Since 1974 he’s taken the Reds listening market by storm, for good and bad. And for his insistence on telling the truth about the team he covers, he’s every bit the icon to be compared to the great Reds of all time.
CINCINNATI — He doesn’t always say what people want to hear. What’s more, he doesn’t care. He cares about telling the truth as he sees it, knows it to be. All admirable qualities, but qualities, nonetheless, that have led to more than an occasional summons to the boss’s office and, on one occasion, nearly got him fired.
Marty Brennaman is the hard-bitten Hall of Fame broadcaster, whose voice has become synonymous with Cincinnati Reds baseball. He does it his way, and has for more than 40 years.
When former Reds owner Carl Lindner reproached him and insisted on a “loyalty clause” as a condition of his continued employment, Brennaman declined, saying he would hold a news conference the following day to announce his departure and why he was leaving. The “loyalty clause” disappeared and Brennaman went back to work.
He is 73 years old, beginning his 43rd season in the Reds broadcast booth. In 2000, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He has won a “veritable boatload” of national and regional awards for his work. He has risen to the status of legends in his field, right there alongside the likes of Ernie Harwell, Bob Prince, Red Barber, Bob Uecker, Jack Buck and Harry Caray.
Like the rest of the best in baseball broadcasting, Brennaman is surpassed in reputation by only one, the inimitable Vin Scully, who will work his 66th season for the Dodgers this season, and, of whom Brennaman says, “He is simply the best. There is no one as good as Vin and there will never be anyone as good as he has been.”
In short, he has reached the top rung of his profession. He has built and banked a comfortable lifestyle, and after all this time he could just lay it down, sit in the sun and go play golf. But therein lies the rub.
“One day,” he says, “I think I want to retire and the next I don’t…and I’m happy. I’m happy that I’m at the point in my career where I can be conflicted about it, that I can continue to work, if that’s what I want to do—without the ‘R’ word being imposed upon me—or, I could step aside if I choose.”
Entering the last year of a contract, no one is pushing Brennaman. No guillotine sways above as it often does in other industries, when age and an abundant salary add up to a trip to Boca Vista, or an exodus to “explore other opportunities”.
Reds management awaits Brennaman’s decision on his future with open arms. His wife, Amanda, encourages him to do what he chooses to do—what makes him happy—and be assured, he is happy.
“I love my work,” he said. “I love the people I work with. I look forward to seeing those people every day and that means a lot. I love the people I work for. This is the best ownership I’ve ever worked for. They’ve pretty much told me, ‘You tell us what you want to do down the road and whatever you do is fine with us. We just want you to keep working.’”
Of course, this is a good example of the Castellini family’s business acumen. Perhaps never has Brennaman been more important to the organization than he will be this season, which doesn’t promise to be a good one.
Brennaman’s value increases because of his knowledge, his following, his veracity and the sheer entertainment value he and Jeff Brantley, his primary partner, bring to the broadcast.
Brennaman spent 31 seasons in the booth with the iconic Joe Nuxhall. Their performance was a natural hand-in-glove experience that became part of Cincinnati culture. Lindner began to ease “the Ol’ Lefthander” out of the booth in 2003, and in 2007, Nuxhall died.
His passing cut Brennaman to the quick. The brightness that seemed to emanate from the broadcast booth dimmed. As Nuxhall’s health failed, the Castellini’s, who had replaced the Lindner group in 2006, asked Nuxhall to work when he felt well enough, and—in a huge stroke—hired Brennaman’s son, Thom, and former Red and All-Star reliever Jeff Brantley, who had become a stand-out analyst at ESPN.
Working with Thom, who made his name at WGN in Chicago and Fox Sports nationally, was the fulfillment of a dream for Brennaman. The addition of Brantley was a surprise party.
“All that is true,” Brennaman said. “Often when I speak to groups, a question about my 31 years with Joe inevitably comes up, and I always make a point of saying, ‘I’m not a very religious person. I wish I was…But, I believe that when God decided to take Joe away, He gave me Thom and Jeff.’”
Brennaman’s joy working with his son was apparent. But the team of Brennaman and Brantley was another singular fit, and is reminiscent of “Marty and Joe On the Radio”. Brennaman and Brantley cover all the bases but they are just as apt to veer off on an improbable path—like esoteric rock n’ roll, for instance.
“Yesterday, I said to him, ‘Do you realize how big a day this is?’ Well, he has no idea. I said, ‘This is David Gilmour’s birthday – from Pink Floyd. I can not believe you would not know that.’ Well, that started a conversation apart from the game…He could care less about Pink Floyd or David Gilmour (the groups guitarist and lead vocalist). He thought that was the biggest bunch of horse(bleep) you could listen to.
“But we had some big laughs…and it was something I thought was apropos of a tiring, boring spring training game where they were getting their ass kicked, and it brought some levity to the broadcast which, I think is good.”
Marty and Joe had their tomatoes, their latest round of golf, Elvis statues and “Macho Man” Randy Savage run amok in the booth. Marty and “The Cowboy” reprise that spirit. Folks, it’s not war out there.
“We both want the team to win,” Brennaman says, “but it’s not the most important thing in the world. There is something going on in the world daily that dwarfs the trials and tribulations of the Cincinnati Reds.”
This year, the Reds trials and tribulations may make the season a daily grind. But while some are predicting 100 losses, Brennaman says, “Not so fast, my friend. Not so fast.”
“I don’t think they will be as bad as this club was last year,” he said. “I don’t think they will lose 98 games, I truly don’t…Now, are they going to be world-beaters, no. Hell, no. But with all these kids, they are going to be interesting…
“I was talking with (Reds manager) Bryan Price just the other day. I said to him, ‘What you’ve got to do is be better in May than you were in April and better in June than you were May…right up to the end of the season.’ Do that, show continuing progress, and you’ll be fine.’”
Whether that’s the case or not, Brennaman will be right there with them, calling the action from the booth and for the foreseeable future. Beyond the professional pleasures Brennaman experiences—that bring him back to the booth with such vigor—there is a personal element no less important.
“I’m married to a woman (Amanda) who is 30 years younger than I am, who has revolutionized my life,” he says. “She has gotten me off my ass to do things that, if I were alone, I would never do…I would be a recluse. I know I would.”
He walks every day, 10,000 steps; carries a Fitbit in his pocket and has for years. “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life, seriously,” he says, “and I’m happy. I’m in a great place in my life personally, and I’m in a great place professionally.”