A boy with dreams, Niehaus now in Hall
Frick Award winner grew up in Indiana listening on the radio
SEATTLE -- Dave Niehaus remembers tossing and turning in his sleep, finally waking up at 6 a.m. with a new purpose in life."I was going to be a dentist. But I was at Indiana University and woke up and thought to myself, 'I can't look down someone's throat at 8 in the morning the rest of my life.' Can't do that. "The hardest thing to do was to call my parents and tell them. They had looked forward to me becoming a professional person. They said, 'What are you going to do now?' " Well, he wasn't exactly sure but he always had this special interest in sports, especially baseball. He followed up by walking into the campus radio station, WFIU, and offering an audition. He was hired to do the school's baseball broadcasts. That was more than 50 years ago. "A lot of things have happened to me since I took that turn on campus in Bloomington, Indiana," Niehaus said. Among the most prominent came Tuesday, when he was chosen the 2008 winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcast excellence. He will be honored during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 27, in Cooperstown, N.Y. The announcement came on Niehaus' 73rd birthday. Asked how his parents, Jack and Dalania Niehaus, would have reacted to Tuesday's announcement, their only child Dave, his voice cracking, said, "My dad was an amazing man. He was an insurance man and a great baseball fan. I'd give anything for him to be here today. He'd be very proud. Very, very proud." Niehaus has spent the past 31 years broadcasting Mariners baseball, punctuating great plays with 'my, oh, my" and dispatching home runs with "that will fly away." He has done all but 82 of the Mariners' 4,899 games, beginning with that inaugural 1977 season in the old Kingdome. "It seems like it just started. It seems like yesterday that I did the opener," he said. "That was my favorite game, the first game played here, to be able to reintroduce baseball in the Pacific Northwest." He said his favorite broadcast moment was Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series against New York. Ken Griffey Jr. scored the winning run as he ran all the way from first base on a double by Edgar Martinez. Junior was among the first to call him Tuesday. "I told him, 'I'm glad I beat you into the Hall,' " Niehaus said. "His call meant a lot to me." Niehaus grew up in Princeton, a southern Indiana town of about 7,000. He loved to sit on his front porch with a lemonade, watching the lightning bugs and listening to Cardinals or Reds broadcasts. Some of his favorite broadcasters were Jack Buck, Harry Caray and Joe Garagiola, all among the previous 31 winners of the Frick Award. "My first emotion was, do I really belong in there with all these people? You see the names and it's really intimidating," Niehaus said. "This is something they can never take away from you. You're not in the Hall itself, but your name is there. That's intimidating, scary." As Niehaus grew up in Princeton he also spent a lot of time at the Palace Pool Room, since destroyed. It had a large blackboard and a sports ticker. He said the owner, D.A. Kimer, would precisely and delicately mark the various baseball scores on the board as they came in. "I'd sit there and be mesmerized by that," he said. "That had as much to do with my baseball love as anything else, watching those numbers go up there." After graduating from Indiana, Niehaus immediately went to work on his new craft, doing Dodgers games for Armed Forces radio and TV service. He then moved to New York to call Yankees broadcasts as well as basketball and hockey. He eventually returned to Los Angeles to do Dodgers games and the Lakers. From 1969-76, he teamed with Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale on California Angels broadcasts, also broadcasting UCLA football and basketball from 1973-76. He arrived in Seattle with the Mariners for the 1977 season. He credited the team owners then, Les Smith and particularly actor Danny Kaye, for giving him his break. "In those early years it was just fun to be here as the first announcer of the second franchise in Seattle," Niehaus said. That franchise took a record 15 years -- until 1991 -- to finally have a winning season. But it didn't matter. Niehaus is not one to be discouraged. "I look at every game as 1/162 of a season. Each game has a different story," he said. "It's the reason why people fall in love with baseball. I look forward to coming to the ballpark and telling different stories every day. It's never been a downer for me because I always think maybe this day is a beginning of a winning streak." When Niehaus thinks about his audience he thinks about those people tied to their home, such as shut-ins, elderly or handicapped whose only outlet is the radio. "I was given an award recently from the Washington State Society for the Blind. They said they could see the game through my eyes," he said. "When you do that, when you can accomplish that, paint a picture with your words, that's something for which you can be proud. "There have been three generations of people who have listened to me up here. That's who I owe this award to." Niehaus still has the fire. He said he can't wait to get to Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., for his 32nd year as the Voice of the Mariners. He said, "I've never thought about when I'm going to hang 'em up. "I'm going to do it until I don't enjoy it anymore. Probably until I say, 'It will fly away' and that thing that will be flying away will be me."
Bob Sherwin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.