Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My, oh my

The no-crying-in-baseball rule has been suspended until further notice. Dave Niehaus, voice of the Seattle Mariners since their inception in 1977, died today of a heart attack at the age of 75.

Dave Niehaus in the Kingdome broadcast booth.
I could not have imagined what a sock in the gut that news would turn out to be. Nor could I have imagined, in our everyone-is-a-journalist world, that I'd first learn of the news through a Facebook note from the United States' alternate representative to the United Nations, a guy who used to live around the corner from us and was, in headier times, mayor of Seattle.

This was my third weepy Mariner moment. The first, and hardest, was at what was correctly assumed to be the last game for the great Alvin Davis as a Mariner in 1991. (Yes, I've been flaunting the no-crying rule for a couple of decades.) The second, Edgar's last game. Niehaus' passing is really tough, though, because mortality seems so gawdawful permanent.

On the surface it seems a little strange to get all worked up over the passing of someone you don't know. I actually met Niehaus a time or two, in a  pass-the-mustard (and rye bread) sort of way, a few lifetimes ago when I was a cub radio reporter and was at virtually every M's home game in the mid-80s. We would occasionally rub shoulders in the press box. Then again, it also seems strange to say you don't know a guy who turned up in your house, your car, or your back yard every night between April and October for 34 years.

With the exception of the aberrant years from 1995 until about 2002, the Mariners have always sucked. In the early days, while still in college, my friends and I formed the Dave Niehaus Fan Club. We had a big "My Oh My" sign, my friend Chuck played the "charge" call on his trumpet, and the broadcast team talked on-air about how Dave must have paid some college kids in the right field bleachers to form a fan club. (There was little to cheer or broadcast about between Rupe Jones and Ken Griffey, Jr.) So we latched on to the king of rye bread, mustard, grand salami time, fly away, and my-oh-my.

But oh, that glorious year of 1995. We nearly missed it entirely. My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I were celebrating our first anniversary in 1994 and on vacation in California's Bay Area, with tickets to Giants and A's games, when Major League Baseball went on strike. We found that we could have fun in San Francisco without baseball. So in '95 we said the hell with 'em, and didn't go to a single game. That is, not until the M's went on their improbable run. We started to go to games in August, and even when we didn't go, on walks around the neighborhood we'd hear the voice of Dave Niehaus coming from radios on every porch, in every back yard, in every car. Refuse to Lose fever was with the entire city right up to the all-time pinnacle of Mariners baseball: the double. The M's could win the World Series 10 years in a row, and it wouldn't be as good as that amazing three days of baseball in a big concrete garage.

This year was the first since 1976 that I did not attend a single Mariners game. We gave up our cable TV several years ago, upon the realization that mostly what we watched was M's baseball, and that this was too painful to pay for. This summer we seldom even listened on the radio after June or so as the club worked to get its photo placed into the dictionary next to the definition of "pathetic." It is with a tinge of regret that I missed much of Dave's last season, even though it seemed, in the last few years, he wasn't really watching the games closely any more. But, given the team he had to cover, who could blame him?

As I think of Dave Niehaus and his untimely death, I think of a great song by Steve Goodman called "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request." I modify one of the lines of the song for what could be the dying M's announcer's last request:

"I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now, and that's just what I'm going to do. But you, the living, you're stuck here with the M's, so it's me who should feel sorry for you."

Rest in peace, Dave Niehaus. Thanks for bringing hope and optimism and excitement and tall tales to our summers.

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