Man, didn’t I just write a post about the passing of a baseball legend? How depressing.
I say that, of course, because word came out this evening that Seattle Mariner broadcasting legend Dave Niehaus passed away at age 75. Outside of the Pacific Northwest, Niehaus was never quite the household name that, say, Vin Scully or Bob Uecker are, or Harry Caray or Ernie Harwell were. But people who care about the game and appreciate a great broadcaster have known about Niehaus for years. In 2008, he was given the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Last April, I created a graphic that highlighted some of the game’s longest-tenured, most popular broadcasters called “Your Childhood Has Been Brought to You By…” I received a few complaints from fans of different franchises that felt that I wrongfully left off their guy. I’m very pleased to say that I did not make that mistake with Dave Niehaus.
Niehaus was the voice of the Mariners from the beginning, having been selected as the team’s lead play-by-play guy in December 1976. Over the next 34 years, he called nearly every game the Mariners ever played. At the start of the 2009 season, for example, he had called 4,971 of the team’s 5,061 career games.
Who would’ve known back then, in the year of the bicentennial, that Niehaus would be calling games in Seattle for the next 34 years until his death? From the December 24, 1976, edition of the Seattle Daily Times:
(Click “Read More” to continue reading.)
It has been just a week since Dave Niehaus became “The Voice of the Mariners,” but he is plunging in like a whirlwind unleashed. Caution seems to be anathema to him; reluctance is unknown.
“My wife and I are as high as Mount Rainier.” Niehaus’s cackle was audible on the phone from his Los Angeles office at KMPC. “We are coming up Sunday for two or three days to look around and if we find a house, we’ll buy. We intend to become an integral part of the community.” An instant integral part, evidently.
Niehaus was such an unknown name – he was the third broadcaster in the California Angels stable, behind Don Drysdale and Dick Enberg – that it had to be clarified that he was no relation to the Seahawks’ tackle Steve Niehaus.
“A couple of years ago a sportswriter said in his column that I was Steve’s father. I wrote him a letter pointing out that even though I was getting older, I was not THAT old.”
Hired alongside Niehaus was Ken Wilson, a broadcaster from Hawaii. Wilson stayed with the Mariners through the 1983 season when the M’s won only 60 games, having never seen a winning season in Seattle. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1991 that the fans of the Mariners – and Dave Niehaus – would finally see an 82-win team (finishing the year with 83 wins). That certainly defied Niehaus’ optimism at the start of his tenure:
“I think we’ll be competitive,” he countered. “Look at Kansas City. They’ve only been together since ’69 and this year they were one run away from going to the Series.
“Now that Oakland has been decimated and other teams have lost major players, I think this is the best time to be an expansion club. We’ll be competitive.”
In the end, the story of the Mariners has been the story of Dave Niehaus. He witnessed – and voiced – everything from the Glenn Abbott-led team of 1977 through the Alvin Davis and Mark Langston years of the ’80s and into the Griffey, Edgar, Unit, A-Rod, and Ichiro years. As the team got better and more historically significant (and with that many future Hall of Famers playing together and/or in succession, that’s saying something), so too did Niehaus. He, in fact, transcended the team. His induction into the Hall of Fame in 2008 was just the cherry on top.
When Washingtonians look back on those great Mariners teams of the 1990s and early-2000s, they’re going to have a lot of legendary faces to remember. But, depending on their particular likes and dislikes, as well as their age and other factors, no one individual will jump out. Maybe some will think of Griffey mashing home runs as a 22-year-old, or sliding into home to beat the Yankees in the ALDS. And maybe some will think of Randy Johnson and his mop of hair as he hurled triple-digit heat towards the plate. Or maybe it’ll be Edgar Martinez’s sustained excellence, or Alex Rodriguez’s 40/40 season at the age at the age of 22, or the great Ichiro! dropping infield singles with aplomb.
But no matter which player this future M’s fan will remember most fondly, it will undoubtedly be the voice of Dave Niehaus and his steady playcalling that he remembers more than anyone else. It’s a very sad thing that we have to keep acknowledging the deaths of these Hall of Fame individuals, but at least it gives us a minute to appreciate the men for who they are.
Dave Niehaus will be missed. The people of the Pacific Northwest – and baseball fans in general – lost someone special today.