Tributes, tears flow for the voice of the Mariners and Hall of Famer
When building a baseball franchise from the ground up, it starts with pitching, right?
A few good hitters wouldnt hurt.
But those are hard to come by, particularly at the beginning.
To define a franchise, it helps to have a face and a voice as much as it helps to have pitchers and hitters.
For the Seattle Mariners, Dave Niehaus was that face and that voice.
Wednesday, that voice went silent.
Niehaus died at 75, victim of a heart attack. He was at home in Bellevue on an atypically sunny Seattle November day, sitting on the deck at the back of his house. He was found by his wife, Marilyn.
The one constant in 3½ decades of Seattle baseball was gone. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown since 2008, Niehaus was lauded by those he worked with, those whose play he chronicled and those who knew him from afar.
“This is a terrible loss, club president Chuck Armstrong said. “He has been the link between the fans and the team since the club was founded.
Armstrong, one of Niehauss longtime friends, was too broken up to say much more, adding only that “every time I try to say anything, I start crying. Were all going to miss him.
Niehaus broke into baseball broadcasting California Angels games with Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale in 1969. He moved north when then-co-owner Danny Kaye asked him to be the voice of the new club in Seattle in 1977.
The Mariners were mostly terrible during their first 15 years. Niehaus was widely credited with helping grow the Mariner fan base during those tough times before the team finally became competitive in the 1990s.
He was so much the epitome of the organization that when Seattle moved into Safeco Field after the All-Star break in 1999, Niehaus was chosen to throw out the first pitch.
“We knew he was slowly winding down, but this is a real slap in the face, former Seattle outfielder Jay Buhner said. “We lost a family member. He was like another dad to me.
“He was the consummate professional, and he was such a huge fan of the game. He loved baseball. He never wanted to take a day off. He always wanted to be out there.
Buhners best friend during his playing days was Ken Griffey Jr., the center fielder and a neighbor in Issaquah. Both men considered Niehaus a good friend.
“He meant everything, Griffey told ESPN 710 radio from his home in Florida. “Everybody talks about the players who went there and the players who left, but he made the Mariners who they are. Without him, the guys out there are nothing.
“Day in and day out he brought the excitement and drove thousands and millions of people to the ballpark to come watch us. Its tough because hes like that grandfather to all of us, especially Jay, me, Edgar (Martinez) and Dan (Wilson) and so many other Mariners, he was like our grandfather. He would give you a little bit of advice, and he was tough on you when he needed to be. This is a day that I was hoping would never come. Its just a sad day for all of us, not just his family, but for everybody in the great Northwest.
Niehaus had not been held back by health in recent years. But in 1996, he had to go through two angioplasties, at which point he gave up smoking and altered his diet.
“Dave has truly been the heart and soul of this franchise since its inception in 1977, Mariner CEO Howard Lincoln and Armstrong said jointly in a statement. “Since calling Diego Seguis first pitch strike on Opening Night in the Kingdome some 34 years ago, Daves voice has been the constant with the franchise.
“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.
With his trademark phrases “my, oh my, and “fly away call for home runs, Niehaus could describe a game lyrically and not just in prose. He was one of the reasons the Mariners radio broadcasts were such a Northwest staple.
“I marveled at how at his age, every day at 2 p.m. he was at the ballpark and refused to miss a game, fellow broadcaster Dave Sims said. “He was that dedicated to the game. He was somebody you could talk baseball with, contemporary or old school whatever you wanted.
Broadcasters around the country ranked Niehaus with the best.
“I loved driving home from our games, Rangers announcer Eric Nadel said Wednesday, referring to hearing Mariners games from the West Coast on XM. “He was a wonderful friend to me as well, really funny, and always willing to share his great wisdom.
The summit of Niehaus career was his 2008 Cooperstown induction into the Hall of Fame.
“Im glad he not only got into the Hall of Fame, but he got to enjoy it, former Seattle manager John McLaren, now a Nationals coach, said. “He was at the top of his game, and he got all those tributes, which he absolutely deserved.
“He was a wonderful guy. There never has been another voice like his. It was such a unique voice. And with his enthusiasm and his phrasing, he was such a joy to listen to. Everybody who knew him enjoyed being around him.
Baseball Commission Bud Selig also offered a tribute.
“All of baseball is terribly saddened by the tragic news, Selig said in a statement. “He was one of the great broadcast voices of our generation, a true gentleman, and a credit to baseball. He was a good friend and I will miss him.
“He will be sorely missed, not only in the Pacific Northwest but wherever the game is played. Dave was a Hall of Famer in every way.
When Niehaus was taken into the Hall of Fame in 2008, the Mariners named the Safeco Field broadcast facility in Niehaus honor.
“He got a chance to go to work every day in a facility named for him, Sims said. “That had to be great for him.
Buhner, who has done some radio and TV work for the Mariners, said its hard to imagine doing a game without Niehaus close at hand.
“No one will be able to replace him, Buhner said. “Oh, my god, it will be tough the first time to announce a game without him.
John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)