Kingdome to Cooperstown

by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & ave Niehaus grew up a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan, his summer nights spent on the porch watching fireflies while listening to the legendary Harry Caray bring Cardinals games to life on the family's Zenith radio.

Niehaus always loved baseball -- he was a decent high school pitcher back home in little Princeton, Indiana -- but when it came time to attend college, Niehaus focused on becoming a dentist. At first, anyway.

"I woke up one morning," Niehaus recalled, "and I said, 'I can't stare down somebody's throat or mouth at 7:30 or 8 in the morning the rest of my life.'"

Instead of yanking teeth, Niehaus opted to yank television viewers and radio listeners out of their seats with what has become that raspy, oh-so-familiar voice. Niehaus has performed his job so well for so long -- he's been the No. 1 broadcaster with the Seattle Mariners since their inception in 1977 -- that he will be presented the annual Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding contributions to baseball broadcasting during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The announcement of the Frick Award came on his 73rd birthday, yet Niehaus says that he hasn't given retirement a thought. "I'll do it until I probably call 'Fly away!'" -- his signature home run call -- "and I'll be the one flying away," Niehaus jokes.

Part of Niehaus' appeal is his ability to turn a baseball game into a three-hour tale of intrigue and mystery. Almost 200 times a year (counting exhibition games), Niehaus weaves a story that mesmerizes baseball fans across the Pacific Northwest.

Niehaus stresses that sportscasters have to develop their own personalities, but he says his greatest broadcasting influences were Caray (who gained his greatest fame with the Chicago Cubs) and legendary Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.

"He was and is the best there's ever been, as far as I'm concerned," Niehaus says of Scully. "He's the poet laureate of baseball."

Prior to Seattle, Niehaus spent eight years going up against Scully as part of a California [now Los Angeles] Angels broadcast team that included ex-Dodger great Drysdale and renowned sportscaster Dick Enberg. The three worked well on and off the air, but ...

"I was the No. 3 guy down there," Niehaus says. "Anybody worth his salt wants to be the No. 1 guy."

Niehaus was steered to Seattle by the late Danny Kaye, the Hollywood star who was one of the original owners of the Mariners. Kaye had listened to Niehaus on Angels broadcasts in the Los Angeles area, where Niehaus also worked NFL and UCLA football games and NBA and UCLA basketball games.

Niehaus' entire family, including several grandkids, is expected to be on hand in Cooperstown. An only child, Niehaus wishes his late parents could be on hand, and he also wishes his acceptance speech before he joins the broadcasters' section of the Hall of Fame weren't limited to five minutes.

"There's no way," Niehaus explains, "I can thank everybody in five minutes."


Are you looking forward to meeting anyone in particular in Cooperstown?

I can't wait to see Musial [legendary St. Louis Cardinals slugger Stan Musial]. He was my childhood hero, and I've never had a chance to meet him. I'm not an autograph collector, but that's one guy I want to get an autograph from.

Do you remember the first time you saw Musial play?

I'd never seen a [major league] baseball game. We didn't have a television set. It wasn't before the days of television, but I'd never seen a game on television. This guy [Cardinals radio broadcaster Harry Caray] put those guys on such a pedestal, they were almost like gods to me. My dad finally, probably at the age of 10 or 11, took me to old Sportsman's Park to see the Cardinals play. I got in there, and I was kind of disappointed, because they were human beings.

Who's the best player you ever saw?

Ken Griffey Jr. And yet, in the end, the greatest ballplayer who ever lived will probably be Alex Rodriguez.

What was your most memorable moment as a broadcaster?

Opening night in 1977, when [major league] baseball was brought back to the Pacific Northwest.

What was your most embarrassing moment as a broadcaster?

I've had a lot of embarrassing moments. Somehow, you erase them from your mind. I remember calling a 'home run' in Cleveland, and it was 40 feet foul. I wanted to crawl into a hole.

The Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will be broadcast live on ESPN Classic television and ESPN Radio (700 AM) on Sunday, July 27, at 10:30 am.

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