Dave Niehaus, the original broadcaster for the Seattle Mariners, died Nov. 10 after suffering a heart attack. He was 75.
News of his passing sent waves of grief across the city he served so well for 34 years. But even in death, Niehaus managed to inspire some of the joy he'd delivered throughout his life. Though mourning, Seattle baseball fans found solace and levity in the memory of a single moment that defined the man.
The year was 1995. The Mariners had lost the opening two games of their five-game divisional playoff series against the New York Yankees. The run of magic that had brought the team from as far back as 13 games out of first place to an American League West title appeared over. But two unexpected Mariners victories evened the series and set up a decisive Game 5 showdown in Seattle's Kingdome.
And in the extra innings of that game, the most important moment in franchise history sent chills down the spines of an entire city, ultimately rescuing baseball in Seattle for years to come. My memory of the moment is vivid, though not visual. As a 15-year-old Seattle native who grew up on the dismal diet that was Mariners baseball throughout the 1980s, I could hardly bear to watch the television broadcast as my boyhood team batted in the bottom of the 11th trailing 5-4.
As it turned out, I didn't need to watch, just listen: "Right now, the Mariners looking for the tie. They would take a fly ball, they would love a base hit into the gap and they could win it with Junior's speed. The stretch. . . and the 0-1 pitch on the way to Edgar Martínez swung on and LINED DOWN THE LEFT FIELD LINE FOR A BASE HIT! HERE COMES JOEY, HERE IS JUNIOR TO THIRD BASE, THEY'RE GOING TO WAVE HIM IN! THE THROW TO THE PLATE WILL BE . . . LATE! THE MARINERS ARE GOING TO PLAY FOR THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP! I DON'T BELIEVE IT! IT JUST CONTINUES! MY, OH MY!"
The written word cannot do it justice. That play-by-play call from Niehaus echoes in my ears to this day. To dial it up online and hear it again is to teleport back in time. With every listen, the hair of my neck still stands on end. My heart quickens. My eyes well.
And so it is for tens of thousands of Seattle baseball fans. The call is a work of art, the culmination of familiarity, passion, and drama. It was the defining brush stroke of a three-decade aural masterpiece Niehaus painted across Seattle's airwaves. It landed him in baseball's Hall of Fame.
There were other memorable calls, too, including, "Get out the rye bread, Grandma. It's grand salami time!" Niehaus' genius flowed from a love of Mariners baseball. It was evident in "The Double" of 1995 and just as clear in the countless dog days of meaningless seasons when all hope of a pennant race had evaporated by June. No matter. Whether the M's were playing for playoff glory or just trying to climb out the division cellar, Niehaus remained a fan. Though employed by the team, he was never afraid to call it as he saw it, describing the good and bad in a grandfatherly baritone.
He was just the type you'd love to catch a game with. And so Seattle did, for 34 years.
On Nov. 8, 24-year-old Zulqarnain Haider snuck out of his Dubai hotel room and hopped on a flight to London. He left behind him his promising career as a cricketer and kicked off a scandal that threatens to put the final nail in the coffin of Pakistani cricket.
Haider is seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, stating that Pakistan's government and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) cannot protect him from a gambling syndicate that threatened him and his family if he refused to help fix a Pakistan vs. South Africa cricket match played in Dubai. Haider said a match-fixer told him, "You will make lots of money if you join us and help us. If not, then staying in the team could be difficult and we can make things difficult for you."
Match-fixing is big business in Pakistan and India, where underground syndicates often place mammoth bets on the smallest occurrences in a game-for example, whether a "bowler" (equivalent to a pitcher in baseball) will break a rule at a specific point in the match. For all but the biggest stars, the financial rewards of throwing a match can dwarf their legitimate incomes. Earlier this summer the PCB suspended three Pakistani cricketers, including team captain Salman Butt and teen prodigy Mohammed Amir. Both were implicated in a match-fixing sting undertaken by a British tabloid during the Pakistan team's July-to-September recent series of 11 matches in England.
Some would expect Pakistani anger to be directed against the match-fixers, but no: Haider has become the bad guy. PCB officials claim that Haider broke protocol by not first informing team leaders about the match-fixer's approach and threat. Pakistan Sports Minister Ijaz Hussain Jakhrani showed no sympathy for Haider's fears that he and his family were in danger: "If he is such a weak and scared person he should not have played cricket in the first place. Particularly not for the national team."
Haider plans to cooperate with the PCB in the coming weeks. But no matter what the investigation unearths, it is unlikely that Haider has a future with the Pakistan team. The PCB has in the past seemed more concerned with covering up scandals than in fixing root problems. If the scandals keep mounting, they may not have any choice. Cricket's governing body, the International Cricket Council, may take control of Pakistani cricket, or suspend the national team from play. It's been a long, grim summer for Pakistani cricket fans, and as their national pastime continues to crumble, even the optimists see only hard times ahead.