Or­gan­ist’s last notes? Stay tuned

Frus­trated Nancy Bea He­fley talks of re­tir­ing, un­til Dodgers’ over­ture

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL PLASCHKE

Her mu­sic had been marginal­ized, her vol­ume di­min­ished, her Dodgers ca­reer slowly muted into ir­rel­e­vance.

So Thurs­day morn­ing, in re­spond­ing to a ques­tion from a friend on her Face­book page about whether she was re­turn­ing next sea­son, a frus­trated Nancy Bea He­fley an­swered sim­ply, “No ... I don’t fit in.”

The long­est-tenured sta­dium mu­si­cian in Los An­ge­les sports his­tory con­firmed that at the end of her 27th year as Dodgers or­gan­ist, she would be un­hap­pily walk­ing away, a de­ci­sion she later re­peated af­ter be­ing con­tacted by The Times.

“I am re­tir­ing at the end of this sea­son,” He­fley told The Times. “It’s fi­nally got­ten to me.”

Even her rich­est show tune wouldn’t be proper ac­com­pa­ni­ment for what hap­pened next.

The Face­book ex­change be­gan spread­ing. Twit­ter talk be­gan buzzing. Hints of out­rage be­gan form­ing. Dodgers of­fi­cials who had not been pre­vi­ously in­formed of He­fley’s plans took no­tice.

Three hours af­ter the orig­i­nal post ap­peared, one of those of­fi­cials called He­fley and, soon there­after, the woman who had been re­duced to play­ing five min­utes a day was sud­denly un-re­tired af­ter be­ing promised a life­time deal.

Any­body know the chords for, “Ya Got Trou­ble?” Or maybe it should just be, “Hallelujah.”

“I’m go­ing to be stay­ing with the Dodgers,” He­fley said in an in­ter­view af­ter her phone call with team of­fi­cials. “We talked things over, they told me I’m im­por­tant to them.”

In­deed, de­spite slowly re­mov­ing her from the game ex­pe­ri­ence such that it seemed ob­vi­ous she would not be re-signed af­ter her three-year

‘We spoke to her, we told her she was a valu­able part of the Dodgers or­ga­ni­za­tion and the fan ex­pe­ri­ence.’

—Lon Rosen,

Dodgers’ mar­ket­ing boss

con­tract ex­pired this fall, Dodgers man­age­ment sud­denly thought she was so im­por­tant they gave her a job for life.

“They said I had a job as long as I want the job, the job would not be open for any­body else,” He­fley said. “I will be sign­ing a new con­tract at the end of the year.”

They sud­denly thought she was so im­por­tant, they even asked her to im­me­di­ately re­turn to Face­book and post the good news, and so she did, writ­ing, “To all my faith­ful fans, I WILL be com­ing back next year. Thank you for your sup­port. The Dodgers have stated I have a job as long as I want.’’

Lon Rosen, the Dodgers’ mar­ket­ing boss, con­firmed the con­tract prom­ise and the life­time of­fer, which will come with a pay raise for next sea­son.

“She’s al­ways been a valu­able part of the Dodgers,” said Rosen. Her re­tire­ment “was news to us, we spoke to her, we told her she was a valu­able part of the Dodgers or­ga­ni­za­tion and the fan ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Un­til now, their ac­tions had not sup­ported a be­lief in that value. In fact, He­fley has spent most of this sea­son as a Dodgers af­ter­thought, cre­at­ing the frus­tra­tion that led to her Face­book ex­change.

“I’m not go­ing to be bad­mouthing any­body, but I’m just tired of it. You get to the point where it’s just not worth it any­more,” she ini­tially said Thurs­day morn­ing.

