Sunday, July 23, 2000
Brennaman is outspoken, on the ball and fun
By Scott MacGregor
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Three hours to game time, and Marty Brennaman is ready for work.
It's a hot summer day, but the Reds' radio broadcaster arrives at the ballpark dressed like a GQ cover well, as GQ as he gets in a tan checked sport coat, khaki mock turtleneck, brown slacks and oxblood loafers. His everyday attire is more likely to be a sport shirt and tight casual slacks, but today he has a TV interview. Not a silver strand of his freshly cut hair is out of place, befitting the neatness of his personality.
Everybody wants to talk to Marty these days. Election to the Baseball Hall of Fame he'll be inducted into the broadcasting wing today in Cooperstown, N.Y. makes a man popular.
On this June day, it's just before four in the afternoon, and it's going to be a busy one. Marty has the TV interview, then his pre-game show with Reds manager Jack McKeon, his daily prep work for the broadcast and, of course, his golf planning for the next road trip.
He has been up since 6:30 this morning, and already has spent a couple hours updating his records of Reds players at his Anderson Township home. He's fed the birds and deer and cat and taken his mother on errands. The baseball life is often just as mundane than any other.
Marty sets up shop in his radio booth, unpacking his scorebook and tape recorder, then walks through the Cinergy Field press box on his way down to the clubhouse. He engages a stadium maintenance worker in a short hello.
Your big weekend's coming up soon, isn't it?, the man asks.
It's going to be huge, Marty says, then adds his trademark sarcasm. I guess.
At the pinnacle
Marty's place at the top of baseball broadcasting history is undeniable. He is a Hall of Famer, which makes him the equal, in history's eyes, of the radio greats: Vin Scully, Jack Buck, Red Barber, Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell.
He'll be just the 24th broadcaster inducted into the hall. He'll be in the top five that ever lived, says his son, Arizona Diamondbacks broadcaster Thom Brennaman.
Marty himself has never viewed his legacy in those terms. I've never, ever presumed to be the ilk of those people, he says.
And this one belongs to the Reds: His most famous call, used after the final out of a Reds' win. He began using it early in the 1974 season, and liked it so much, he never stopped. |
Honesty and opinion: He tells it like it is, and doesn't sugar-coat anything, including criticisms of Reds players and management. It gives him credibility as a reporter few broadcasters can match.
He's in an extremely envious position, said Mr. Brennaman's son, Thom, a major-league broadcaster for the Arizona Diamondbacks. I can't think of more than a handful of guys around baseball that have the basic editorial freedom he does. I really admire his brutal honesty.
His relationship with Joe: Partner Joe Nuxhall has been beside him for 27 seasons, in and away from the radio booth. The two are close friends, and their banter about nothing their tomato gardens, their golf games has become a signature of the broadcast. Marty will be remembered as much for his own style as his friendship with Joe.
It's going to be hard to think down the road when Joe retires and Marty has to work with someone else, said Brennaman's wife, Sherri. People will miss them, and it will be awfully hard for Marty. They just have a special relationship. I don't know if that will ever be equalled.
None may ever be better than Mr. Scully, who is as poetic and erudite as Marty is simple and earnest. Few have meant as much to one city as Mr. Buck to St. Louis, where he has been for 46 years, or Mr. Harwell to Detroit, where he's been 40.
But Marty, whether he admits it or not, means that much to Cincinnati, 26 years after he arrived. He broadcasts over rarified air.
He has fulfilled everything imaginable, says Mr. Scully, the Los Angeles Dodgers' voice for 51 years. First of all, he's accurate. He's informative, he's entertaining, and he has a passion for the game. I've always had a great warmth and respect and admiration for him.
Marty has developed a reputation for honesty and opinion, for telling it like it is. He is fair and will not take cheap shots, but his disdain for a bonehead play or lack of effort can be heard in a pregnant pause or hard-edged critique.
It's a style that has distinguished him from some big-league broadcasters who become cheerleaders for their team, and has measured his character more than once. In 1983, he was under heavy fire from then-general manager Dick Wagner for his criticisms of the club. Marty refused to back down. Mr. Wagner was fired before the end of the season.
But Marty also brings a fan's excitement to his even-handed praise, understanding that a big moment has to sound big. His deep voice can be both soothing and exciting in one breath, and he is as much the Reds' identity as any player.
Marty's never changed, says his wife of 22 years, Sherri Brennaman, who has been listening to him every night since before they were married. He's the same person outspoken, opinionated and honest. The fans will always remember Marty telling them like it is.
