St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - A longtime staple of Cardinal Nation has died. Busch Stadium organist Ernie Hays passed away Wednesday night at 77.

According to Loreta Hays, Ernie's wife, the couple was at their daughter's home in Maryland Heights for a Halloween gathering when he collapsed outside on the lawn. He was rushed to a local hospital and died a short time later.

Loreta Hays said her husband had "not been in great health" for some time.

Ernie Hays retired as Busch Stadium organist in October 2010 after 40 years on the job.

Hays' sports music career began in 1971 when the Cardinals installed an organ in Busch Stadium II, and he quickly became a fixture at major St. Louis sporting events. Hays soon started playing for the St. Louis football Cardinals, the St. Louis Blues, and the St. Louis Stars and Steamers soccer teams in addition to area college teams. It was at a Steamers game where Hays first played "Here Comes The King," the popular Budweiser beer advertising jingle, and a now staple at every Cardinals game. Hays is credited in St. Louis with popularizing batter "walk-up" songs, as well as the intro music for relief pitchers.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Ernie Hays," Cardinals 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."

Hays, a St. Louis native, began playing piano at the age of seven. He finished high school in Houston, Missouri, and majored in music at Drury College and Southwestern Missouri State University in Springfield. Hays served four years of active military service with the United States Navy before returning to St. Louis and earning an engineering degree from Washington University.

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