Monday, after his side trip to fantasy land, as Dave Niehaus repeatedly called it, his life returns to some semblance of normalcy. He will fly to Dallas to be back in the booth when the Mariners open a series against Texas. It's only fitting, because it was Niehaus's marvelous work chronicling so many bad Mariners'...
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The Hall of Fame speech was over, and Dave Niehaus returned to his seat amongst the icons of baseball, relieved at having only one near emotional breakdown.
That came midway through his remarks, when Niehaus, upon receiving the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence, gave tribute to his wife of 45 years.
“I would not be here without you, Marilyn,” he said, a catch in his voice as he looked at her in the crowd at the Clark Sports Center.
“She’s my gal,” Niehaus would explain later. “She’s been with me through thick and thin. She’s been the reason I’m here. I’m proud of myself for not breaking down completely.”
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When Niehaus finished his acceptance speech — the first of eight on a long, hot day in Cooperstown — and sat back down, he turned around to sneak a peak at the array of immortals seated behind him.
With Goose Gossage as the headline inductee, 56 of the 64 living Hall of Famers showed up, a turnout described by new Hall president Jeff Idelson as the largest gathering of Hall of Famers ever in one place.
“I turned around, and [Sandy] Koufax was there,” Niehaus marveled [he’s marveled constantly these past last three days].
“He said, ‘That was just great. That was fabulous.’ And I know he meant it. I didn’t know he was seated right behind me. Talk about a Hall of Fame kiss, man. Wow. There he was. I said, ‘Thanks a lot, Sandy,’ That’s when I almost cried.”
Monday, after his side trip to fantasy land, as Niehaus repeatedly called it, his life returns to some semblance of normalcy.
In fact, he is headed for one of the all-time anti-climaxes. After the induction ceremony, Niehaus left for one final event, the ultra-exclusive Hall of Fame dinner, which serves as the welcoming event for the newly enshrined.
It is closed to everyone but the inductees themselves, current and past, and usually goes into the wee hours of the morning. Niehaus, however, was to duck out at 7:45 p.m. and be driven to Albany. Monday morning, he will fly to Dallas to be back in the booth when the Mariners open a series against Texas.
It’s only fitting, because it was Niehaus’s marvelous work chronicling so many bad Mariners’ seasons — as this one has turned out to be — that led him up to the podium today.
Niehaus had ripped up three or four early versions of his speech, but finally, over the All-Star break, he sat down and emptied his heart. Fifteen minutes later, he had his speech.
“It was easy, when you really thought about it,” he said. “It was emotional. It was me.”
After a stumbling introduction by Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who managed to bungle two of Niehaus’s trademark expressions — My Oh My and Get Out the Rye Bread and Mustard, Grandma — Niehaus took the stage.
In his speech, Niehaus evoked memories of his youth in Princeton, Indiana, painting a word picture of an 11-year-old boy on his front porch at 625 North West Street on a “hot, sultry July evening about 8:30 at night.
“Suddenly, from the old Zenith floor model radio in the living room comes this voice screaming, ‘It might be, it could be, it is!’ And the young boy jumps about three or four inches off the ground with each halting phrase.
“Magic is happening in St. Louis, Missouri. Stan Musial hit another home run about a zillion miles away, and a career has germinated that ends up here in Cooperstown today.”
The reference, of course, was to the broadcasts of Harry Caray that sparked Niehaus’ infatuation with broadcasting.
Now he is in the midst of his 32nd year as the voice of the Mariners. As an emotional Mariners’ president Chuck Armstrong said during his toast at a team-sponsored Sunday brunch honoring Niehaus, while invoking James Earl Jones’ speech from “Field of Dreams” on the constancy of baseball:
“Dave Niehaus is the Mariners’ constancy.”
Niehaus, now 73, paid tribute to Mariners’ fans (“Millions of fans from the Northwest stand here with me today”), and saluted the power of his medium.
“Radio plays with the mind,” he said. “It gives you a mental workout and delusions of grandeur. That’s what Harry Caray did to me.”
Niehaus apologized early in the speech for anyone he would forget to thank. And sure enough, even though he gave a long list of salutes, including Mariner officials and broadcast partners past and present, he was kicking himself afterward for one omission.
“I forgot Ken Levine, for crying out loud,” Niehaus said of his 1992 partner. “I thought of that the minute I stepped off stage. He’s a great guy, one of my champions for getting here.”
Many Mariners’ fans made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown to see Niehaus accept the Frick Award. As he was introduced by Seaver, shouts of “We love you, Dave!” and “Fly Away!” rang out from the grass-covered viewing area, where a smallish crowd — an estimated 14,000, compared to 75,000 last year for Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn — was gathered.
“I felt I had to be here,” said Tim Clark, a Kent resident who grow up in Seattle, and attended the induction with his wife, Cheryl.
“Dave has been the background music of my life. I just had to be here to support him. He gave the best speech ever. It was heartwarming. I’m glad to hear his voice cracked at least once. It was really a great thing.”
Fittingly, current partner Rick Rizzs, who has worked with Niehaus for 23 of the last 26 years, and producer-engineer Kevin Cremin, who has worked with Niehaus uninterrupted since 1983, abandoned the Mariners for one day and drove in from Toronto.
Niehaus might have held back his emotions, but Rizzs admitted he was choked up throughout the speech.
“I thought he nailed it,” Rizzs said. “It was emotional, a great speech. He touched on his journey and his professional career. He thanked the fans, because without the fans, you don’t have much he really showed how much he loved the game of baseball, and how much he loves broadcasting.”
Added Cremin: “It was perfect, the best speech of the day. He had people laughing, but it was also very emotional. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
As he concluded his speech, Niehaus thanked former Mariners’ manager Lou Piniella “for sharing 10 wonderful years of his life with me,” and ended by saying: “I know there are several bigger names who have preceded me in winning this award. And there will be several bigger names after me to win this award. But no one will ever be more appreciative.”
Niehaus has called his time in Cooperstown this week a dream, right up to his bus ride to the ceremony, where he sat next to Harmon Killebrew.
But reality hits Monday, when he returns to the Mariner booth. Which is right where he should be, of course. By now, it should be clear to everyone that like Vin Scully, Niehaus is going to keep on going indefinitely.
“It’s going to be like riding a bicycle or swimming,” Niehaus said of tonight’s broadcast. “It’s a matter of getting back in the routine.
“But really, now I’m a Hall of Famer. That’s something they’re never going to take away from me. I guess it will be forever now. Which is wonderful.”