Dave Niehaus, the Mariners broadcaster since their first season in 1977, has died at age 75.
In the crowning moment of his legendary broadcasting career, Dave Niehaus stood on the podium in Cooperstown, N.Y., and saluted the power of his medium.
“Radio plays with the mind,” he said upon accepting the Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. “It gives you a mental workout and delusions of grandeur.”
For 34 years in Seattle — the entirety of the Mariners’ life span — no one was grander, or more beloved, than Niehaus, who died Wednesday of a heart attack at his home in Bellevue. He was 75.
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“This is truly devastating news,” Howard Lincoln, the Mariners chairman and CEO, and team President Chuck Armstrong said in a joint statement released by the team. “… Dave has truly been the heart and soul of this franchise since its inception in 1977.”
Lured away from the broadcast team of the California Angels at age 42 to become the voice of the expansion Mariners, Niehaus was there from the first pitch in organization history at the Kingdome on April 6, 1977, to the final game of a dismal 2010 season Oct. 3 at Safeco Field.
Niehaus broadcast 5,284 of the 5,385 games played by the Mariners, and did it with contagious enthusiasm. His call of Edgar Martinez’s double to beat the Yankees in the 1995 playoffs has been emblazoned in the memory banks, characterized by Niehaus as “my seminal moment.” But his audible frustration during poor Mariners performances was just as endearing — and no one witnessed more poor Mariners performances than Niehaus over the years.
Niehaus’ catchphrases became buzzwords for generations of Seattle baseball fans: “Fly away!” for home runs,” “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma, it’s grand salami time!” for grand slams, and “My, oh, my!” for any impressive feat on the field.
“Dave loved baseball and loved the Mariners,” former broadcast partner Ron Fairly said. “That ‘My, oh, my’ was genuine. When the team was not playing well, it tore him up. When the Mariners did run out some really good teams, he was the happiest guy in the world.”
Niehaus’ death led to an outpouring of appreciation from all corners of the baseball world, but it was felt with particular force in Washington. Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement, “Today the Pacific Northwest lost one of its sports icons.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said, “Seattle has lost a friend. … From now on, there will be just two eras of Mariner baseball: the Dave Niehaus era and everything else.”
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig called Niehaus “one of the great broadcast voices of our generation, a true gentleman, and a credit to baseball. He was a good friend and I will miss him. … Dave was a Hall of Famer in every way.”
No one had a closer association with Niehaus than Rick Rizzs, his longtime broadcast partner, and Kevin Cremin, producer/engineer on the broadcasts for 28 years.
“What a loss,” Rizzs said. “Holy cow. I feel numb. He meant everything to Mariner baseball. Everything. He was not only the voice of the Mariners, he was the Mariners. He was the face of the franchise. When you turned on the radio, everything was right with the world when you heard Dave’s voice.”
“Dave was the best there ever was,” Cremin said. “Best guy, best announcer, best friend. No one could draw you into the moment, the drama of a game, like he could. They broke the mold when they made Dave. His style, his mannerisms, he was one of a kind. He was like a brother, an uncle, a relative to me. He brought me here. It will never be the same without him.”
Niehaus often said his most meaningful award was a citation from the Washington Association for the Blind.
“They said their members could see the game through my eyes, which is the ultimate compliment for a broadcaster,” he told The Seattle Times in 2006. “And you can only do that on the radio.”
Niehaus had a particularly close relationship with the Mariners’ greatest player, Ken Griffey Jr., and his calls of Griffey’s accomplishments are among his most memorable. Griffey often engaged Niehaus in warm, teasing banter, and admonished Niehaus to lead a healthier lifestyle after his 1996 heart attack.
“He meant everything,” Griffey said of Niehaus in an interview Wednesday night on 710 ESPN. “Everybody talks about the players who went there and the players who left, but he made the Mariners who they are. Without him, the guys out there are nothing. Day in and day out, he brought the excitement and drove thousands and millions of people to the ballpark to come watch us.”
Niehaus became enamored of baseball while listening to Cardinals’ announcer Harry Caray as a child in Princeton, Ind. He was enrolled in Indiana University’s dentistry program when he had an epiphany.
“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,” Niehaus told The Times last year. “Then I stopped by the college’s radio and television station, and I’ve been doing this ever since.”
Cremin said Wednesday that Niehaus had planned to do a full schedule of Mariners games in 2011. In a 2008 interview, Niehaus said retirement was not in his plans.
“I can’t imagine not doing it,” he said. “I can imagine not doing it, but you might as well dig a hole and put me in it.”
Cremin said Wednesday, “The Voice has been silenced, but we can still hear him. We always will.”
Niehaus is survived by wife, Marilyn; their three children, Andy, Matt and Greta; and six grandchildren, Zach, Steven, Madeline, Alexa, Audrey and Spencer.
The family has requested privacy. Services are pending.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Seattle Times staff reporter Percy Allen contributed to this report.