By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, one of the most beloved personalities in the history of the team, died Wednesday at his home in Bellevue.
The Mariners said Niehaus, 75, suffered a heart attack.
Niehaus has been the lead play-by-play announcer since the Mariners’ first season in 1977 and had witnessed 5,284 of the team’s 5,385 games.
In 2008 he was inducted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame after being named winner of the annual Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcast excellence. One of the highlights of his career was being selected to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on July 15, 1999, before the first major-league game at Safeco Field.
News of Niehaus’ death stunned a Mariners family and fan base that spreads not only throughout the Northwest but nationwide.
“There is not enough you can write that can do justice for what Dave Niehaus means — to this city, to the Mariners, to baseball and to me personally,” said former Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner, who has been part of the broadcast crew for numerous games since he retired. “We lost one of the most beloved guys ever. It’s a rough day to say the least.”
Niehaus, a native of Princeton, Ind., graduated from Indiana University in 1957 and began broadcasting with Armed Forces Radio. His first baseball job was in 1969, partnering with Dick Enberg on California Angels broadcasts.
The Mariners hired Niehaus as their play-by-play voice for the team’s first season in 1977, a job he never left.
Perhaps his greatest call was his description of Edgar Martinez’s two-run double that clinched the Mariners’ 1995 playoff series against the New York Yankees.
“The Mariners are going to play for the American League championship!” he screamed from the broadcast booth in the Kingdome. “I don’t believe it! It just continues! My, oh my!”
“My, oh my” became Niehaus’ calling card, an expression that told fans the Mariners had accomplished something special.
His distinctive home-run call was, “It will fly, fly away!”
Nothing, however, may have been as unique as the way Niehaus described a grand slam, saying, “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma, it’s grand salami time!”
In the book “Tales from the Mariners Dugout,” Niehaus described how that call came about.
“I’d always called a bases-loaded home run a salami. Tino Martinez in those days was hitting a few grand slams, and I was thinking one day, ‘What goes good with salami? I came up with that,’” Niehaus said in the book. “When I first used it, we were doing television. Ron Fairly was sitting to my right and Ron thought I had taken a step to the other side of the line. He didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. But when we got home, the town went crazy with that. The people from ‘O’Boy! Oberto!’ sent me these huge salamis.”
Niehaus had experienced health issues the past 15 years, including heart problems in 1996 and a hospitalization during the offseason four years ago while in England. Still, he rarely missed a game, and only in recent years took midseason breaks.
Niehaus never hesitated when asked the greatest Mariner he watched — Ken Griffey Jr.
Wednesday night, on ESPN 710 radio, Griffey returned the compliment.
“If we were down 10 runs, with two outs, and somebody would get a hit, he’d still be saying, ‘C’mon, guys.’ You could see him up there (in the broadcast booth) clapping,’” Griffey said. “I know he has three grandkids — he’s got 300 of us. He’s somebody who’s going to be missed. It’s hard to think he’s gone.”
Buhner, speaking by phone through his own tears Wednesday night, remembered the day he met Niehaus, shortly after the Mariners acquired him in a trade with the New York Yankees in 1988.
“He personally came up to me and introduced himself and made himself available,” Buhner said. “He assured me that if there was anything he could do, he would be more than happy to do it. That was the start of a great bond. I consider him a family member.”
After he retired, Buhner got to know Niehaus as the fans did, as a master at describing the scene at the ballpark.
“Even though Dave was slowing down a little bit, nobody could paint as vivid a picture with words as he was painting,” Buhner said. “People don’t realize how difficult it is. His calls, his passion, his enthusiasm, his smiling face, his hugs — they’ll be missed.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire released a statement describing Niehaus as an institution in Seattle and referring to him as “Mr. Mariner,” a label more commonly used to describe former first baseman Alvin Davis, one of the team’s first stars.
“Today the Pacific Northwest lost one of its sports icons,” Gregoire said. “Baseball Hall of Fame member Dave Niehaus will be remembered for his passion for all things baseball, high professional standards and gentlemanly conduct. Dave was an institution here starting with the team’s first pitch in 1977. With all due respect to the great Alvin Davis, Dave is ‘Mr. Mariner.’”