He­fley said the fi­nal straw oc­curred dur­ing the last home­s­tand when man­age­ment stopped al­low­ing her to play dur­ing the vis­it­ing team’s in­tro­duc­tions, then ended the regular prac­tice of show­ing her im­age on the big screen dur­ing her play­ing of “Take Me Out to the Ball­game.” Those changes, while small, are sym­bolic of the slow si­lenc­ing that has oc­curred since Guggen­heim Base­ball Man­age­ment pur­chased the team three sea­sons ago.

He­fley, whose Dodgers ca­reer be­gan dur­ing the team’s last World Se­ries cham­pi­onship sea­son in 1988, es­ti­mated she once played 45 to 50 songs a night. Now she plays, at most, snip­pets of three or four songs. She once played vir­tu­ally the en­tire game. Now she es­ti­mates she plays a to­tal of five min­utes.

Dur­ing the Dodgers’ glory days, she be­came fa­mous for ser­e­nad­ing Orel Her­shiser’s ap­pear­ances with the song, “Mas­ter of the House,” from the mu­si­cal “Les Mis­er­ables.” To­day, she is not al­lowed to play when the pitch­ers come into the game.

Dur­ing the Dodgers’ most glo­ri­ous mo­ment, she ser­e­naded Kirk Gibson’s first-pump­ing home run trot with “Happy Days Are Here Again.” To­day, when a Dodgers hit leaves the park, she keeps quiet.

“They don’t like my mu­sic, that’s what it comes down to,” she ini­tially said. “I think it’s the style … they want more of the new stuff.”

Af­ter she un-re­tired, He­fley said more play­ing time was dis­cussed, but not promised, some­thing Rosen con­firmed.

“The in-game ex­pe­ri­ence keeps chang­ing, con­tin­ues to evolve, and Nancy’s role will still be there,’’ said Rosen.

In some ways, the Dodgers are in a tough spot with He­fley. Like all teams in a sport with an aging fan base, they are try­ing to at­tract a younger de­mo­graphic, and thus are fill­ing most of the game’s dead space with popular mu­sic rang­ing from rap to hip-hop to dance. As even He­fley would ad­mit, there are times her clas­sic fa­vorites would slow the vibe, and she can’t eas­ily change her tune. She ac­knowl­edged that a cou­ple of years ago, of­fi­cials re­quested she learn 20 newer songs, but she said they weren’t her style. The Dodgers’ taste seem to lean more to­ward the thump of Di­eter Ruehle, the cel­e­brated Kings or­gan­ist, who was given more play­ing time when he filled in for He­fley last week­end.

Yet in an­other way, this should have been easy for the Dodgers. She’s Nancy Bea, for Pete’s sake. She’s beloved, she’s re­spected, she’s adored by Vin Scully, she still plays the heck out of Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein, and why can’t you throw her a few more songs, a cou­ple of more innings? There are few more trendy parks in base­ball than the new Yan­kee Sta­dium, and yet or­gan mu­sic still fills the Bronx. There is still a small but valu­able place in the mod­ern base­ball ex­pe­ri­ence for “The Sur­rey With the Fringe on Top.’’ Why can’t the Dodgers find that place for He­fley and the many tra­di­tional fans who still love her?

And, just won­der­ing, if He­fley is so im­por­tant to them, shouldn’t the Dodgers have been in closer com­mu­ni­ca­tion with her? At least close enough her frus­tra­tion would never reach a level that she would pub­licly re­tire with­out telling them?

“I’m so hum­bled by all this,” said He­fley. “So over­whelmed.”

The Dodgers’ mar­ket­ing peo­ple now know the feel­ing. Or at least they should.

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

NANCY BEA HE­FLEY, the or­gan­ist at Dodger Sta­dium since 1988, says her play­ing time dur­ing games has been re­duced from per­form­ing 45 to 50 songs a night to snip­pets of three or four songs.

Ge­orge Wil­helm Los An­ge­les Times

OR­GAN­IST Nancy Bea Hef ley, vis­it­ing with her hus­band, Billy, be­fore a game in 2012, had ini­tially said she didn’t “fit in” any­more at Dodger Sta­dium.

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