Be sure to check out the nice story on Dave Niehaus by Percy Allen in today’s Seattle Times, part of a series on Seattle’s iconic announcers.
With the Hall of Fame induction approaching, I talked to Dave last Thursday in Detroit about his memories of his own experience during last year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, when he received the Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. (Contrary to the popular belief of some, Niehaus was not “inducted into the Hall of Fame,” as he would be the first to tell you. He won a broadcasting award that is bestowed in Cooperstown, a crowning acheivement for an announcer, but not the same as going into the Hall of Fame. In the museum, there is a display honoring the Frick winners (along with the winners of the Spink Award, which goes each year to a baseball writer — this year my former Bay Area colleague Nick Peters, a worthy recipient).
Since there was already so much Niehaus copy in the newspaper today, I didn’t write up the Niehaus interview, as I had intended. But there was a lot of interesting stuff, so I decided to put it up, in its entirety, here on the blog. It seems an appropriate time, with Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice and Joe Gordon being inducted into the Hall today, and Peters and Frick Award winner Tony Kubek getting honored as well.
Here’s the interview:
On his emotions as the induction ceremony approached: “Believe me, I’m thinking about it. I was talking to Al Kaline, I asked him if he was going back. He said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I happened to have dinner with he and his wife, Maz (Bill Mazeroski) and his wife, Phil Niekro and his wife the night I was there (in Cooperstown at the annual Hall of Fame banquet). We were reliving it.
“I’m really going to miss it. I know what the Kubeks are going through, because, he’s been in World Series and things like that, but I doubt if he’s been through anything quite like this. It hits you between the eyes. He’s the first television guy that will win the Frick Award.
I asked him if he’s watching the video of his speech.
“I never have. I’ve got it. I don’t know. One of these days, I will.”
On the season-long anticipation last year for the Hall of Fame event: “It was such a terrible year last year. It was a respite from reality. It didn’t seem like reality when I was there. It seemed like it was fantasy. Then I had to go back and we continued to lose baseball games. The year outside of that was horrendous. But that was the highlight of my career.
On his prevailing memories: “Just sitting around at that hotel, and you look around, and everywhere, there’s a Hall of Famer. Everywhere, there’s a Hall of Famer. I mean, you see Koufax, you see Whitey Ford, you see Robinson, you see Aaron, you see Willie Mays. You see all of these guys. You think, my God, I’ve died and gone to heaven. And it is baseball heaven. No doubt about it. It was unbelievable. I’m really going to miss it this weekend.”
On the current Mariners’ season (keep in mind we talked before the Cleveland debacle at Safeco): “It’s surprising to me, Very surprising. I didn’t know what kind of ballclub we were gong to have. I thought, quite frankly, we’d be lucky to be a .500 ballclub. That would be an incredible improvement. And still might be. We have a long way to go. At least for the first 95 games, it’s been unbelievable. Far beyond my expectations, and I think everyone else’s. We just have to get someone to slow down Texas and the Angels. The Angels don’t seem to want to lose, and Texas is hanging in there. But so are we. And the Angels aren’t going to play Kansas City forever.
On his health scare in Boston earlier this month: “I’m diabetic, and I guess I don’t watch myself too closely. My wife was with me with our grandson.. I would have been fine. I was laying there, and I didn’t wake up real soon. All of a sudden I wake up, and the parademics are there, and they take me to the hospital and give me an IV with glucose in it. That’s first time it’s ever happened.
I asked my doctor, what would have happened if my wife wasn’t there. He said, you would have been all right. But she was worried.”
(Niehaus came back from the hospital and broadcast the game that afternoon).
On whether he’s going to keep going indefinitely: “Absolutely. I’m going to keep going. I just want to do a World Series so bad for this organization before I hang it up. It’s our time one of these years…. I can’t wait to get to the ballpark every day.
On his impressions of manager Don Wakamatsu: “First of all, I didn’t know Don at all. So I didn’t know what to expect. What’s surprised me more than anything else is his intensity, his smartness of the game, and he’s such a teacher. Almost every day he has someone in and talking to him, if not the strategy of the gamme, down in the batting cage and working with him,like he worked with (Jack) Hannahan. He worked with hjim for half an hour, 45 minutes or an hour, and he comes out and hits two home runs. He’s working with Langerhans, all these guys. Branyan. To take nothing away form hitting coach. Lou Piniella was a damn good hitting instructor, too. He’d from time to time take guys to side and work with them individually.
“I’m very, very impiressed with him. Mostly because of the way the clubhouse has come around. That was not a happy place to be last year. Going in there. This year, it’s a delight to go in there. How much Junior has had to do with it, and Sweeney, I don’t know. Well, I do know. They’ve had a LOT to do with it.
On having Ken Griffey Jr. back: “I think we both love each other, to tell you the truth. We’ve been through a lot together. I certainly love him. He’s one of a kind. He’s the guy they should put a statue of in front of Safeco.”