Dan Greer’s organ playing in Detroit was no trivial pursuit

Dan Greer poses next to his organ at Tiger Stadium.

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.”

7 replies on “Dan Greer’s organ playing in Detroit was no trivial pursuit

  • Dan Greer II

    In the article Richard mentions a “conservative policy” about songs to be played that might insight bad behavior. For example playing 3 blind mice if an umpire missed a call. We don’t want the fans throwing things on the field. I believe this all came about in ’72 when the tigers won the American league east. Before they clinched the division, they were in the thick of the race, it was late August. A brave soul (probabvly because of the beer) decided to climb the left field foul pole to hang a pennent at the top. If you’ll remember; at Tiger stadium, the left field upper deck was recessed, and the lower deck was exposed. So the foul pole had go straight up from the lower deck and was supported by guy cables attatched to the roof of the upper deck. That is a long climb. They suspended the game till he climbed down, cause if someone hit a home run and hit it and knocked him off…..well nobody would want that liability. So while my dad is “filling the gap” he started playing songs like “Up Up and Away” a gosple hymn called “Climbing Jacobs Ladder” But when he started playing “Climb Every Mountain” Bruce Campbell called the organ booth and told him to knock it off. Don’t encouarge him. That was one of the funniest situations we always reminice about. But there were more. In ’77 or ’78 the Tigers were playing the Texas Rangers and a fight broke out. Dad never played Rocky or anything like that, but he’d play songs like the theme from Love Story, or My Funny Valentine. As I remeber that fight, Dave Rosema hurt his leg but Richie Hebner nearly beat the Rangers single handed. When he played for the Wings, then yes Rocky was played for almost every fight, but not Tiger Stadium. My siblings and I got to see a lot of games and have a lot of fond memories of Detroit sports. Ever grateful for the experience. Thank you Tigers, Wings and Pistons.

  • Zachary J. LaFleur

    Dan, what model and year of Hammond Organ did you play at Tiger Stadium between 1972 and 1982? Also, was this instrument at the stadium for Bill Fox between 1966 and 1971 and again between 1983 and 1987? Was this the organ that was last played between 1988 and 1990 by Steve Schlesing? Do you know what happened to it or is it perhaps your personal instrument and you still own it and enjoy playing music on it all the time?

  • Violine Jean Moody-Goetz

    I’m 60 now, I also remember Dan Greer @ First Baptist Church of Wayne, where I grew up & married. I also think of Him every time I’m @ a Detroit Tigers Game. I never knew that in the early 1980’s I was listening to Him! I will see Him in Heaven! He made the Organ come alive &had an awesome sense of Humor! Bill Pugh, who I see commented a few years back was one of my Favorite Friends around Church, He & Kathy⚾

  • Larry Robinson

    I ran across this article. I knew Dan well, but it has been many years ago wondering how to contact him or Dan Jr

  • Steve anger

    Dan greear also played Oregon for first Baptist Church of Wayne where I was a member where I also got married. Dan greear would invite me and my dad to sit next to him during the red wings games we got to watch the games and listen to him play first hand it was great!

  • Claudia Hellems

    That is so awesome. He definitely had a great sense of humor. To think all the games I went to. I never met him at any of the games. However I had the pleasure of knowing him for years as a chores teacher. Lots of wonderful memories. Thank you Mr.D.Greer. your a awesome person. I will never forget you.

Comments are closed.