Last year the St. Louis Cardinals organization asked fans to "Stand for Stan" — a brilliant social-media campaign that went viral in minutes and ultimately earned Stan Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest non-military honor bestowed in the United States.
This year, we humbly submit that it's time to "Stand for Ernie."
For the first time in 40 years, the Cardinals this season will be without their legendary organist, Ernie Hays. (Click here for "Dirty Ernie," our 2005 feature story about him.) Sure, the team has hired another keyboardist to take over for Hays, who is retiring. But no one can ever truly replace the hard-working musician who made Budweiser's singular jingle an indelible part of St. Louis sports culture and who stubbornly clung to music from the glory days of baseball. Hays is even the answer to a classic St. Louis trivia question: Who is the only person ever to play for St. Louis teams in Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Football League?
Over the years, Hays' skills have earned him a mayoral proclamation and a decree from the governor. When he retired last fall, the Cards had him come down onto the field to say goodbye and soak up the applause.
Frankly, he deserved a better sendoff.
Of course, Hays himself would never say that. In fact, when RFT ran our "Stand for Ernie" up the figurative flag pole, he politely requested that we buzz off.
Sorry, Ernie, no can do.
Ernie Hays is a living legend and part of a dying breed. Only half of all major-league baseball teams continue to employ a ballpark organist. Only Nancy Faust of the Chicago White Sox can boast a longer tenure than Hays' (by one year). When Faust retired last season, the Sox named their organ booth after her.
Hays merits a similar honor — if not a greater one — here in St. Louis. What with Stan and all, we realize the Presidential Medal of Freedom is probably out. And Hays never wore a number on his uniform.
But the Cardinals could easily add his name (and his trademark suspenders) to those of the Redbird greats lining the outfield wall. Or they could commission a statue of Hays outside Busch Stadium, perhaps in the vicinity of the one that honors broadcasting legend Jack Buck. A bronze likeness of Hays at the keyboard would look downright swell.
The Cardinals got President Obama's attention by getting fans to log in to Twitter and post photos of themselves with a cardboard cutout of Stan Musial. We want you to help us get the Cardinals' attention by tweeting similar pics with the cutout of Hays that graces this week's cover.
It's high time for St. Louis to honor Ernie's organ. We encourage you to lend your support on Twitter @StandforErnie.
Make your very own "Stand for Ernie"