But there's more to Marty. He is, above all, spectacular at calling a game, says his son.
It gets overlooked because of his brutal honesty, but he's just a fabulous announcer, Thom says.
Thom remembers being humbled by his dad's talent many times, but especially at the 1990 National League Championship Series. Thom was coming off his first year of play-by-play for the Chicago Cubs, where he was seen as a very good game-caller himself.
GUIDE TO MARTY-SPEAK
Titanic struggle: A ballgame. |
Good ol' good one: A low-scoring game.
Hit of the two-base variety: double
Veritable plethora: A lot
Myriad: see veritable plethora
HWE: Hang With 'Em
Redlegs: The Reds
Astronomicals: Houston Astros
Metropolitans: New York Mets
Twinkies: Minnesota Twins
Exponentials: Montreal Expos
Thom took a seat next to Dad in the Three Rivers Stadium press box in Pittsburgh, and just listened.
Says Thom: I'm thinking, "Holy mackerel. I'm supposed to be a big-league announcer? This is what I'm supposed to be compared to? I'm way out of my league.' And that's not me seeing him as his son, but as a colleague. In a word, it's his passion that sets him apart.
But, says Thom, I respect him secondarily for the professional part, first for him as a man and the way he's carried himself. I love him more than anything in the world.
Thom has become his father. How many other kids across Ohio grew up listening to Reds games, wanting to be Marty, calling the action in his voice in their backyard fantasies?
We'd play baseball video games and call the play-by-play like Marty, says his producer, 24-year-old Steven Versnick, who was raised in Lima. We used the phrases he did, the vocabulary he did. One time, he used the term "veritable plethora,' and we asked our teacher what it meant. She told us to look it up.
Golf and memories
The TV camera is waiting in the bowels of the stadium tunnel, but Marty has a stop to make first: The clubhouse, where he seeks out Reds equipment manager Rick Stowe to talk golf. There's a road trip in two days, and Marty must confer with the man he calls the Reds' assistant director of golf operations about where they'll play in Phoenix and St. Louis.
This day will have three themes: Baseball, frivolity and golf. Marty used to hate golf, ribbing his friends who wasted their time with it in Marty fashion, good-natured but pointed. Then he hit a round with his best friend, Joe Nuxhall, and fell in love with it.
Marty Brennaman has seen so much in 27 seasons as the voice of the Reds, it's tough to pinpoint the one thing he'll be most remembered for. So we ranked the Top Five: |
1. And this one belongs to the Reds: His signature phrase after a Reds' win. He first used it a few weeks into his first season in 1974, and loved the sound of it. He has used it for every Reds win since.
2. Honesty and opinion: You won't find a broadcaster in all of sports who is more known for telling-it-like-it-is. He's not afraid to express his opinion, whether in praise or criticism.
3. His call of Pete Rose's record-breaking 4,192st hit: It was Pete's moment, and Marty's understated, historic description matched perfectly. Even better, it was spontaneous. Of all his calls, it's the one that will be most played over and over.
4. Inciting a riot: How many announcers can say they have so much clout, they were summoned to the commissioner's office and blamed for a riot (after the Pete Rose umpiring-bumping incident in 1988)?
5. Elvis: What better for the King of Cincinnati radio to decorate a radio booth with than a bust of the King of Rock 'n' Roll? It showed off Marty's funny side.
The TV interview with Channel 9's John Popovich begins, and gives Marty the opportunity to do what he does best: Talk.
He talks of lying in bed as a kid, his room lit only by the Virginia night sky, listening to re-creations of Brooklyn Dodgers games on the radio. He talks of his career highlights, his hard-edged style, his love affair with the city of Cincinnati. He is a master storyteller, holding the rapt attention of the four onlookers as he crosses 40 years of history in a few tight minutes.
Through it all, he never cracks, never wavers into sentimentality. That is, until he starts talking about Mr. Nuxhall, his partner in the radio booth for 26 years.
Marty stops in mid-sentence. His World Series ring passes in front of his face as he wipes a tear away.
Mr. Buck, another old friend and Hall of Famer, told Marty he'd choke up at least once during the induction ceremony. Marty, one of the least sentimental people in the broadcasting business, said it wouldn't happen to him.
Well, he says with a hint of pride and no embarrassment, it just did.
Fun and frivolity
Marty's real work starts around 5 p.m., a little later than usual.
