Off the Press
November 16, 2010
By Bob Taylor
Dave Niehaus: My, oh my, what a grand voice
Call me nostalgic, but last Friday I got out the rye bread and mustard to make a salami sandwich. It was grand.
But not as grand as listening to legendary Seattle Mariners’ broadcaster Dave Niehaus for the past 34 years. The sandwich helped take away some of the sorrow I still felt for the passing of Seattle’s voice of summer.
When I heard the news of his passing last Wednesday, it was a shock. I had just picked up my son David from work. For a few minutes, neither of us spoke as we listened to radio reports that Niehaus, 75, had died at his home.
I thought Niehaus would be in the Seattle Mariners’ broadcast booth forever. He was the kind of person you wanted in the broadcast booth forever. Niehaus was a consummate professional, the best baseball announcer I’ve ever heard — and I’ve heard a few in my time.
Now, we knew how Chicago Cubs fans felt when Harry Caray died, or how Detroit Tigers fans felt when Ernie Harwell passed on.
Niehaus was adored by fans as demonstrated by phone calls to radio sports shows, e-mails to area newspapers and the huge gathering of fans at Safeco Field last Saturday. In 2008, when Niehaus was the Ford Frick Award winner, Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey said, “Dave Niehaus is the heartbeat of Mariner baseball.” Actually, Niehaus was the heart and soul of Mariner baseball.
He was respected by players, managers, coaches and the media.
Commissioner Bud Selig, in a release, aptly described Niehaus as “a true gentleman.” Niehaus was class. In my long sports career, I feel fortunate to have known him. As a former sports reporter for the old Journal-American newspaper, I met Niehaus in 1977 — the Mariners’ first season. I was a rookie reporter on the Major League beat. Niehaus was a seasoned pro, having broadcast California Angels’ games from 1969-76 after working for the Armed Forces and Television Service.
When I walked on the field in the old Kingdome for the Mariners’ inaugural game, one of the first people to welcome me was Niehaus. Although I worked on the smallest daily paper covering the Mariners, Niehaus was always friendly. That smile people saw on Niehaus’ face during televised games was genuine. He was very affable.
I was on the Mariners’ beat in 1978, the worst season in Mariners’ history (56-104). I have no idea how Niehaus kept his sanity that year. All I know is that he loved baseball more than just about anyone I’ve ever met.
After the second season, my editor switched me to high school and college sports. However, in 1986, I made a comeback when Larry Stone, now a baseball writer for The Seattle Times, left the Journal-American at mid-season for a job in California. When I showed up for my first Mariners’ game in 10 years, one of the first to welcome me in the Kingdome press area was Niehaus.
If he read something I wrote that he liked, he would compliment me. Considering all of the reporters he knew, a compliment from him always felt special. I stayed on the beat for parts of the next two seasons before returning full time to high school sports.
I will always cherish the 1987 season. In July of that year, my son underwent orthopedic surgery. When he returned home, he was dispirited because of casts on both legs. In a class act, Niehaus and Rick Rizzs wished David a speedy recovery during a broadcast. David was smiling again.
From then on, David seldom missed a Mariners’ broadcast. We always packed a radio on vacations just to listen to Mariners’ games. Niehaus and his “My, oh my!” came in loud and clear in Portland, Ore., or when we were camping on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass.
Niehaus had a knack for making the team sound competitive and interesting. He brought life to every game. When things were dull — and for many seasons they usually were — Niehaus would entertain fans with great stories. It was like listening to your grandfather spin a story about the Good Old Days.
And everyone who ever listened to Mariners’ games loved Niehaus’ calls like, “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma. It is grand salami time!” when a Mariner hit a grand slam. During the dramatic 1995 post-season, we had a family dinner during a game where the menu was salami on rye with mustard.
Last Friday, I had salami on rye bread once again as a toast to a grand guy — Dave Niehaus.
Bob Taylor: 392-6434, ext. 236, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.