charmer music for Dave "Cobra" Parker? Or "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window" for Bill "Mad Dog" Madlock? (By the way, that took on a whole new meaning when Madlock was looking at free agency).
Eventually, Vince drifted away from both the arena and the ballpark. The Penguins put Vince in their Hall of Fame, then decided they weren't going to use organ music. (It has returned on a limited basis). Vince was still welcome at Pirates games, but his health didn't permit many visits in recent years. His last appearances were Sunday afternoon games in 2006.
But the Pirates have his work saved on digital files, so the usual rally stuff will still be heard. Maybe it's just as well that there isn't an impromptu musical salute for each player. Nobody could ever do that job as well as Vince Lascheid did