The retirement of the Cincinnati Reds longtime broadcaster Marty Brennaman has caused me much reflection on my lifelong passion with the game of baseball.
Having broadcast Reds baseball for 46 years, Marty has literally been the most consistent link to my favorite team since my earliest memories. People relatively close in age to my generation, recognize that today’s game of baseball looks different than what it did as I learned to love, play and eventually teach it.
Marty Brennaman has journeyed with us through that transition with his descriptive play by play, colorful analysis, and brutally honest assessments of his perspectives.
I like to think that baseball is the perfect game; summer nights, crack of the bat, the feel of the ball hitting your glove. The game where size, speed or velocity isn’t always the gamechanger.
The game where individual performance is critically measured, but is only valuable as a part of the result of the whole.
The game where no two games are ever the same.
Joe Nuxhall often stated that even having been around the game his whole life, you always see something that you’ve never seen before. To me the appeal of the game has always been it’s imperfections, many brought back to my memory bank with reflections on the career of one Marty Brennaman.
Remember Marty and Joe describing Reds games on a transistor radio filled with static, often falling asleep with it beside your pillow when the team was on the west coast? Listening to them as they somehow communicated the history of the game with all the statistics, while also talking about tomato plants and hobbies, radio drama that led from one night to the next? Baseball cards that were often miscut, had gum stains on the back, worn and creased from trading them with friends on the bus or at recess?
Travel ball was riding your bicycle to practice with all of your gear hanging on the handlebar? Uniforms that were t-shirts and an old pair of pants? Two or three wood bats that were shared by the entire team? A ball diamond that was wherever you had enough room to throw down makeshift bases and a homerun was one hit over the tree or on the roof? Picking up rocks, cutting the grass and the endless raking the diamond?
Your catcher calling all the balls and strikes in pickup games and the ensuing arguments that somehow you and your buddies resolved? Hours of playing the game with no adults to tell you the rules and proper technique? Overhand, sidearm, three quarters, velocity and spin rate didn’t matter, but you all could throw strikes! A time when you practiced leads and steals, bunts and hit and runs, hitting cut off men and how to slide?
Watching the Game of the Week on the weekends on a black and white TV with bad reception? Terrible umpiring calls that led to in-game arguments that often impacted the outcomes of games?
Somehow, even with all these imperfections, the game was perfect to us then. Today we’re told it has improved. Kids today play in teams and leagues perfectly organized by adults who often are being paid. They attend camps and showcases where they are instructed with the perfections of technique carefully critiqued by video and specialty coaches. They only play in perfect uniforms, on perfect fields, and only when the conditions are perfect. Heck, the ultimate is to play on perfect fields that aren’t even real! Parents who drive you to all your practices, attend every function and provide expert instruction to perfect every pitch and swing. Pitches are counted and tracked on radar guns by adults who will stop you from playing if you exceed the perfect number.
Major leaguers play in games with strike zones and reviewable umpiring decisions to make the game perfect, free of bad calls and entertaining arguments. Every broadcast whether on radio or television is streamed or in HD with instant frame by frame replay, super zoomed slow motion and perfect reception. You don’t even have to watch the entire game anymore, just the highlights of the most perfect plays. Shoot, we can’t even touch our baseball cards! They need professionally graded and authenticated and only have value if the corners, edges, color and centering are perfect.
While the game is still great and continued changes will come, the retirement of Marty Brennaman is the severing of a memorable link to the baseball I knew as a child. He’s one of a select few that represent this era to me and my generation of baseball enthusiasts. The game will continue to evolve. Players will get bigger, faster, stronger with advanced skill levels. We who coach will continue to adapt to teach the game effectively. But is it really better? Is it really more perfect?
I for one, will always prefer the imperfectly perfect game.
Chad Spencer is a teacher and baseball coach at Shawnee High School.