June 26th, 2015
Music has a way of making memories come to life. All it takes for a return to childhood is to hear the lullabies mom sang, or the songs of our youth on the radio.
Baseball has its own soundtrack. Take Me Out to the Ball Game brings smiles to the faces of baseball fans no matter where it’s heard.
For Dodger faithful, there’s a song that evokes images of Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser and the team’s last championship in 1988.
Master of the House, a song from the musical Les Miserables, was played each time Hershiser warmed up before home games. Fans at the stadium soon associated the song with Hershiser’s goosebumps-producing performances that featured a Major League record 59 consecutive scoreless innings, and a World Series championship.
So how did the tune become Hershiser’s own private song?
Turning back the clock to ‘88, we find Nancy Bea Hefley, then in her first year as organist at Dodger Stadium.
A poised, classy figure, Hefley fondly recalls watching Les Mis at the Shubert Theater, hearing Master of the House for the first time early in the 1988 season.
“Even though it was a rowdy number, I thought it was catchy,” Hefley said.
But it wasn’t Hershiser she had in mind when she decided to play the song at the stadium.
“I thought it would be perfect to play for the umpires because they’re the masters of the game,” she said.
It was a dry Friday night on the 29th of April when 44,301 paying customers first heard Nancy Bea play Master of the House at Chavez Ravine. Home plate ump Terry Tata was huddling with fellow umpires Gerry Davis, Gary Darling, and Bruce Froemming. Hershiser was preparing to stake his 4-0 record against a St. Louis team that had dropped 14 of its first 20 games.
Though Hefley’s choice in music was a nod to the umps, Dodger Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully immediately linked its title to Hershiser’s mastery of opposing hitters. Between innings, Scully made his way to Helfey’s corner of the press box to compliment her fitting choice of intro music for the Dodger ace.
From then on, Hefley played it before every Hershiser start.
In a storybook year, Hershiser was the unanimous choice for the Cy Young Award, won three post-season games and saved another, and capped the year as the World Series MVP.
For Hershiser and the veteran organist Helfey, 1988 is hard to top.
“My first season playing at Dodger Stadium, everything was new and exciting,” Hefley said. “The kicker was Kirk Gibson hits the phenomenal home run, we win the World Series, and Orel wins the Series MVP.”
Hershiser, Hefley, and Dodger fans share the musical baseball memory of the pitcher’s triumphs and the Dodgers’ last world championship, forever linked by a song.
“To this day, every time Orel comes to Dodger Stadium, I still play Master of the House for him,” says Hefley.
For a team that’s in a decades-long World Series drought, the song is a reminder of their last World Series appearance.
After reaching the National League Championship Series in 2013, the team looks to take a step forward in 2014. Until they do, 1988 remains the standard.
“I sure would like to see another season like that one again,” Hefley says.
Update: Nancy Bea Hefley retired at the conclusion of the 2015 season after 28 years as the Dodger organist.
Contact the author at JSmiley@CooperstownExpert.com