(Listen to the clips of these moments below).
Commissioner Bud Selig, in a statement, described Niehaus as one of the great broadcast voices of our generation.
“He was a good friend and I will miss him,” Selig said. “But he will be sorely missed, not only in the Pacific Northwest, where he had called Mariners games since the club’s inception in 1977, but wherever the game is played. Dave was a Hall of Famer in every way.”
Dave Sims, who in October completed his fourth season broadcasting Mariners games, said he realized how important Niehaus is to Mariners fans when he attended the team’s FanFest shortly after he was hired.
“I could tell just watching the reaction of the fans,” Sims said. “Then I’d see people in the street or at the ballpark, and they’d always ask, ‘What’s it like working with Dave Niehaus?’ That’s an indication how big he is. Wow, what an icon.”
The love of Niehaus extended deep into the Mariners clubhouse.
“I used to love it when he called me the ‘Big Guy,’” said relief pitcher J.J. Putz, who pitched for the Mariners from 2003-2008. “There’s a reason he’s in the Hall of Fame. He is one of those rare broadcasters who you don’t have to see to know who you’re listening to, he has such a distinctive voice. He’s one of the best.”
Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln and team President Chuck Armstrong released a statement, saying:
“Dave has truly been the heart and soul of this franchise since its inception in 1977. Since calling Diego Segui’s first pitch strike on Opening Night in the Kingdome some 34 years ago, Dave’s voice has been the constant with the franchise. He truly was the fans’ connection to every game; to wins and losses; to great plays and heart-breaking defeats; to Hall of Famers and journeymen. With the exception of his love for his wife, Marilyn, his children and grandchildren, there was nothing Dave liked more than the game of baseball and to be at the ballpark. He was the voice of spring and summer in the Northwest.
“He was the fans’ choice to throw out the first pitch in Safeco Field history, and no one has had a greater impact on our team’s connection to fans throughout the Northwest. One of the best days we’ve ever spent was in Cooperstown in 2008, as Dave took his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Niehaus is survived by his wife, Marilyn, and their three children, Andy, Matt and Greta, and six grandchildren, Zach, Steven, Madeline, Alexa, Audrey and Spencer.
Five of Dave Niehaus’ career highlights with the Mariners:
From the beginning
Hired to be the Mariners’ play-by-play voice for their first season in 1977, Niehaus witnessed 5,284 of the team’s 5,385 games. His first call was Mariner pitcher Diego Segui’s walk of the Angels’ Jerry Remy to begin the Mariners’ first game on April 6, 1977. His last was Ichiro Suzuki’s fly out to end the Mariners’ final game this year on Oct. 3.
The most popular — and most replayed — of Niehaus’ play-by-play calls is his description of Edgar Martinez’s two-run double to beat the Yankees in the deciding fifth game of the Mariners’ first-round playoff series in 1995.“The Mariners are going to play for the American League championship!” he screamed from the broadcast booth in the Kingdome. “I don’t believe it! It just continues! My, oh my!”
Opening Safeco Field
Niehaus was on the field with team officials and dignitaries during ceremonies before the first major-league game at Safeco Field on July 15, 1999. Just before time for the ceremonial first pitch, Mariners President Chuck Armstrong turned to Niehaus, handed him a baseball and asked him to deliver the pitch. It stunned Niehaus to tears, and he described it as one of the proudest moments of his life.
Hall of Fame
Niehaus was named winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting excellence, and in 2008 he was inducted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Before leaving Seattle for the induction, Niehaus told reporters, “Guys, this is the toy department of life. It’s a narcotic. Anyone who is involved in this business, whether it be my end or (the writing) end or the front office end, we’re lucky. We’re lucky people.”
In 2000, Niehaus became the second inductee in the Mariners’ Hall of Fame. For a story on Niehaus’ Hall of Fame career, click here
Forever at Safeco Field
Weeks before Niehaus was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008, the Mariners honored him in a pregame ceremony. During that ceremony, the team announced that the broadcast level of the Safeco Field press box would be named the “Dave Niehaus Broadcast Center.” For what a day was like in the life of Niehaus, click here.
‘Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma’:
Griffey’s 56th home run in 1998:
‘The throw’ by Ichiro:
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog.