My oh my: Dave Niehaus biographer in Edmonds

Billy Mac was a longtime friend of the Mariners’ iconic announcer
By Brian Soergel | Jun 23, 2017

Billy Mac’s been a Seattle Mariners fan from the beginning, suffering through last-place finishes and 100-loss seasons but also enjoying the dazzling 1995 and 2001 playoff runs.

When you get to listen to Dave Niehaus the whole time, though, every season is good.

Niehaus, who died in 2010, might not get the universal fame afforded legendary play-by-play announcers like Red Barber, Harry Caray or Vin Scully. But – my oh my – in the Northwest, Niehaus was and always will be king.

For Billy Mac, he was a legend – and a friend.

Mac, a singer and songwriter, shares his friendship with Niehaus in a book he released this year titled “My Oh My: The Dave Niehaus Story.”

He’ll be signing copies of the book 2 p.m. Saturday, June 24, at Edmonds Bookshop.

It’s edited by the late sports writer, radio host and sports historian J Michael Kenyon, with forewards by Rick Rizzs and Kevin Cremin. Niehaus’ life story is told in nine innings, each representing a chapter in his life. There are interviews with players, managers, coaches, broadcasters and others who were close to the Hall of Fame announcer.

There are more than 140 photos and two 20-page, color-photo sections.

Baseball in his blood

Mac doesn’t want to give his age; he says he has some’ 90s hip-hop in his act. “I’m the cool uncle who gives you a cigarette,” he said in a raspy voice that sounds like he’s smoked a few. “Billy Mac” is a stage name, and he won’t reveal his real name, either.

But he does admit to being a baseball fan for much more than 50 years.

He grew up in New Orleans, playing Little League, collecting baseball cards and listening to Houston Colt .45 games, as the Crescent City has never had a pro baseball team.

In the early 1970s, he moved to the Northwest at the request of vocalist Merrilee Rush, who grew up in Shoreline and had a Top 10 nationwide hit in 1968 with “Angel in the Morning” with her band, the Turnabouts. (Juice Newton took the song to No. 4 in 1981.)

Rush wanted Mac in her band. He said yes, and they were soon married, and now live on a farm near Redmond.

“When the Mariners came in 1977, I was delirious,” he said. “I had never lived in a town with a professional baseball team.” Although Mac was frequently on the road playing music, he attended his fair share of games at the Kingdome, transistor radio pressed to his ear.

In 1979, he decided he needed to meet Niehaus. It was a different time, and he was determined.

“I’m a longtime, successful gate crasher,” said Mac, now a member of the Seattle Mariners RBI Club, a group of civic and business leaders who have supported the team since that year. “Confidence and politeness will get you a long way. I went up to the Kingdome booth, and an old lady said, Is he expecting you? I said, I’m not sure. But nobody cared in those days. So Dave finished his half inning, turned around, hitched up his pants, and said, Well, hello. Can I help you?”

Mac said he was simply a big fan and wanted to meet. He said Niehaus couldn’t believe someone would want to do that – remember, this was during the Mariners’ early days.

The two talked baseball between innings, and a friendship was born.

“If you had baseball in your heart, Dave had a place in his heart for you,” Mac said. “If you loved baseball, Dave was willing to sit down and talk to you about any and all parts of the game. And once he found out I was married to a rock and roll star, he thought that was pretty cool. His on-air partner, Ken Wilson, was also fascinated. A lot of guys in the Northwest grew up with a tremendous crush on my wife. I’m always flattered by that.”

In 1992, Mac asked Niehaus if he was interested in an autobiography. Mac would help him write it.

“It looked like it was going to happen, but then he refused to believe anyone would want to read a book about him.”

That began to change after the glorious 1995 season, with the Mariners sprinting to the playoffs for the first time and beating the New York Yankees is a stirring Division Series comeback, highlighted by Edgar Martinez’s double to drive in Ken Griffey Jr. in a heart-stopping game five.

Then there was Niehaus’ heart attack the next year, which forced him to leave the booth for the final month of the season. (Niehaus smoked up to three packs of cigarettes a day, but soon quit and began a healthier diet.)

In an incident relayed in the book, Mac writes that when Niehaus returned to the booth for a visit, the scoreboard flashed a picture of him.

“I’ve been watching baseball for half a century,” Mac said, “and I can count on one hand when a home plate umpire stepped out from behind the plate, the crowd rose, and Mariners players stopped and looked, turned around and stared at the booth. Literally, the whole stadium rose as one.

“Dave turned to (executive producer) Kevin Cremin and said, What’s going on? Kevin said, It’s for you, man. That’s for you. Dave was genuinely moved and surprised.”

Niehaus died Nov. 10, 2010, at age 75. Mac struggles to speak, fighting emotions, when remembering.

“Among the lessons you learn in life is that there are losses you endure that are incalculable,” he said. “Dave’s passing, much like J. Michael’s passing, when those happen you realize there’s a hole left in your life, and your heart, that will never be filled. There’s no way to replace the memories and experiences of those of very special people in your life.”

The book helps.

Getting it published

Mac turned to Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site, to help raise more than $14,000 for the cost of printing the self-published “My Oh My.” In addition to the Edmonds Bookshop, it’s available at Mariners Team Stores and online at www.thedaveniehausstory.com.

The book takes the reader through Niehaus’ years as a young boy in Princeton, Indiana, listening to baseball games in his living room on an old Zenith radio; his college years and early broadcasting career at Indiana University; stints with Armed Forces Radio and Television Services, the California Angels and Seattle Mariners; to his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame and his death.

“It is the story of his life, and his baseball story as well,” Mac said. “The game he grew up with, the players and managers and ballparks and broadcasters who nurtured his baseball heart and led him to fashion an enduring love for the sport.”

Throughout the book are stories of his family life with his wife and lifelong love, Marilyn, and their three children.

What does Mac think Niehaus would think of the book?

“He’d say it was a baseball book,” he said, “not just about his life. I think he’d be happy.”

 

 

 

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