Voices of the Game | Dave Niehaus, the original Mariner, still making signature calls
Niehaus started as the Mariners' inaugural announcer in 1977, raising two generations of fans on his storytelling. "I would have made a lousy dentist," Niehaus said. "In my life, I've never worked a day. Not one day."
Seattle Times staff reporter
Age: 74, born Feb. 19, 1935, in Princeton, Ind.
College: Indiana University (1957).
Family: Wife Marilyn, children Andy, Matt and Greta, six grandchildren (Zach, Steven, Madeline, Alexa, Audrey and Spencer).
Broadcast history: Worked for Armed Forces Radio and TV service, calling Dodgers games in Los Angeles and Yankees games in New York as well as basketball and hockey. From 1969 to 1976, broadcast California Angels games, teaming with Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale. Also broadcast UCLA football and basketball (1973-76). In 1977, was hired by the expansion team in Seattle, the Mariners, to be their lead announcer, a job he still holds. Called his 5,000th Mariners broadcast May 7.
Awards: Given the Ford C. Frick Award and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Named one of The Seattle Times' Top 10 Most Influential People of the Century. Served as grand marshal of the Seafair Parade. Named Washington state broadcaster of the year in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 2004 by the Washington State Association of Broadcasters. Inducted into the Puget Sound Sports Hall of Fame. Received the 2004 One World Award from the Washington Council of the Blind. Honored in 1997 by the Washington state House of Representatives for "contributions to the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest." Threw out ceremonial first pitch for inaugural game at Safeco Field in 1999. Inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame and the Washington State Hall of Fame.
Video | Part 1
Listen to memorable Niehaus calls
The old man has still got it.
Just when you think you've heard it all from Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Mariners delivers a gem for the ages.
"Sitting next to him for 10 hours every day, I know he still has it," says Rick Rizzs, the No. 2 man in the broadcast booth for 24 years. "Just the excitement and the way he does a ballgame. I see it. I feel it. I hear it. Like the comment he made, 'It's time for a little old-time religion.' And Junior came through with a home run to help win a game against the Diamondbacks.
"It was one of the most exciting moments in the season. And Dave just added to it. He pulled it out of his back pocket. It's an incredible thing. And that's how you know he still has it. He's still able to come up with something you never heard."
"The fans are hoping to catch a little bit of old-time religion right here, baby, with Junior stepping up to the plate. Here comes the stretch and the pitch to Junior is on the way. Swing and a fly ball hit to deep right-center field! That baby is going to beeeeeeeee — FLY AWAY! THE OLD TIME RELIGION LIVES! JUNIOR DOES IT! A two-run home run and we are tied at 3-3. My oh my! Magic is back at least for a night."
Niehaus' voice is unmistakable. It varies in cadence, accent and timbre. It climbs the ladder to tenor to call a high strike or drops low and slow with an extra dollop of that Midwestern molasses for a ball at the shins. It's coarse from a 45-year-old, two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, and it has introduced Mariners fans to rye bread and wry humor in the same sentence.
No one call captures the brilliance of Niehaus. The Ken Griffey Jr. home run just happens to be symbolic of the latest chapter of his life. Was the 74-year-old Niehaus, an aging lion in winter, describing Junior or himself?
Admittedly he has stopped trying to differentiate between curveballs and sliders, preferring the term breaking ball instead. And every so often, he'll break into a home-run call on a routine fly ball.
"I guess in many ways Junior and I are a lot alike when you think about it in those terms," Niehaus said. "I truly believe this will be his last year in baseball. I don't know that for a fact, but that's just what I believe. As for me, well I don't know when this will end. I've always said, I'll leave when I don't enjoy it anymore, and I can't envision a time when I won't enjoy it.
"But there's other factors you have to think about also. All you can do is hope and pray you're able to continue doing what you love to do."
There have been recent reports of Niehaus' fading health.
