His last game as the Reds’ voice was no different than the thousands that preceded it – Marty Brennaman went out put emotion aside long enough to tell us all exactly what 28,000 and change could see for themselves. He went out the way he came in.
CINCINNATI—It was the Reds last home game of the season. But that was purely incidental.
No one ventured to Great American Ball Park on Thursday afternoon, September 26, 2019, to see the lack luster Reds play the Milwaukee Brewers, who the previous night had secured their place in the National League playoffs.
No, this was Marty’s day. After 46 years as the Reds play-by-play man on WLW radio, Marty Brennaman was calling it quits. This was it.
Over 30,000 people attended the game, most decked out in red, most bearing some form of tribute to the broadcaster, who forever and always—above all else—stuck to his guns, played it his way.
Those clamoring to see Marty on this day stretched to the press box and radio booth. They were sponsors, friends—acquaintances. Reds management assigned two security guards to stand by outside the radio booth to maintain and insure some semblance of a working atmosphere.
For his part and not surprisingly, Brennaman tried to go about the day as if it was simply another game, another in a stretch of over 7,500. There were thanks to be said, of course, and autographs to sign, but with each one and there were so many, he seemed to seek understanding. Please, there was still a little work to do.
From the start of Thursday’s game he was vintage Marty: a man who owned the microphone, a baseball man, tough, smart, articulate, funny—never fearful to lay it on the line. This was another loss, the 86th of the season.
“And that, quite frankly, is what has plagued this team throughout the season, an inability to get the big hit in an inning.”
Quite possibly it has been his unrelenting candor and honesty that has most endured him to fans.
That, in and of its self, is ironic because his honesty and his willingness to criticize where criticism was warranted nearly cost him the job in the early ‘80s. Then general manager Dick Wagner wanted to fire Brennaman and made it a public battle, but by 1984 Wagner was fired and Marty was comfortably ensconced in the radio booth for another 36 years.
As Thursday’s game progressed, Jeff Brantley—now the keeper of the Reds radio tradition—could not escape the melancholy nature of events. He thanked Marty for his friendship and for “protecting” him in the early days of his career here.
Perhaps he did not realize it at the time, but with those words Brantley spoke for many of us whose lives intersected at some point with Reds baseball.
Over the years Marty propped a lot of us up. In 1980, my first year in covering the Reds as a feature writer under the tutelage of eventual Hall of Famer Earl Lawson, I felt as though I was fumble-bumming around, out of place and over my head.
I was taking baby steps in fear of falling, but somewhere in that summer I did a story about George Foster and his bats: how he chose his bats, how he cared for his bats.
In my mind, it wasn’t much. The story ran during a long home stand and got some decent play on an off day. The next day, I followed Earl to the park and, after pregame interviews we went to the press dining room for a little something to eat.
There was a pecking order in the dining room back then, the broadcasters and established beat writers and columnists gathered together in the front of the room while the rest of us found a seat where one could.
That night, I was headed for a seat toward the back of the room when Marty called me over. He was seated with Joe Nuxhall. I felt as though I had been summoned to the mount.
As I arrived at their table, he wiped his mouth with a napkin and said, “Son, I was just asking Joe if he saw that piece you did on Foster.”
“I did,” Joe said, between chugs on a coffee. “Nice. Nice job.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Marty said. “You’re doing good work. Keep it up.”
It was a small gesture, but it meant so much to a kid starting out. It was validation. Over the years, I saw Marty do this for others, and I also saw him call writers out when they deserved it. I felt that sting, as well, and—admittedly—it made me better.
We, after all, were no different than the players and he was no different than us. Any number of times, Nuxhall reeled Marty in when his temper took hold.
“Yeah,” Joe said, when his career was winding down and we were at work on his book, Joe, Rounding Third and Heading for Home, “I had to sit on the little guy more than a few times. Tell ya what, though, he was always man enough to apologize or correct himself when it was due. Give him that.”
According to Joe, Marty had “stones.” I don’t know that he could have paid him a higher complement.
As events rolled on Thursday, I thought about Marty’s true magic, that he was such a part of the fabric of Cincinnati and it’s culture that his words and phrases became part of the city’s vernacular.
Where else is a lot, “a boat load”?
Where else do some greet friends saying, “How we lookin’?”
Where else can you find those who offer affirmation with, “You got that right. You sho got that right.”
As the accolades rained down on Brennaman, he turned the praise and thanks around, thanking the community for accepting him and helping him.
He is a man who, by nature, is disdainful of sentimentalities, and equally vulnerable to gestures of heartfelt affection. That was obvious to all Thursday afternoon.
When the Reds opened the gates allowing a throng of fans to join Brennaman on the field, he turned to his sense of humor to deflect emotion.
“Not quite as many as (Paul) McCartney,” he said, “but pretty good.”
And if there was ever the perfect walk-a-way line, the perfect sign-off, words that said it all about a man and his career, Brennaman, like the calls that made him so well known, was spot on.
It was mentioned that Marty would be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame next spring; that the rules had been changed to allow announcers to join that select and august group.
Brennaman smiled broadly, scanned the crowd, and said:
“At the risk of sounding egotistical, there is no one who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame more. Forty-six years, are you kidding me?”
Ah, yes. It was Marty’s day through and through.