Frankly, I’m getting tired of writing about old baseball guys leaving the game or dying. I’m just flat tired of it. And now, Niehaus.
I loved Sparky Anderson and he died. I loved Bobby Cox and he retired. Lou Piniella is done. Ernie Harwell, the great Ernie, died in May. Now Dave. Winter is almost here and spring seems a distant, faint hope and now comes the news that Dave Niehaus, the Hall of Fame voice of the Mariners, is gone.
It is not a comforting thought to contemplate no more long summer nights with Niehaus narrating another meaningless Mariners game, while I love every minute. I hate it. I’m going to miss Dave Niehaus as much as any old player who has left not to be replaced.
If you read nothing else about baseball this winter, read Art Thiel’s tribute to Niehaus in yesterday’s Seattle Times. Here’s the money line: “It’s a damn shame that the Mariners never lived up to their play-by-play man.”
That’s how good Niehaus was and how much he meant to this hapless franchise. Jay Buhner said he heard the news and wept for the first time since his mom died. Jay came up with a line I wish I would have said. Niehaus, he said, “could call a sunset.” Yup.
Think about the Mariners and what comes to mind? Junior, for sure, and Randy Johnson – we called him Cousin Randy in our house – but the real continuity of the Seattle ball club was more the voice of the play-by-play guy than any player or accomplishment. Niehaus was the Mariners in that rare way that a great voice and baseball play-by-play guy becomes the franchise. Harwell did it in Detroit and Harry Caray in Chicago. Red Barber once played that role for the Dodgers and Mel Allen for that team in the Bronx. Jon Miller is the voice of the Giants (and unbelievably no longer the voice of Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN) and Vin Scully may be the best (and only?) reason to listen to a Dodger game.
Niehaus was like that for Seattle.
The players loved him, little kids, too. Nothing against the cast of characters that has surrounded Niehaus all these years, but during a long Mariners outing, I always found myself waiting for him to get back on the air. The play on the field wasn’t going to be any better, but the game would be. Damn.
It is often said, usually correctly, that no one is irreplaceable. Niehaus was, irreplaceable that is. Oh sure, someone will sit in the seat in the spring, put on the headset and pull the mic in close, but he won’t be Dave. As Art Thiel said, the Mariners have lost the one thing they got right – their voice.