During a trip earlier this month, Niehaus woke up in his hotel room feeling disoriented and was rushed to a Boston hospital in an ambulance.
"Just a precaution," said Niehaus, who was released after a few hours. "Nothing too serious."
But whenever Niehaus misses a game, it's cause for concern. In the first 11 years after taking the job in 1977, he missed one game. In later years as his health has declined, he has missed many more.
In 1996, Niehaus suffered a heart attack that required two surgeries to improve circulation around his heart. Afterward, he kicked the cigarette habit.
The only other major scare occurred in 2007 when Niehaus was hospitalized with pneumonia. Each season he takes four days off around the All-Star break.
"I'm not going to go so far as to say I'm in the best shape of my life, but I feel good, I really do," Niehaus said. "I've had to take precautions with what I eat and my health. But without a doubt, one thing that drives me is simply getting up every day and going to the ballpark.
"You want an incentive to live and to live a long time, well, that's it right there."
He is as passionate and energized as he was the day Edgar Martinez smacked a series-clinching, two-run double against the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series that magical summer of 1995.
"He was able to be there in the moment and set it up," Rizzs said. "There isn't a better call in the history of the Mariners — nor will there ever be — than Edgar's double down the left-field line. Joey Cora had the bunt base hit. Junior had the base hit up the middle.
"If you were listening to the game on the radio, you were at the ballgame. Dave said if Edgar gets a pitch, a line drive in the gap has a chance to score Junior with his speed from first base. And on the very next pitch ... "
"Right now, the Mariners are looking for the tie. They would take a fly ball. They would love a base hit into the gap and they could win it with Junior's speed. The stretch and the 0-1 pitch on the way to Edgar Martinez and swung on and lined down the left-field line for a base hit! Here comes Joey, here is Junior to third base. THEY'REGOINGTOWAVEHIMIN! The throw to the plate will be late! The Mariners are going to play for the AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP! I dooooon't beeeeelieve it! It just continues. My ohhhhhhh my!"
"Dave is one of the better storytellers in the history of the game," producer/engineer Kevin Cremin said. "To be able to create the drama, to set it up so well without stepping over and to make the fans feel like they're a part of it is a real gift. Dave has that gift. He's one of the few in baseball who can do that."
And to think, Niehaus nearly became a dentist. During the 1950s, the native of Princeton, Ind., enrolled in Indiana University's dentistry program.
"One morning I woke up and thought I couldn't bear staring down someone's throat at 9 o'clock in the morning for the rest of my life," he said. "Then I stopped by the college's radio and television station, and I've been doing this ever since."
Any retelling of the Niehaus story includes three parts.
• His days with the California Angels when he was teamed in the broadcast booth with Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale from 1969 to 1976. The trio also broadcast UCLA football and men's basketball from 1973 to 1976.
• His early years with the Mariners. He declined the job, but later accepted it after actor Danny Kaye, an original part-owner, convinced him to leave Los Angeles. The Mariners didn't have a winning season until 1991, including three seasons in which they lost more than 100 games. It was 15 years of bad lineups, terrible ownership, sparse Kingdome crowds and seasons that found the Mariners out of the pennant race by the All-Star break.
• And the miracle season in '95 when Niehaus endeared himself to the Mariners faithful during a magnificent pennant drive, a one-game playoff against the California Angels and two postseason series with the Yankees and Cleveland. That season bonded the city with the ballclub, making it impossible for the team to move to Tampa, Fla., and possible to build a new stadium.
As reliable as Seattle rain, Niehaus has witnessed it all.
He's been an avuncular figure with thinning gray hair and striking blue eyes telling baseball stories deep into the night. He was behind the microphone for no-hitters by Randy Johnson in 1990 and Chris Bosio in '93. He was there for Griffey's first home run and Gaylord Perry's 300th win.
And Niehaus threw out the first pitch at Safeco Field.
"I would have made a lousy dentist," he said. "In my life, I've never worked a day. Not one day."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com
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