He does his show with Mr. McKeon on the bullpen bench, recording it on a Walkman that couldn't have cost more than $40. He chats with players and writers by the batting cage. He fills out his lineup card and sifts through reams of stat sheets. He reads through his mail and signs autographs, responding to a young 5th-grade fan who sent him baseball cards.
This is all the grunt work of the job, and Marty loves it. But the real fun is just beginning.
Marty eats dinner in the press box dining room with old friend Cal Levy, the Reds' marketing director. The dinner conversation is partly printable and mostly not. At the end, the discussion comes around to the TV show The Brady Bunch.
The night before, the actor who played teen-ager Greg Brady, Barry Williams, made an appearance at Cinergy Field. Marty hated the show and wanted nothing to do with Mr. Williams, but has been pondering the question of whether Mr. Williams ever consummated his real-life crush on Florence Henderson, who played Mrs. Brady.
Marty, as he often does, cracks up his dinner companions and leaves the table with with one of his trademark wordy statements: I must get my game face on after this wonderful interlude of frivolity.
But the fun doesn't stop there. When he returns to the radio booth, Marty starts in on producer Bill Seg Dennison, a good-natured and dry-humored soul.
Heaven help the fool who commits a faux pas in Marty's presence, and Seg has forgotten to send Mr. Levy's wife a thank-you card for some gifts she brought. One of Marty's best talents is needling people, and he keeps a running point into Seg's side all night. You're just having an awful night, he tells him around the fifth inning.
Seg takes it. He knows it's all in good fun.
There's not a radio booth around that has as much fun we we do, Marty says.
No matter how bad a day I have, it gets better when I get to the park, Mr. Versnick says. Marty's presence just makes you feel better.
Hi again, everybody, and welcome back to the ballpark. Marty has gone on the air for a brief opening at 6:35, but he's back for good at 7:01.
There's not much happening in the game early, and the radio booth a two-tiered slab of concrete big enough for two or three people is where the action is. Visitors stream in and out. Channel 19 sportscaster Dan Hoard has joined Marty on the air for their every-other-night second-inning conversation, and Mr. Hoard has also jumped into the frivolity.
Mr. Hoard is filling in for Marty during Hall of Fame weekend, while Marty is being enshrined in Cooperstown. I believe those are size 18 EEE shoes I have to fill, Hoard says. It's like someone going to a Broadway show expecting to see Olivier and getting Keanu Reeves instead.
Marty is more Jimmy Stewart than Olivier, less royal and more everyman. He doesn't so much take over a performance as masterfully fit into one, and on this June night, his voice dances over the 50,000-watt blowtorch that is WLW with simple elegance.
When Marty would listen to games on the radio as a kid, he'd try to imagine what places like Brooklyn's Ebbets Field or New York's Yankee Stadium looked like. There was no TV then, and baseball was whatever his imagination would allow.
When he was 12, in 1954, his parents drove from their home in Portsmouth, Va., to Washington, D.C., to take him to his first ballgame. He still remembers walking out of the Griffith Stadium tunnel into the stands, wonder in his eyes, the outfield greener than any grass he'd ever seen.
He was seeing baseball for the first time, and that's the feeling he wants his listeners to have every time they tune in. He believes TV is for showing a story; radio is for painting one.
"His voice is excellent, he's smooth, he's right on the ball with the action in the game, Mr. Nuxhall says. If you sit there listening to him at the stadium, you can follow the ball with him. That's one of his biggest assets.
In the top of the sixth, the Cardinals' Ray Lankford hits a two-run homer. Marty's call is simple. First pitch hit deep to left field, and the Cardinals lead 2-0. No histrionics. No signature home run call. Just whatever you envision on your porch or in your car.
The game has been good one, with the Reds storming back from a 3-0 deficit to take a late lead. Reds reliever Scott Sullivan strikes out the Cardinals' Jim Edmonds to finish a 7-3 victory at 10:17 p.m.
And this one belongs to the Reds, Marty tells his listeners with his trademark ending, just before fireworks explode.
The post-game show is the only thing left. Marty spends about 20 minutes gathering scores of the night's games around major league baseball from a computer, then does one last segment on the air.
The ballpark's lights are dim and faintly yellow. The stands are empty, the grounds crew grooming the field below. Marty sips on a small cup of iced tea as a breeze floats through the radio booth.
The clock has almost reached 11. In a few minutes, he will leave for home, spend some time with Sherri and go to bed. Tomorrow is a day game, and he'll be up early.
But first, he must say goodnight.
Until tomorrow, this is Marty Brennaman, saying, "So long, everybody.'
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