Wednesday, November 10, 2010
RIP legendary voice Dave Niehaus
When I heard the news that Dave Niehaus had passed away I was in complete shock at first. Not that he was young he was 75 years old but he was the voice of the Seattle Mariners. He called the very first game in 1977 and has called many terrible games in his time as the voice of the Mariners. Despite mostly losing seasons Niehaus had a way to connect with the audience and still seem energetic about his job. Niehaus was from Indiana but you felt like he was a Northwest guy. He was always talking about other sports team whether it be the Sonics, Seahawks or the Huskies.
When Niehaus joined the Mariners he had been an announcer in Los Angeles for the Angles, Boxing, UCLA sports for the previous 10 seasons. He was just trying to get a start to his career. He called the very first pitch delivered in Mariners history when Diego Segui delivered the very first pitch for a strike. Niehaus made that moment seem like it was a World Series game. Niehaus was the master of making a regular season game in a lost season seem like a big meaningful game. Niehaus was great at describing the few highs of the franchise in the 80's that saw the Mariners lose and lose again. In fact from 1977-1990 Niehaus saw the Mariners never have a winning season and lose over 100 games three times. Then the 1990's came and whole nation finally found out who Dave Niehaus was.
In the 1990's the Mariners finally had players that the national audience had heard of. First Niehaus called the Mariners first ever no hitter when a 6'10" wild pitcher named Randy Johnson no-hit the Tigers in 1990. Then Niehaus called the first ever winning season 1991 when the team defeated Texas. Niehaus in the 1990's was calling the career of Ken Griffey Jr and all his magical home runs and defensive plays. Niehaus was there for when Edgar won both his batting crowns or when the Big Unit controlled his wild ways to become the games greatest pitcher. Niehaus called the Bosio no-hitter I still remember his call "A high chopper over the mound, Vizquel bare hands its and throws him out! Bosio has thrown a no-hitter!". Then he was quick to point out what Buhner had done when Ron Fairly made the call interupting him going "Not only that he becomes the first Mariner in history to hit for the cycle! MY OH MY!". Then came the magical season of 1995 where Niehaus made his name.
In 1995 the Mariners were 13 games back of the California Angels then in August of 1995 Ken Griffey Jr returned from his injury. On August 24th against the New York Yankees the Mariners had tied the score at seven in the bottom of the ninth which set up Ken Griffey Jr at the plate. I remember listening in the summer Niehaus call like it was yesterday "There goes Joey on the pitch, Swung on and Belted deep to right field and the Mariners win it 9-7 My oh my!". Later in the year in September against the Oakland A's with the Mariners trailing 8-7 facing hall of fame closer Dennis Eckersley I remember Niehaus call when Tino Martinez hit the game winning home run "Sung on and belted to deep right field and the Mariners win it 9-8 in perhaps the Mariners greatest victory in their history!". The Magical run of 1995 set up the one game playoff against the Angles.
The Mariners led by the terrific pitching of Randy Johnson and the clutch hitting by Louis Sojo led 9-1 entering the ninth. With Johnson facing Tim Salmon and two outs and two strikes Niehaus just loses it "And the 0-2 pitch STRIKE THREE THE GAME IS OVER RIGHT OVER THE HEART OF THE PLATE! RANDY LOOKS TO THE SKY IN THE DOME AND BEDLAM 19 LONG YEARS OF FRUSTRATION IS OVER! The Mariners are celebrating like they have won the World Series, they haven't yet but maybe they will!" Everyone who was a Mariners fan was so happy for Niehaus especially who had witness crappy baseball and finally he was getting a taste of the postseason.
In game four of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees it was in the bottom of the eighth inning and the game was tied at 6-6. Up to the plate was Edgar Martinez facing John Wettland who gave up the home run to Griffey earlier in the year. Niehaus again explodes and I remember watching the game on TV while listening to him on radio. His call was terrific "Wettland winds and the O-2 pitch to Edgar Martinez fastball swung on and hit to deep centerfield Bernie looks up and it will FLY AWAY! GET OUT THE RYE BREAD AND THE MUSTARD GRANDMA! IT IS GRAND SALAMI TIME! EDGAR MARTINEZ GIVES THE MARINERS THE LEAD 10-6!".
