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Ernie Hays, whose organ riffs rallied STL sports fans for 40 seasons, died overnight. He was 77.

Hays' work in St. Louis helped popularize batter "walk-up" songs, as well as the introduction music for relief pitchers

Hays signed on as the organist at Busch Stadium in 1971 and played his last notes there in 2010. He also played for other sports clubs, including the football Cardinals, the Blues, the Steamers and Stars soccer teams, the Spirits of St. Louis  basketball team and St. Louis University.

Known for his garrulous personality and penchant for off-color jokes, Hays did his playing while holding down a full-time job as an engineer.

"He was a unique guy," said John Ulett, the Cardinal booth announcer who joined Hays in their cramped perch above the field in 1983. "He had all kinds of interests, and he had his quirks.

"But we spent a lot of time together, watched a lot of baseball and had a lot of laughs," said Ulett, who also is a longtime disc jockey at KSHE Radio.

Earlier today, Cardinals management released a statement:

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Ernie Hays," club chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said. "Ernie’s music shaped the soundtrack of Cardinals baseball for nearly four decades. He was one of the premier sports organists in the country, and a valued member of the Cardinals family. The entire Cardinals organization extends its sincere condolences to his wife, Loreta, and his entire family."

According to the Cardinals, Hays playing of "Here Comes The King,: the popular Budweiser beer jingle, actually was first played at a Steamers indoor soccer match.

Hays was born Jan. 1, 1935, in St. Louis. When he was 4, his family moved to University City, and then to Houston, Mo. After graduating from high school there in 1952, Hays spent a year at Drury College in Springfield, Mo., and then married his wife, Loreta. They had three children.

Hays worked for a time as a disc jockey and news announcer, but then enlisted in the Navy and attended electronics school. When his enlistment was up, he went to Southwest Missouri State and then the University of Missouri at Rolla, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering.

Hays returned to St. Louis for what was then McDonnell Aircraft, where he calibrated test equipment for the Gemini spacecraft. In 1966, he took a job at Western Electric Co., where he worked until 1977.

In February 2006, Hays had open heart surgery to replace a valve. He left the Cardinals after the 2010 season, as most clubs began using recorded music almost exclusively, and when live music was used, it was not the classic American standards Hays embraced.

When asked shortly before his last game if he wanted to play newer music, Hays replied: "Hell, no, I want to play real music. Can you hear Duke Ellington playing Lady Gaga?"