It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Dave Niehaus passed away at the age of 75, and if anyone deserved to live twice as long, it was Dave.
When he was ready, he was going to tell us that, “This will be my last season.” That way, we as Mariner fans, as baseball fans, could take the time at some point in the season to appreciate the man, the legend, the voice. And when he signed off for the last time, there would be tears, but we’d know Dave would still be around. Kicking up a ruckus in retirement, showing up every once in a while in the broadcast booth to say hi to the legions who loved him all around the Pacific Northwest. We’d see him at major Mariner milestones and other special occasions. He should’ve had a few years of that at least! Then, quietly, he would pass, and we’d get to reflect all over again the man, the legend, the voice.
But life doesn’t work that way, so he passed yesterday.
It’s weird, thinking about coping with loss of a man who you didn’t know personally. I mean, we can all imagine who he was, his kindness, his warmth, his sincerity, his electricity. He’s the grandfather who loved baseball that we so desperately needed in this region. If you’re a fan, he’s been in your life probably more than some close relatives. And in a profession like broadcasting, where you’re acceptable just by not being annoying, Dave Niehaus was truly beloved; a master of his craft.
This one hit me harder than I expected. You wouldn’t expect the loss of a play-by-play man to engender such remorse, but then again this wasn’t just any play-by-play man. He WAS the Mariners. To fans, he WAS baseball. I don’t know if I’d be a fan of either the Mariners or baseball if I didn’t have Dave there, simultaneously teaching me the game while also transferring his passion onto me. Sure, the players were involved in some pretty memorable moments, but if you really think about it, what do you remember? Maybe you remember the pictures on the sports page, maybe you can even close your eyes and see the players rounding the bases. But I certainly know what you HEAR. One man’s voice, in an instant, flipping from quiet and brusk to loud and agitated. A split second before you even knew what was going on on the field, you knew something exciting JUST happened, because Dave got excited. And when Dave got excited, that’s when YOU got excited. Together, you’d be screaming and jumping up and down as the unthinkable just happened – he in the broadcast booth and you from your couch.
This is an incredible loss. I’m just happy he got to experience his ever-so-worthy Hall of Fame induction while he was still with us. They don’t make ’em like him anymore. What we’re left with are cookie-cutter carbon copies, each with a defect more glaring than the last. Dave derived from the Golden Age of Baseball. The Golden Age of Radio. He knew when to speak and when to let the game breathe. He knew exactly what to say to describe something we couldn’t see. He was a fan first and a radio professional second, and that’s what we’ll always love about Dave. That’s something you don’t see anymore. Nowadays, all you get are Professional Voicemen, nomads wandering from city to city, without a vested interest in anything except not making a mistake on air. You don’t get roots, you don’t get ties. As soon as there’s a better opportunity, you get the Professional Voiceman Walking, to be replaced by another.
Never forget, Mariners fans, that we’ve already got a Hall of Famer in Cooperstown. His name is Dave Niehaus and he’s the best the Mariners have ever had.