That game four win set up a must win game five. The Mariners rallied from a 4-2 deficet in the eighth inning as David Cone who had thrown 147 pitches walked the last two batters to walk in the tying run. Then in the ninth Norm Charlton who had already pitched two innings left with first and second nobody out. The call by Niehaus gives me chills to this day when explaining Randy Johnson coming in out of the bullpen on one day's rest. "Lou can go to the Big Unit and thats fine but you have to wonder how much he has left. He pitched 125 pitches on friday and THERE GOING TO GET THE BIG UNIT LISTEN TO THIS (PA announcer with "welcome to the Jungle playing" now pitching Randy Johnson, crowd erupts) LISTEN TO THIS THERE BRINGING IN CY YOUNG HIMSELF". Johnson got out of the jam but in his third inning of work gave up a run to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead heading into the 11th. The Mariners then had first and third nobody out for Edgar Martinez where Niehaus had a bit of some forshadowing.
"Right now the Mariners are looking for the tie, they'll take a fly ball they'd love a base hit in the gap and win it with Junior's speed. And the 0-1 pitch to Edgar Martinez now is LINE DOWN THE LEFT FIELD FOR A BASE HIT, HERE COMES JOEY HERE IS JUNIOR TO THIRD BASE THERE 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! EDGAR MARTINEZ WITH THE DOUBLE!" screamed at the top of his lungs by Dave Niehaus. The Mariners would lose to the Indians in the American League Championship Series four games to two but the franchise had finally arrived. The following season probably from all that excited Niehaus had a heart attack and was forced to miss the month of September as the Mariners had another great comeback in the division but would fall just short in 1996.
In 1997 the Mariners set a major league record that still stands today with the most homeruns by a franchise in a single season. So you heard a ton of "Swung on and belted!" by Dave Niehaus. Then when the Mariners had a chance to clinch the division title Niehaus called the final out with Heathcliff Slocumb "The is SWING AND A MISS! LET THE PARTY BEGIN!". The Mariners would suffer the next two seasons with losing years but in 2000 would provide another moment for Niehaus in which again he forshadowed the moment.
I had a walk man back in 2000 for game three of the ALDS against the Chicago White Sox but this was before football practice. I was on the freshman football team since it was my freshman year and practice had ended. The Mariners were tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth and a win would clinch the series. "Right now the Mariners will pinch hit Carlos Guillen, you have to wonder what Lou has up his sleeve possibly a suicide squeeze." At that point I"m relaying word for word what he is saying to some of the people on my team who liked baseball. "Guillen bunts the ball! HERE COMES HENDERSON AND THE MARINERS ARE GOING TO THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES! Carlos Guillen with the suicide squeeze advances the Mariners to the American League Championship series!". Yes Dave was one of a kind then the next season he saw the franchise reach heights it had never reached before. At the all-star game he got to call the Home Run derby that you can still hear his voice in the background when they replay the 2001 home run derby. Then later in the year facing former Mariner Alex Rodriguez the Mariners had already won 115 games and led 1-0 Niehaus had another terrific call " Here comes the pitch for Sasaki swing and a miss! Wilson hangs on! THE MARINERS HAVE WON 116 GAMES! NO TEAM IN MAJOR LEAGUE HISTORY HAS EVER WON MORE GAMES!".
Unfortunetly for Niehaus he saw the team come full circle at the end of his career losing 100 games twice and lose 99 in 2004 but in 2004 provided Niehaus his last famous great call. Ichiro was chasing down a record that was set in 1920 from George Sissler for hits in a season. Niehaus like he did his whole career captured that moment "Ichiro with a ground ball up the middle! He is the new all-time hits king in major league history with 258! MY OH MY!".
Then during another 100 loss season Niehaus was finally elected to the baseball hall of fame in 2008. Niehaus was the first person in Seattle Mariners history to reach the baseball hall of fame. The Mariners have had Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, Ichiro and now Felix Hernandez who Niehaus has called all their great moments made the hall of fame first. My dad tells me stories how he was working night shift in the 1980's listening to terrible baseball every night. I asked him why he would torture himself and his answer was simple "Dave Niehaus". The Mariners will never have an announcer ever like Niehaus, while Rick Rizz comes close since he has been here a long time there is only one Dave. I'm sad that Niehaus never got to call a World Series game but he did get to be the play by play announcer on a team who won 116 games which you won't ever see happen again. We'll all miss you Dave Niehaus and may you rest in peace. This is a sad day my oh my!