Loss of a legend: Dave Niehaus, voice of Mariners, dies at 75

Loss of a legend: Dave Niehaus, voice of Mariners, dies at 75 »Play Video
FILE - In this May 1, 1999, file photo, longtime Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus sits in his booth at the Kingdome before a baseball game.
SEATTLE -- Dave Niehaus, the iconic announcer who has broadcast Seattle Mariners baseball games since the team's first days in 1977 has died. He was 75.

Niehaus suffered a heart attack at his family home in Bellevue Wednesday, team officials said.

Although he was a broadcaster - not a team member - he was in a sense the Mariners' first star - long before Junior, A-Rod, The Big Unit and Ichiro.

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"Today the Pacific Northwest lost one of its sports icons," said Gov. Chris Gregoire. "Baseball Hall of Fame member Dave Niehaus will be remembered for his passion for all things baseball, high professional standards and gentlemanly conduct. Dave was an institution here starting with the team's first pitch in 1977. With all due respect to the great Alvin Davis, Dave is 'Mr. Mariner.' "

Seattle Mariners Chairman Howard Lincoln, and team president Chuck Armstrong issued a joint statement offering thoughts and prayers on behalf of themselves and the team for Dave's wife Marilyn and his children and grandchildren.


Listen to some of Dave Niehaus' calls.

"Dave has truly been the heart and soul of this franchise since its inception in 1977," Armstrong and Lincoln said. "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 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."

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig echoed those sentiments.

"He was one of the great broadcast voices of our generation, a true gentleman, and a credit to baseball," Selig said. "He was a good friend and I will miss him. But he will be sorely missed, not only in the Pacific Northwest, where he had called Mariners games since the club's inception in 1977, but wherever the game is played."

Fans gathered at Safeco Field where a candlelight memorial was set up outside the stadium to say thank you to a man who touched their hearts.


Lorin Sandretzky, aka "Big Lo," reacts at the gates of Safeco Field on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010. (AP/Seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)

"His calls were incredible," said Lorin "Big Lo" Sandretzky. "And it's just really sad he never got to say 'The Mariners win the World Series.' "

Inside the stadium, a memorial was set up on the Diamondvision scoreboard in center field. And inside the Dave Niehaus Broadcast Center sits an empty chair, headset and microphone -- a reminder of who Dave Niehaus was -- a man who was given a gift to create magic through his voice.

"I put away the mustard, I put away the rye," Sandretzky said. "I put away my Mariners shirt and now the 'My oh my.' Baseball won't be the same."

Since the Mariners' inception in 1977, Niehaus served as instructor for baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest, a region void of the major league game sans the Seattle Pilots one-year experiment in 1969. Adults and kids regularly tuned in on summer evenings to hear Niehaus try and put his best spin on what were among the worst teams in baseball during much of the club's history.

But no matter how bad the Mariners were, Niehaus never let the on-field product affect his approach to the game. He always brought enthusiasm and drama to some horrible teams, horrible games and horrible seasons. Day in and day out, his calls were often punctuated by his raised voice and trademark "My oh My!" and "It will fly away!" during a moment to celebrate.


Listen: When Mariners baseball was carried on KOMO Newsradio, Dave Neihaus had a segment called "At Home With Dave." It's Dave, at his best, talking baseball.

"All of us in this business, guys, this is the toy department of life," Niehaus said in the days before he was honored with the Ford C. Frick award in Cooperstown, New York. "It's a narcotic. Anyone who is involved in this business, whether it be my end or (the writing) end or the front office end, we're lucky. We're lucky people."

Niehaus almost missed his shot at working in the toy department. He stumbled into broadcasting as a student at Indiana, after deciding that waking up at 8 a.m. every day to stare at teeth as a dentist wasn't the job for him.

He worked for the Armed Forces Network in Los Angeles and New York before anchoring himself in the L.A. market in the late 1960s and early '70s, calling games for the California Angels and UCLA football. In 1976 at the baseball winter meetings, Niehaus was encouraged to interview for the lead play-by-play job with the expansion Mariners.

"As a No. 1 broadcaster, you get to tell the story. The No. 2 guy, he gets to tell what's happening between the climactic end," said Niehaus, who was the No. 3 guy with the Angels behind Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale. "You get to say what happens at the start and unless the other guy is lucky and you go into extra innings and he gets the final inning of what happens, he never gets to enjoy it. I feel sorry for (No. 2 guys), because you're trapped in that you never get to tell the end of the story, the happy or the sad end. That's what a lead announcer gets to do."


Jay Buhner discusses the loss of Dave Niehaus.

As much as Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki are responsible for making Seattle relevant in professional baseball, it was Niehaus telling their stories along the way. Perhaps fittingly, Griffey was the first person Niehaus heard from when the Frick award announcement was made in February, 2008.

Even though Niehaus never announced a World Series game with the Angels or Mariners, his calls during Seattle's remarkable rally during the 1995 season still bring chills to those who fondly remember the brightest time in Mariners history, even surpassing their 116-win season in 2001. Seattle trailed the Angels by 13 games on Aug. 2 before surging to win the AL West for its first playoff berth.

Niehaus would choke up when reminded of the one-game tiebreaker with the Angels that Seattle won 9-1 to clinch the division title, and fans in the delirious Kingdome turning toward the broadcast booth to salute Niehaus after the celebration on the field died down.

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"It's hard to express. It's probably the biggest thrill of my life until this weekend," he said. "I didn't know I meant that much to them."

And of course, many in the Northwest will never forget Niehaus' call of the most seminal moment in Mariners history - Martinez's double in the bottom of the 11th inning that scored Joey Cora and Griffey to beat the New York Yankees in the 1995 AL division series:


Listen to the 1995 "Edgar Double" call.

"Right now, the Mariners 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, swung on and LINED DOWN THE LEFT-FIELD LINE FOR A BASE HIT! HERE COMES JOEY, HERE IS JUNIOR TO THIRD BASE, THEY'RE GOING TO WAVE HIM IN! THE THROW TO THE PLATE WILL BE ... LATE! THE MARINERS ARE GOING TO PLAY FOR THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP! I DON'T BELIEVE IT! IT JUST CONTINUES! MY OH MY!"

It's not Niehaus' most thrilling moment on the air in Seattle. That belongs to Segui's first pitch. But he understood the lasting connection.

"That's a call with which I will always be identified. I was lucky enough to be there," he said.

In 2008, Niehaus received the Ford C. Frick Award, which is awarded annually for major contributions to baseball broadcasting.

"I'm a lucky guy. I love the game. If I wasn't out here doing the games broadcasting I'd be out here sitting in the stands," Niehaus said in the days before receiving the baseball announcer's highest honor.

While a few players and managers with Mariners connections have found a place in Cooperstown, Niehaus is the first Seattle star to be honored in the Hall.

Niehaus is survived by his wife Marilyn, children Andy, Matt and Greta, and six grandchildren.