Brennaman did it his way and that’s a good thing


It took me a while to appreciate the greatness of Marty Brennaman.

That thought came to mind when he announced on Wednesday he would retire as the Cincinnati Reds radio play-by-play broadcaster after this season and I wished, like so many other people, that he could stay longer.

When Marty was hired in 1974 he replaced a huge personal favorite of mine, Al Michaels, who was the Reds play-by-play announcer from 1971 to 1973. It took me a while to warm up to Marty’s style. It took me a while to give him a chance.

Michaels is probably best known for his “Do you believe in miracles?” exclamation when the United States stunned the seemingly invincible Soviet Union hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

For me, Michaels’ iconic description came eight years earlier in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the National League playoffs when Johnny Bench’s home run tied the game and a wild pitch by Bob Moose of the Pittsburgh Pirates sent the Reds to the 1972 World Series.

Obviously, Michaels was destined for bigger things. He left Cincinnati to become the radio voice of the San Francisco Giants and it wasn’t long until he was doing network television.

I don’t remember exactly when I became a fan of Marty’s work. Maybe at some point it just became apparent to me that he was really good and Michaels wasn’t coming back. Maybe a little bit of it was that everything connected with the Reds of the 1970s seemed great.

Eventually the Reds began to resemble the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s less and less. And then I appreciated listening to Marty even more.

I enjoyed it because in a profession full of homers who will go to great lengths to avoid telling you the home team is not very good, he has been brutally honest in both good years and the all-too-frequent bad years recently for the Reds.

If he likes what he sees on the field, he is going to tell you. But if he doesn’t like what is unfolding in front of him, he’s going to tell you that, too. If you want nothing but happy spin, he’s not your guy.

Some fans, who like their baseball broadcasts wrapped in cotton candy or drizzled with chocolate syrup and sprinkles, complain he has become a too frequently exasperated curmudgeon. I see him more as a baseball version of two other senior citizens, The Muppet Show’s amusingly cranky Stadler and Waldorf, who critique what they’re watching from the balcony high above the action, similar to Marty’s press box perch.

He’s certainly no puppet. But maybe that’s an appropriate comparison because there might be a bit of show business in the formula that has worked so well for almost five decades for Brennaman. In one of those “Ask Marty” segments during a Reds games last year, a fan asked in an email what he would have done if he hadn’t gone into broadcasting and he said he probably would have been an actor.

Marty’s final season will be the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Reds franchise, which means he has been connected with the team for almost 1/3 of its history.

The first time a Reds game was broadcast on radio was in 1924. He has been the team’s radio voice for 46 years and the careers of everyone else who has ever filled that role add up to 50 years. The second-longest time in that assignment by a Reds play-by-play man belongs to Waite Hoyt, who was in the booth for 24 years from 1942 to 1965.

The relationship between baseball play-by-play announcers and fans is unique in sports. No other sport’s announcers could ever get close to coming into your home as many as 162 times a year.

Assuming Brennaman averages 150 games for his 46 years, he will have broadcast around 6,900 games by the time he retires. It would take Paul Keels 460 years to call that many Ohio State football games even if the Buckeyes went to the national championship game every one of those seasons.

If I had just said “Marty” and never used “Brennaman,” in this column, Reds fans wouldn’t have had a problem knowing who I was talking about. Just like there would have been instant recognition of “Ernie,” in Detroit, “Harry,” in Chicago or “Vin” in Los Angeles.

Those other names belong to their cities and their fans. This one belongs to the Reds and their fans.

The sound of Marty’s voice has become synonymous with baseball in Cincinnati. Enjoy it for one more season.

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