The organist who entertained baseball fans for more than half a century during the College World Series — and who was once ejected from a game for his choice of song during a dispute over a call — has died.
Lambert Bartak died early Sunday at an assisted living facility in San Diego following a brief illness, according to his son. He was 94.
Starting in 1955, Bartak was invited to play such standards as "Hello Dolly," ''You Are My Sunshine" and, of course, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on his 1947 Hammond organ stationed at the far end of the press box at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha during the annual College World Series.
By 1980, he had become the series' full-time organist, but he still had to be wooed every year, said Kathryn Morrissey, executive director of CWS Inc.
"I really think he just enjoyed the banter," Morrissey said. "I just told him the event would never be the same without him, and that was true. We really didn't have a backup plan."
He retired in 2010, the last year the series was played at Rosenblatt.
Bartak also played the organ for minor league baseball's Omaha Royals from 1973 to 2002. In 1988, he was ejected from a game when he played the theme song from "The Mickey Mouse Club" during an on-field argument between the Royals' manager and an umpire over a call.
"The truth is, Dad didn't know why he was being ejected," his son, Jim Bartak of San Diego, said Tuesday. "He was not a sports fan, and he had no idea what a Mickey Mouse call was. He said at the time, 'I was just playing Mickey Mouse for the kids.'"
Bartak was born April 8, 1919, on a farm outside of Clarkson, about 85 miles northwest of Omaha.
Lambert Bartak's father, a Czech immigrant, played the accordion for parties. The father sold 20 pigs one year to buy his son an accordion of his own.
"He showed Dad some of the basics," Jim Bartak said. "But Dad was otherwise self-taught. He could read music and write music for any instrument."
When the U.S. entered World War II, Bartak joined the Army and was allowed to take his accordion overseas with him, his son said. He became a member of a group that entertained troops in London.
After returning, he became known as an accomplished musician who had his own radio and TV shows in the '40s and '50s.
"He played for several presidents — Reagan, Kennedy, Carter, Clinton," Jim Bartak recalled. "He spent his life doing what he loved. He was a music man."
Bartak was preceded in death last year by his wife of 66 years, Geraldine. He is survived by his son and two daughters, Linda Fontenot, of Omaha, and Laura Kleinkauf, of Dallas, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held Saturday at Church of Joy in Chula Vista, Calif.