Dave Niehaus

Dave Niehaus died about a month ago. I wrote about it on my other blog, but not here. I can’t get to sleep, so I figured I’d finally update this one. I know I’ve been MIA as of late — it’s hard keeping up on sports news when one is a graduate student. I’ll try to revive this blog over the holidays.

Here is the post from the other blog:

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when the Mariners said I could interview Dave Niehaus for my bachelor’s thesis in 2004. I’d been listening to the Mariners for my whole life, and Dave was my childhood hero. I couldn’t (and still can’t) listen to baseball without thinking of Dave’s voice. I see baseball through Dave’s eyes — when he describes the blue of the sky, and the cut of the grass, I could see and smell the field.

So it was with my heart pounding in my chest that I dialed Dave’s home phone number.

“Hello?” his wife picked up.

“Hi, is Dave Niehaus there please?” I asked politely. She went to get him. I had to remind him who I was and why I was calling, but once I did so, he made me feel right at home.

“Oh hi, Anna, how are you?” he asked in his deep baritone. Like I was an old friend. He switched phones because the one he was on was gonna run out of batteries. And then we started talking about Whitman, Walla Walla, and what I was doing. I think he could sense that I was nervous talking to him. But he put me right at ease, chit-chatting about Walla Walla, my hometown of Seattle, and what I was majoring in.

And then the magic began. For 45 minutes, I asked Dave questions, and listened to him reminisce about the bad old years, the exciting years of the ’90s, and where the team was going to go next. I scribbled notes and listened with my ear pressed up against the phone.

Dave started to get excited when he talked about the 1995 season. “It was about, you know, August of that particular year when, I think the Mariners were thirteen games behind the Angels, and funny things began to happen. And not only did they catch the Angels, the Angels caught them at the end. If you might recall, we were in Texas, and had clenched a tie for the division championship with two games to go, and then Texas beat us the last two games, and the Angels swept all four games down in Anaheim against Oakland. And tied, and then they came up here and then we beat them.
And then went to New York, and af – ironically, I’ll never forget this, because the first day we were in New York, uh, to play the Yankees in the playoffs, it was the day that the OJ Simpson verdict came down. And, uh, and then lost the first two games and that – certainly the second game, that bitter thirteen, fourteen-inning, fifteen-inning game. I think it was thirteen innings, where Jimmy Leyrich hit a home run into the, into – raindrops into the seats in right field, and we’re coming back down two to nothing, and you knew the season was over. And, well, as you know what happened, it wasn’t over. We won all three games, culminated by Edgar Martinez’ double down the left field line with Joey Cora scoring and then Junior scoring from first base.
And – and I think it was from August of that year that the town became absolutely rabid, fanatical.”

I could see Cora scoring. I could see Edgar’s double down the left field line. I could see Junior scoring from first base. That’s how powerful Niehaus was. Through his voice, you saw the game.

Dave was adamant that the 2001 Mariners had had more wins than the 1906 Cubs, and that their accomplishment was greater than that of the Cubs. “. Ironically, the hundred and sixteen wins were the most in baseball history. Uh, people say that no, the 1906 Chicago Cubs also won a hundred and sixteen games. They, they won a hundred and fifteen. They had one game given to them. It was forfeited to them, when John McGraw would not play, the Cubs wouldn’t put his team, the New York Giants on the field because he didn’t like the umpiring crew, and he said if this particular umpire is gonna umpire behind home plate he wouldn’t put his team on the field. And the umpire says “okay then, see ya later.” And they forfeited that game to the Chicago Cubs. So the Cubs actually on the field only won a hundred and fifteen games, the Mariners won a hundred and sixteen. But of course, you know, there are all kinds of nuances to that, too. The Cubs only played a hundred and fifty-four games, the Mariners played a hundred and sixty-two, so.”

Dave Niehaus died yesterday. He had a heart attack on his back porch. He was surrounded by family when he died, as it should be. The Northwest lost a legend. I cried for hours. And, not knowing just what I should do, I drove down to Safeco Field with a candle and a note for his family. I had to tell them what Dave meant to me. I wasn’t alone. Four other people were down there with the same thought. We left flowers and candles at the Home Plate entrance. KIRO 710 announced that a “spontaneous candlelight vigil” was going on at the stadium. All throughout the night and into today, fans of Dave Niehaus have been making the pilgrimage to Safeco Field, leaving their remembrances. The entire Northwest is grieving. It feels like we lost our grandfather, the one who told us stories about Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner. The one who could make a summer night come alive with magic and wonder. The one we listened to no matter what the score was. If the Mariners were down by 10 runs, I’d listen to Dave call for more. I learned to love baseball because of Dave Niehaus.

For me, some of the most poignant things Dave told me were about his role as a broadcaster. He knew that he’d become part of people’s families and people’s lives. And I think it humbled him. He said, “Baseball announcers like myself become ingrained in people’s families, because you come into their homes, if you’re a baseball fan, almost every day. And you become a part of their family.”

And that’s it. That’s why it’s so hard to lose him. He became a part of many people’s families.

Summer’s not going to feel the same without him. He said, “People start to listen, listening to me – or when baseball season comes around, let’s put it this way, it’s a portent of good things to come. Because the winter is over, Spring has started, the trees start to bloom, it’s, you know, it’s a – vacations are around the corner, beaches, hiking, trips, everything.”

When I heard Dave’s voice on the radio every February, I knew that spring was right around the corner. I knew that soon we’d be having beautiful long summer Seattle days and warm nights. I knew that it was almost hiking season. It’s just not going to feel like summer without Dave.

Before I hung up the phone, Dave Niehaus asked if I would send him a copy of my bachelor’s thesis when I was done. I couldn’t believe it. My childhood hero was asking me to send me what I’d written. “Well Anna, it’s uh – good luck to you. And, uh, if you get a chance, when you write this, let me, let me read it,” he said. So I bound a copy and sent it to him at Safeco Field. I don’t know if he read it, but I like to think he did. I hope he liked it.

I treasure that phone conversation I had with Hall of Famer Dave Niehaus. It just epitomizes who he was. He was one of the nicest men in sports, a real class act, who would talk to anybody. Even during the down years — and we Mariners fans have been in the midst of almost a decade of them — we still listened to Dave.

According to broadcaster Shannon Drayer, Dave believed that Hall of Fame ghosts came out at night and played baseball at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. On her blog, she related this anecdote.

“I thought that after they turned the lights off that they must sneak out of there and head over to Doubleday Field,” he said, “almost like a Field of Dreams, only everyone is a Hall of Famer and you have got the ideal pitching matchup against the greatest ball players of all time. The old Negro Leagues stars were there and it is one happy family. Why not bring them all back and play the Oscar Charlestons? Yeah, you’re darn right. There are ghosts there.”

I like to imagine Dave Niehaus among the ghosts of Cooperstown. He’s meeting Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. He’s talking with Harry Caray, his own childhood hero. And he gets in the radio booth as Cy Young throws a fastball to Babe Ruth with three men on, and it’s

“Babe Ruth points the bat out to left field, and it’s swung on and BELTED! Deep to left field! Ted Williams goes to the track, to the wall! This baby is gonna…FLY AWAY! GET OUT THE RYE BREAD AND THE MUSTARD GRANDMA, IT’S GRAND SALAMI TIME!!!”

Rest in peace, Dave Niehaus. It’s not going to feel like summer around here without you.

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