I met Marty Brennaman sometime between the ages of eight and 13. We were introduced through a piece of furniture.
My mother had a hi-fi stereo system that was built into a big wooden cabinet that sat in our living room. There were speakers on each side and if you lifted the top you found a record player and AM/FM radio hidden inside.
At night I would press my ear close to the speaker and scan the AM dial in search of major league baseball broadcasts from distant cities. There was no digital tuner back them. It required the delicate touch of a sushi chef to move the dial an eyelash in either direction before a baseball game seemed to magically appear.
That was my introduction to Marty Brennaman. As well as my future employer 700-WLW.
Announcers like Marty, Detroit’s Ernie Harwell, the Mets’ trio of Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner, and especially Van Miller of the Buffalo Bills helped foster my dream of getting into sports broadcasting and gave me an appreciation for those that do it well.
From 2006 to 2011, I was the radio/TV voice of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. I lived in Boston and my commute to Rhode Island for a home game was approximately 50 minutes each way with no traffic.
Two things made the drive tolerable. There were 16 Dunkin Donuts franchises between our apartment and the ball park – several open all night – so I never lacked for caffeine or sugar. But more importantly, I passed the time by listening to major league baseball games on satellite radio.
I discovered that my favorite announcers were great for different reasons. Vin Scully was a master storyteller with a poetic gift of language. Jon Miller of the Giants uses his vocal cords like a Stradivarius. Nobody can make the basics of baseball sound so exciting. And the late Dave Neihaus of the Mariners had a joyous tone to his voice that made the ballpark sound like the most fun place in the world each and every night.
Then there’s Franchester Martin Brennaman Jr. (for you trivia buffs, his Grandfather’s best friends were named Frank and Chester and he combined the two names to come up with Franchester).
I’ve written about my reverence for Marty before and jokingly referred to how he holds the greatest streak in baseball history. For 46 years and approximately 7,000 games he’s never botched a big call as the voice of the Cincinnati Reds. Additionally, Marty is the most candid team-employed announcer in the history of broadcasting. When the Reds stunk, he wasn’t afraid to say so.
It’s no coincidence that Marty rhymes with party because he lights up a room the moment that he enters it. He is effortlessly entertaining and that’s what makes his baseball broadcasts so unique. He’s funny, opinionated, and a relentless ball-buster who is also quick to poke fun at himself.
“I like Marty Brennaman, he’s a live wire,” Bengals president Mike Brown told me a few years ago. “He talks freely and shares his beliefs. He doesn’t hold back. If you don’t like it that’s alright with him. It’s fun being around him.”
One of the great privileges of my professional life was having the opportunity to fill-in on Reds broadcasts with both Joe Nuxhall and Marty Brennaman. And it gave me an idea that turned into one of my favorites stories to put together as a TV sports anchor at Fox 19.
The basic premise was “What would it sound like if Marty and Joe called a Little League baseball game?” So I went to a game with videographer Dan Wood who shot a ton of footage of the kids and coaches (including a Chris Welsh cameo). Then I wrote a script and had Marty and Joe provide the soundtrack. Here’s the result:
Despite numerous opportunities to leave Cincinnati for bigger markets, Marty stayed here and put his name and fame to good use.
He has been the guest speaker at more luncheons and sports stags than we could possibly count, and his annual golf tournament has raised more than three million dollars for the Reds Community Fund.
And who could forget what happened in 2012 when he told a Reds coach that he would shave his head if the team won 10 straight games.
When they did, Marty not only paid off the bet but did so on live TV in an event that raised $100,000 in one week.
Best of all, that night introduced many of us to the Dragonfly Foundation – an organization for children with cancer or blood disorders. The image of Marty kissing the heads of three young girls who had lost their hair due to cancer might just be the greatest moment in the history of Great American Ball Park.
I will miss listening to him call baseball games terribly, but I am so grateful that fate brought me to Cincinnati and allowed me to get to know Marty Brennaman.
Little did I know that the voice I heard coming out of that cabinet several decades ago would belong to somebody who eventually became a friend, mentor, and broadcasting hero.