The best way for a baseball announcer to endear himself to a new audience is to be with a winning team. You report good news every night and the fans will love you. Piece of cake. On the other hand...
When I first became a broadcaster for the Seattle Mariners in 1992, I joined Dave Niehaus, who had been their voice since day one back in 1977. He said to me, "I figured it out, Kenny. For me to get to a .500 record, the team would have to go 2042-0."
And yet, he became the second most treasured icon in Seattle, right behind Mt. Rainier.
Can you imagine how many truly bad, ugly games he called over the years? Not a lot of good news to impart there. The Mariners for the first twenty years were just God awful.
Still, people in the Pacific Northwest clung to his every word. The attraction was not the team; it was listening to Dave. His passion for the game, vivid descriptions, and magnificent voice made any baseball game sound exciting, even a Mariners'.
Prior to joining Seattle, Dave worked alongside Dick Enberg calling games for the then-California Angels. Team owner Gene Autry once said to Dave, "You call a hell of a game. It's not the one I'm watching but it's a hell of a game." Actually that's only half true. It was the game you were watching, only better. Because Dave had something that so few announcers have today -- showmanship. You were not just getting play-by-play, you were being told a tale by a master storyteller. Name me a better way of spending a warm summer night sitting out on the front porch.
Dave Niehaus passed away yesterday at age 75. Like all of Seattle, I'm devastated. We didn't lose an announcer; we all lost a member of the family. Personally, Dave was the greatest broadcast partner I ever had. I've been very lucky to work with some of the best, including four Hall-of-Famers. I greatly respect them all and am eternally grateful for their friendship.
But I loved Dave Niehaus.
Summer will never be the same. And neither will Christmas, at least for me. My yearly tradition was to call Dave on Christmas morning. That's what the holidays are all about, right? Reaching out to the people who mean the most to you, and bitching about the Mariners' pitching.
There are many tributes to Dave today, along with replays of his classic calls and glowing testimonials. Nice to see that some ballplayers, like Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner, have already weighed in.
But I'd like to share some off the air memories. No one was more enthusiastic, laughed harder or as often, and looked better in white shoes than Dave Niehaus.
On the 4th of July he always wore this ridiculous red, white, and blue jacket. I tried to get him to wear it all year.
He still would go to movies with me even after I made him sit through Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog. To this day I still feel guilty about that.
It could be twelve degrees in Cleveland in April and he'd keep the window open in the booth because he felt it was cheating the audience to not be "in the game." I told him in 1992 this was not good for his health! I was right!
I don't remember just how it started but whenever the Mariners were down by ten runs or more, Dave and I would sing the "Wabash Cannonball" on the air. Unfortunately, we sang it so often we no longer had to consult the lyric sheet.
He referred to himself as "the Veteran Spieler".
Three years ago, when I filled in for him, (and that was like Steven Seagall filling in for Brando), he called me after the first inning to say how great it was to hear me again. What made that even more touching was that I was rusty as hell. He called me anyway.
He was a great joke teller. His telling was far better than most of the jokes.
He knew every advance scout, coach, owner, reporter, umpire, official scorer, PR person, PA announcer, organist, clubhouse attendant, pressbox attendant, and commissioner in baseball.
I was forever in awe of the descriptive images he would just routinely toss off. A high pop fly one random night in Baltimore was "a white dot against a black sky". A ground ball down the line would "rooster tail into the corner". How did he think of these things?
He knew great restaurants in every town. Some of them have since burned down.
If you worked for the Mariners, he knew your name and your kids' names.
Dave's broadcast booth led the league in laughter every season.
He had several offers to go to other teams in larger markets but always turned them down. He loved Seattle.
On the road he never took the team bus to the ballpark. We always caught an early cab. It could be September, three weeks after the team had been mathematically eliminated, a thousand degrees in Texas with hail and locusts in the forecast, and Dave was at the park four hours before game time doing his prep. Every day. Every game. No exceptions. Ever.
He personally welcomed every new player to the team. In the years I was there, that was probably close to a hundred.
He never refused an autograph, a handshake, picture request, or invitation to emcee a program for a local charity.
He's still remembered fondly in Los Angeles and he hasn't broadcast there for 45 years.
No one loved the game or knew the game better than "the Veteran Spieler".
I was so glad he was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. And I am so sorry he never got to call a World Series game.
Dave will always be remembered in Seattle. If Yankee Stadium was "the House that Ruth Built", then Safeco Field is the "House that Haus Built".
He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, broadcaster, mentor, ambassador, Hoosier, military veteran, citizen, and proud to say -- Hall of Famer. I will miss him terribly.
Dave Niehaus enjoyed life and made everyone else's life more enjoyable.
But Dave, your calculations were a little off. According to me, your record as a Mariner broadcaster was 5,284-0. That's well above .500.
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