© 2010 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

11/11/10 12:02 AM EST

Mariners lose a legend in Niehaus

On the final day of the regular season, after the Mariners had lost for the 101st time, Dave Niehaus walked up to me in the hallway at Safeco Field and wished me good luck in my retirement, which would begin in less than a month.

It had been a difficult season for everyone associated with the organization, including the guy I called "David." He had been around longer than anyone, saw more than anyone, anguished more than anyone, and celebrated more than anyone.

Oh, David could celebrate with the best of 'em.

The man was a legend, in and out of the booth, a fun-loving guy away from the park, the utmost professional at the park, and a devoted family man.

He wore sports jackets and slacks that were outdated long before he stopped wearing them. Some of his jackets, worn in the 1980s and '90s, were vintage 1960s, or earlier. His white shoes were legendary, as were some of the cross-country flights that he took in his younger days.

He could give you a brilliant "Gene Autry after three or four double-scotch moments" that would have you in stitches.

During the 23 years I had the privilege of knowing David, who died of a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 75, he was consummate professional -- a "homer" without being one. He would root, root, root for the Mariners, but if someone messed up in the game, he would say it like it was without being mean.

"Get out the rye bread, grandma, it's grand salami time" was used far too seldom during the past few seasons of his Hall of Fame broadcasting career. He made that one up. Too bad he was never in a booth for a World Series game. That's the only glitch on his HOF resume.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, he was among the finalists for the Ford C. Frick Award at least five or six years before he actually made it into the broadcasting wing of Cooperstown. I would call him two or three times leading up to the vote each year and he would always say being a finalist was enough of an honor. But I knew better.

David knew he was a Hall of Fame announcer -- and he finally made it two years ago. His career had been complete with his induction, but there was no stopping him.

I asked him several times how much longer he would keep going. His answer was always the same -- forever. I expected his final words to be -- "that ball will fly, fly away."

He loved the game, loved the Mariners, loved the Northwest, and more than anything, he loved the fans that listened to him day and night and became baseball fans because of him.

Say what you want about the impact Junior, Randy Johnson, Jay and Edgar had on the Seattle sports map, but none had the impact of David Niehaus.

Spring in the Northwest did not start until David and his broadcast colleagues would go on the air from Arizona. He used to agonize over those early-spring games when players would come into contests in the late innings and he had no idea who they were because their names were not on the roster.

Back then, every Cactus League game was broadcast on the radio, whereas other Major League teams would broadcast only weekend games. David never complained -- well, not too much, anyway.

He would show up at the park, in the spring or the summer, prepared to ask the Mariners manager questions about the upcoming game, players, or whatever. He and Lou Piniella had some of the greatest pre-game "chats" ever presented to baseball fans in a particular region. David enjoyed those chats and would often talk about them afterward.

David never changed after his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2008. He was still the down-to-earth, middle-American dude who loved baseball, apple pie -- and a grand slam home run by Junior, Gar, Bone, or anyone else from the Mariners.

The Dave Niehaus Broadcast Center at Safeco Field will last forever. Unfortunately, he didn't.

A friend and a voice to thousands is gone, but never to be forgotten.

Tears should rain on Seattle non-stop for at least a week, maybe more.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.