The Seattle sports community lost a legend this afternoon when Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus died at age 75. A statement put out by the Mariners, quoting the Niehaus family, says he died of a heart attack.
Obviously, for so many fans in this area and now scattered across the country, Niehaus was the voice who introduced them to Major League Baseball. He was the voice of summer for legions of Mariners devotees. It was a voice that literally melted the winter snow away and came to represent the annual hope that each new season brings.
Of course, the one call M’s fans will never forget was the one in which their wildest hopes came to fruition. The Edgar Martinez double that decided the 1995 division series against the New York Yankees. Hear it by clicking right here.
Up above, you can see the autographed photo Ken Griffey Jr. gave to Niehaus a year ago on the final weekend of the 2009 season. Griffey actually came up to the booth in the middle of a game and presented it to Niehaus. The photo shows the two of them at spring training during the 1991 season.
For me, just watching Niehaus at spring training every year, taking it all in for the umpteenth time with a childlike enthusiasm, told me all I needed to know about his love for the game and the Mariners. We’ll hear a lot of stuff like that in coming days, I’m sure.
“What I remember most is that he was always excited,” Ken Wilson, Niehaus’s first broadcast partner for M’s games from 1977-82, told me moments ago. “He was always happy and excited about the game of baseball.”
Wilson had been unaware of Niehaus passing away when I phoned him. He expressed shock, saying he’d been thinking of him just the other day.
“We didn’t speak much but there was hardly a day that went by that I didn’t think of him in some way,” he said. “The last time I saw him was in July, when the Red Sox were in town. I went up to the booth with my kids and he was there and cordial as always.”
Wilson remembers what it was like in the booth with Niehaus doing the broadcast of the first ever M’s game back in 1977. Hear the audio from the first pitch by clicking right here.
“It was the culmination of his boyhood dreams in Indiana,” Wilson said. “I could feel the excitement coming out of his body and how happy he was to be there.”
Let’s have one more Grand Salami.
“There are certain guys, they call a game and certain things stand out for you,” said Russell Branyan, who knew all about Niehaus when he got to Seattle last year, having remembered some calls that stood out over the years when he was visiting with other clubs. “He’s one of those guys. He was a good man. Got to know the players and was always respectful.”
Current M’s television play-by-play announcer Dave Sims shared many a team charter flight with Niehaus over the last four seasons since coming to Seattle to do baseball.
“That’s a huge loss,” Sims said. “The guy had tremendous presence in the marketplace. Not just in Seattle, but all around baseball. Everywhere you went, somebody wanted to get in touch with Dave.”
Sims also noted how Niehaus maintained his love for the game even during a bunch of trying seasons for the M’s of late.
“He’s seen a lot of bad baseball, but he brought a lot of joy to people,” Sims said. “People really cared about him. He became their sound of summer.”
Jay Buhner just put out a statement, saying: “Words can’t describe what I am feeling right now. This is the saddest day of my life. It is like I am losing a Dad, someone that was a father-figure to me. He was the voice of Northwest Baseball and the heart of the Mariners organization. He described everything with an art and painted a picture you could see in your mind. I’ve had the honor of working with him as a player and also in the broadcast booth, and there was no one better. He was a consummate pro at everything he did. I am going to miss everything about the guy – going to miss his face, his ugly white shoes and his awful sport coats. He was one-of-a-kind.”
M’s CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong issued a joint statement, saying: “This is truly devastating news. Speaking for ourselves, our ownership and the entire Mariners family, our thoughts and prayers are with Marilyn, their children: Andy, Matt and Greta and the grandchildren.
“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.”