On July 27, 2008, Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus (1935-2010) receives the Ford C. Frick Award in a ceremony at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The award, given annually for excellence in broadcasting, comes midway through his 32nd season with the team. It earns him a permanent place in the Hall's "Scribes and Mikemen" area and represents the high point of a career during which Niehaus achieved extraordinary popularity as the voice of the Mariners.
Getting the Call
Niehaus was the original play-by-play announcer for the Mariners. He was a member of the California Angels broadcast team when the Mariners hired him late in 1976, prior to their inaugural season. Since then he had broadcast nearly every game the team had played. He was known for his trademark phrases -- such as "It will fly away!" for home runs and "My oh my!" for spectacular plays -- and the ability to switch smoothly from low-key to high-energy, depending on the drama of the moment. His description of the double that Edgar Martinez hit in 1995 to win the team's first playoff series became part of team lore, and the recording was played at games for years afterward. Niehaus was so popular that he was chosen to throw the ceremonial first pitch when Safeco Field, the Mariners' new $425-million stadium, opened in 1999. By 2008, after 31 seasons, he was the beloved face as well as the voice of the franchise.
On February 19, 2008, his 73rd birthday, Niehaus was at home in Issaquah when he got a phone call informing him that he would be that year's winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding broadcasting. It meant his picture and name would go into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. "It's the most humbling experience, without a doubt, I've had in my life," he said that day. "It's the biggest thrill in my life. For us in the broadcasting business, it's our Oscar" (Arnold, 2008).
The award had been instituted in 1978. Niehaus was its 32nd recipient and the first person, player or otherwise, who had spent the bulk of his career in Seattle to make the Hall of Fame. As a Frick Award winner, his picture and description would be added to the Hall's "Scribes and Mikemen" area.
Ceremony at Cooperstown
The induction ceremony was held on July 27, 2008, in Cooperstown. Niehaus's wife Marilyn and most of their children and grandchildren were there, along with a contingent of Mariners officials and two of his closest broadcast partners. Rick Rizzs had been the No. 2 play-by-play man for 23 of the previous 26 years and Kevin Cremin had been producer-engineer for team radio broadcasts since 1983. They drove from Toronto, where the team was playing, to witness Niehaus's big moment.
The crowd was about 14,000, a relatively small turnout that could be attributed to the shortage of big-name inductees. Of the six to be enshrined in the main portion of the Hall, only manager Dick Williams and Rich "Goose" Gossage were alive, and Gossage, a relief pitcher, was the only one voted in for his accomplishments as a player. Those two made it a special class for Niehaus, however. Both had ended their careers with the Mariners, Williams in 1988 and Gossage in 1994. During Williams' three seasons as Mariners manager, he and Niehaus and their wives became close friends. They had maintained that friendship in the ensuing years, even spending All-Star breaks together at Lake Chelan.
In the audience were 56 of the 64 living Hall of Famers, a turnout described by Hall president Jeff Idelson as the biggest such gathering ever. That constellation of stars humbled Niehaus and added to his nervousness. He had written a speech and now it was time to deliver it. He was the first to be honored.
After an introduction by Hall of Fame member and former pitcher Tom Seaver, Niehaus stepped to the microphone. He wore sunglasses, partly to hide his tears in case he lost control of his emotions.
He spoke of sitting on his family's front porch in the small town of Princeton, Indiana, as an 11-year-old, absorbed in the radio broadcasts of St. Louis Cardinals games by the legendary Harry Caray. "Suddenly, from the old Zenith floor model radio in the living room comes this voice screaming, 'It might be ... It could be ... it is!' And the young boy jumps about three or four inches off the ground with each halting phrase. Magic is happening in St. Louis, Missouri. Stan Musial hit another home run about a zillion miles away, and a career has germinated that ends up here in Cooperstown today." Niehaus went on to add, "Radio plays with the mind. It gives you a mental workout and delusions of grandeur. That's what Harry Caray did to me" (Stone).
Niehaus spoke for about nine and a half minutes. He nearly choked up once, briefly, when talking about his wife and her support of him throughout his career. "I would not be here without you, Marilyn. You gave me two sons and a daughter and they have given me six fabulous grandchildren. How lucky can a man be?" He took a long pause. "He started to lose it then, and I was losing it, too," Marilyn Niehaus said (Andriesen).
The broadcaster thanked others who had helped him along the way, including his radio and television audiences. "Millions of fans from the Northwest stand here with me today," he said. "Without them I wouldn't be here. Over the years they have been my biggest supporters, and they've been loyal to the Mariners throughout thick and thin" (Andriesen). He concluded by saying, "I know there are several bigger names who have preceded me in winning this award. And there will be several bigger names after me to win this award. But no one will ever be more appreciative" (Stone).
The next morning he was on a plane to Dallas. He had a game to call that night.
Dave Niehaus Day in Seattle
The Hall of Famer was honored again on August 3, 2008, this time before a crowd of 33,334. It was billed as Dave Niehaus Day at Safeco Field.
The groundskeepers had raked his trademark "My Oh My" into the infield dirt. Fans entering the ballpark were given Niehaus bobblehead dolls. A red carpet was rolled out for him and his family. During the 20-minute pregame ceremony, the radio and television section of the press box was named the Dave Niehaus Broadcast Center, and Edgar Martinez, the man who hit the game-winning double in the 1995 playoffs, gave the announcer a microphone-shaped crystal trophy on behalf of the players.
Niehaus once again turned attention to the fans. "When I was in Cooperstown," he said to the fans in the stands and to those watching on TV, "each and every one of you stood on that dais with me. The award is yours and not mine. We have the best fans in baseball" (Hickey).