Ernie Hays, longtime organist for Cardinals and other St. Louis sports teams, dies at 77

Ernie Hays, an organist who was a fixture at St. Louis sporting events and provided the soundtrack of Cardinals baseball for four decades, has died, the team said Thursday.

The St. Louis native, who spent 40 seasons as the baseball team's organist, died Wednesday night at age 77. A cause of death was not disclosed.

Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. called Hays "one of the premier sports organists in the country and a valued member of the Cardinals family."

A classically trained pianist, Hays also worked as organist for the St. Louis Blues hockey team, college sports teams and for professional soccer in St. Louis.

But he was best known for his work at both the old Busch Stadium and the new one, which opened in 2006. In addition to thousands of regular season games, his music was played at five World Series.

He began his sports music career when the Cardinals installed an organ in 1971. His version of "Here Comes The King," a Budweiser beer advertising jingle, soon became a staple at every game. He also was among the first organists to play individualized "walk up" songs as players went to bat, and introduction music for relief pitchers.

Hays retired from the Cardinals in 2010. By then, pre-recorded pop music and video had replaced much of Hays' performance.

Hays was born in St. Louis and began playing piano at age 7, the Cardinals said in a news release. His family later moved to Houston, Mo., where he graduated from high school. He majored in music at Drury College and Southwestern Missouri State University in Springfield (now Missouri State University).

He served in the Navy for four years before returning to St. Louis and earning an engineering degree from Washington University. He worked for many years as an engineering supervisor for the Bell Telephone System, much of that time while he was performing at sporting events at night.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.