SEATTLE – Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, one of the most beloved personalities in the history of the team, died Wednesday at his home in Bellevue.
The Mariners said Niehaus, 75, had suffered a heart attack.
Niehaus has been the lead play-by-play announcer since the Mariners’ first season in 1977 and had witnessed 5,284 of the team’s 5,385 games. In 2008 he was inducted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
News of Niehaus’ death stunned a Mariners family and fan base that spreads not only throughout the Northwest but nationwide.
“There is not enough you can write that can do justice for what Dave Niehaus means – to this city, to the Mariners, to baseball and to me personally,” said former Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner, who has been part of the broadcast crew since he retired. “We lost one of the most beloved guys ever. It’s a rough day to say the least.”
Niehaus, a native of Princeton, Ind., graduated from Indiana University in 1957 and began broadcasting with Armed Forces Radio. His first baseball job was in 1969, partnering with Dick Enberg on California Angels broadcasts.
The Mariners hired Niehaus as their play-by-play voice for the team’s first season in 1977, a job he never left.
Perhaps his greatest call was his description of Edgar Martinez’s two-run double that clinched the Mariners’ 1995 playoff series against the New York Yankees.
“The Mariners are going to play for the American League championship!” he screamed from the broadcast booth in the Kingdome. “I don’t believe it! It just continues! My oh my!”
“My oh my” became Niehaus’ calling card, an expression that told fans the Mariners had accomplished something special.
His distinctive home-run call was “It will fly away!”
Nothing, however, may have been as unique as the way Niehaus described a grand-slam, saying, “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma. It’s grand salami time!”
Niehaus had experienced health issues the past 15 years, including heart problems in 1996 and a hospitalization during the offseason four years ago while in England. Still, he rarely missed a game and only in recent years took a midseason break.
Niehaus never hesitated when asked the greatest Mariner he watched: Ken Griffey Jr.
Wednesday night, in a radio interview, Griffey returned that compliment.
“If we were down 10 runs, with two outs, and somebody would get a hit, he’d still be saying, ‘C’mon, guys.’ You could see him up there (in the broadcast booth) clapping,’ ” Griffey said. “I know he has … grandkids – he’s got 300 of us. He’s somebody who’s going to be missed. It’s hard to think he’s gone.”
Buhner, speaking by phone through his own tears Wednesday night, remembers the day he met Niehaus, shortly after the Mariners acquired him in a trade with the New York Yankees in 1988.
“He personally came up to me and introduced himself and made himself available,” Buhner said. “He assured me that if there was anything he could do, he would be more than happy to do it. That was the start of a great bond. I consider him a family member.”
After he retired, Buhner got to know Niehaus as the fans did, as a master at describing the scene at the ballpark.
“Even though Dave was slowing down a little bit, nobody could paint as vivid a picture with words as he was painting,” Buhner said. “People don’t realize how difficult it is. His calls, his passion, his enthusiasm, his smiling face, his hugs – they’ll be missed.”
“What a loss,” Rick Rizzs, Niehaus’ longtime partner, told the Seattle Times. “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.”
Niehaus is survived by his wife, Marilyn, and their three children, Andy, Matt and Greta, and six grandchildren, Zach, Steven, Madeline, Alexa, Audrey and Spencer.