Entertainer Billy Mac has written a biography of the beloved Mariners broadcaster who died in 2010. One thing Mac has discovered since the self-published book’s release: Niehaus still has a hold on Mariner fans.
In 1979, Billy Mac was sitting in the Kingdome bleachers and decided on a whim, “I’ve got to meet Dave Niehaus.”
He had admired the Mariners broadcaster from afar, but on this day he went on a pilgrimage to the press box. Mac somehow talked his way into the radio booth and found himself face to face with a startled Niehaus, who had just handed over the middle-innings play-by-play duties to Ken Wilson.
The ensuing conversation, in which Mac conveyed his admiration to Niehaus, led to longer talks, more trips to the booth, and eventually a friendship that transcended baseball. And now Mac, a longtime musical entertainer in the Seattle area as well as a rabid baseball fan, has imparted his love and esteem for Niehaus one more time.
About the book and author
“My Oh My: The Dave Niehaus Story” is available at www.thedaveniehausstory.com and at Mariners team stores. Author Billy Mac will be doing a reading and signing at the University Bookstore on Aug. 1 at 7 p.m.
Mac has written a comprehensive biography of the longtime Mariners broadcaster entitled (of course), “My Oh My: The Dave Niehaus Story,” edited by the late J. Michael Kenyon as his last project before his death last month.
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One thing Mac has discovered since the self-published book’s release in May is the hold Niehaus still has on Mariner fans, more than six years after his death in November 2010. The team’s voice from its very first game in 1977, Niehaus’ lyrical and passionate calls were often the only saving grace in some lean Mariner seasons. And they were a galvanizing force during their best ones.
“The visceral connection between he and the fans of this community is unbroken, certainly undiminished,’’ Mac said.
Mac had often broached the idea to Niehaus of ghostwriting his autobiography, but Niehaus always brushed it aside, saying that no one would be interested. After his death, Mac waited a couple of years, figuring someone would step in and fill that void with a Niehaus book. When no one did, he decided to do it himself.
Getting the blessing of the Niehaus family was paramount. In 2012, Mac submitted a proposal to Niehaus’ widow, Marilyn, in which he suggested telling Dave’s story like a broadcast, with nine innings instead of chapters. She and the Niehaus children loved the idea and offered help in providing background information and photos. Marilyn put Mac in touch with two key sources: Ron Greenfield, a cousin of Niehaus’ with whom he was extremely close growing up as an only child in Princeton, Ind., and Gary Osborne, a high-school — and lifelong — friend.
“I loved the outline right away,” Marilyn Niehaus said. “It was a long process, three years or more, but it’s wonderful, really wonderful. I just gave a copy to Bernice Smith, widow of Les Smith (an original Mariner owner) and she just loved it. It was great to hear some of the old stories again. The whole family is just thrilled to death.”
Marilyn said she became convinced of Mac’s credentials a few years ago when they were out to dinner along with longtime Niehaus partner Rick Rizzs (another key supporter of the project, along with producer-engineer Kevin Cremin). Mac and Rizzs became engaged in a baseball-trivia contest in which Mac more than held his own.
“That’s when I realized how much Billy knew about baseball,” she said. “It was absolutely remarkable. Dave used to do that with his friends — play trivia games — and I was always amazed at David’s memory. When Billy came to me with this idea of a book, I knew he had knowledge of baseball.”
Mac, 66, is worthy of a biography of his own one day. Born Bill McCarthy in New Orleans, he fell into that city’s rich music scene, mentored on the piano by such legends as Allen Toussaint and Professor Longhair. Mac became a session player and songwriter in Nashville, where he authored the song, “Better Our Hearts Should Bend (Than Break),” a top-40 country hit for Bandana in 1984.
Mac has led bands, done the Vegas and L.A. circuits, and still sings 250 nights a year as the entertainer-in-residence at the Tulalip Resort Hotel and Casino as well as a regular stint on Sundays and Mondays at Daniel’s Broiler in Bellevue. His latest project is writing a song, “Back in Brooklyn,” for the comeback CD of Little Anthony of Little Anthony and the Imperials.
All that, and he’s married to the singer Merrilee Rush, who had a huge hit with “Angel of the Morning.”
“When you’re married to a rock star, everyone is fascinated by that,” Mac said.
That included Niehaus, who hit it off instantly with Rush. In fact, Mac said, his wife was a prime source of jokes for the broadcaster. As for Niehaus and Mac, “We looked at baseball the same way.”
They also shared a love of language, which Mac felt an obligation to uphold in the book. While working on the project, Mac would sit in a small shack on the farm he and Rush live on near Redmond, and listen to old Niehaus tapes, marveling at the imagery.
“One time, a guy hit a Baltimore chop, and instead of saying that he hit it straight down, Dave said he ‘pounded it into the terra firma,’ ” Mac said. “We were both fascinated by nuance. We’d talk about why you’d say ‘strode in’ from the bullpen rather than ‘amble in.’
“My No. 1 goal was to try to tell his story in language commensurate with his broadcast.”
In that task, Mac has succeeded, authoring a comprehensive and literate accounting of Niehaus’ life, one that appropriately begins and ends in Cooperstown, N.Y., where Niehaus accepted the Frick Award in 2008.
Mac said that one of the biggest revelations throughout this process has been how much he missed Niehaus. That point hit home during a recent reading when he found himself uttering, for the first time out loud, Niehaus’ famous call of Edgar Martinez’s double in the 1995 playoffs.
“I won’t lie,” he said. “I had to stop reading and make a call to the bullpen for the Kleenex.”
Mariner fans reading “My Oh My” might need their own box of tissues handy.