A Titanic struggle. Definitely this is a Titanic struggle, to use one of Marty Brennaman's favorite phrases.
How do you sum up Brennaman's 46 years as the Reds' radio voice?
They say he's the "soundtrack of our summers," but he's more than that. Brennaman's voice is like oxygen, or water, or electricity.
He seems to be there 24/7. On TV and radio commercials for everything from furnaces to hearing aids. In Kroger stores. At CVG.
It's not just that Marty brought us the Reds greatest moments for nearly 50 years -- three World Series seasons; Pete Rose's historic hit No. 4,192; Tom Browning's perfect game; Joey Votto's walk-off grand slam.
Marty and Joe Nuxhall, and now Jeff Brantley and Tommy Thrall, are at their best when the Reds are at their worst. The Hall of Famer has entertained us with talk about tomato plants, playing tourist (with wife Amanda), obnoxious Cub fans, golfing or just goofing around with radio partners. Marty admits the 101-loss 1981 season – not the 1970's Big Red Machine pennants – taught him to be a better baseball announcer, to keep fans engaged when the Reds stunk.
Forty-six reasons we love Marty? There are probably 46,000. In researching and writing my upcoming book about Joe Nuxhall, The Old Lefthander & Me, I've come across countless examples of what made Marty iconic.
It's not like we can just say to Marty, "See you later, good morning, good afternoon and good night!" That's one of Marty's favorite phrases too, when a batter strikes out.
How we lookin'? Pretty down. Our Main Man is hanging it up on Thursday, Sept. 26, after the 12:35 p.m. Reds-Brewers game at Great American Ball Park. (Here's my guide to the club's Marty Party during the final home stand Sept. 20-26.)
If you're ready now, as Marty says every game, here's my starting lineup…
1. 4,192: My favorite of all of Marty's calls is his broadcast of Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb's all-time hit record. I love it because of Nuxhall's excitement in the background: "He levels the bat a couple of times. Show kicks and he fires! Rose swings. [NUXHALL: There it is! There it is! Get down! Get down! All right!!] Hit number 4,192!"
2. AND THIS ONE BELONGS TO THE REDS: We love hearing Marty's signature saying because it means the Reds won. He says it started by accident. In his first month on the job in 1974, the words just blurted out during a walk-off win..
3. REDS SUCCESS: "And this one belongs to the Reds" caught on because the Reds won so much -- 98 games in 1974. By contrast, the Reds won only 79 games and finished fourth when Al Michaels started in 1971. "Had I developed that line in 1982 – when they were the worst team in baseball (61-101) – that line would have never caught on," Marty says.
4. THE DARK SIDE: When partner Jeff Brantley does TV games, Marty likes to make fun of his being "on the dark side." Truth be told, Brennaman started his career as a morning TV anchor for North Carolina's Winston-Salem/Greenville/High Point market.
5. RAISED ON RADIO: With Marty at the microphone, the pictures were better on radio. He came fully prepared to entertain listeners for three hours, even if the game was another horrible Reds loss. As Marty says, "I love radio. I was born and raised on radio. I think doing baseball on the radio is the biggest challenge for a play-by-play announcer… Anybody can do TV. Radio is so much more fun."
6. SO MANY MEMORIES: When we think of Joe Votto's walk-off grand slam in 2012, we'll always hear Marty's voice. "And a high fly ball! Way back to centerfield! IT IS OUT OF HERE! A GRAND SLAM HOME RUN FOR JOEY VOTTO! AND THIS ONE BELONGS TO THE REDS! Absolutely amazing! A 2-2 pitch that he drives up on the grass in centerfield!"
7. DELIGHTFULLY DESCRIPTIVE: Fans may not realize it, but Brennaman every year led the Major Leagues in using hyphens. In the 2006 Marty Brennaman: Voice of the Reds compact disc by Cubs announcer Pat Hughes, Hughes praised Marty's vividly descriptive hyphenated phrases like "an opposite-field, game-tying, three-run homer."
8. TOO MUCH INFORMATION? Marty and Joe got into big trouble for their description of fans showing their displeasure when umpire Ron Pallone ejected manager Pete Rose in 1988 at Riverfront Stadium. Marty called Pallone "a terrible, terrible umpire" and "incompetent," and said that fans were "as angry as I've ever seen a crowd in the ballpark in the 15 years I've been here, and with good cause." For that they were summoned to New York by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who threatened to throw them out of baseball. He didn't. But nobody knew about this for 25 years, until I talked to Brennaman for a 25th anniversary story in 2013.
9. MARTY'S CANDOR, PART ONE: When recalling their 1988 meeting with Ueberroth 25 years later, and threatened with expulsion, Marty called Uebberoth "the most pompous jerk I've ever met." We love his candor.
10. NOT WORLD WAR III: Marty said it again when the Reds played in Wrigley Field during their last road trip: Some baseball announcers sound like every game is World War III. Not Brennaman, Brantley or Nuxhall. They made baseball fun. They made Reds radio addictive. As Marty explained at his retirement announcement last January: "There are other things far more important than whether or not the Cincinnati Reds win, so we talked about things in our lives."
11. MARTY CANDOR, PART TWO: Speaking of Wrigley Field, we love Marty for his brutal honesty – like when Cubs fans interrupted a game by tossing dozens of baseballs onto the field.
"There are balls coming from all over the place. Left field. Center field. Right field. This is the kind of thing, quite honestly, right now that makes you want to see the Chicago Cubs team lose…. It's ridiculous, it really is. You simply root against them…"
12. PREGAME SCOOP: Before ESPN, the internet and the 24/7 news cycle, the best place for the latest Reds information was Marty's pregame conversation with the Reds manager. His questions were tough but fair – and the same questions most Reds fans had about the Reds' strategy or mistakes. Reds executive Dick Wagner thought Marty was too tough, and cancelled the daily manager's show after firing Sparky Anderson in 1978. It wasn't resumed until Rose came home in 1984 as player-manager.
13. THE CHOSEN ONE: Marty admits he had no real interest in the Reds radio job in 1974. He didn't even know that Michaels had left for the San Francisco Giants. He applied (one of 200) as a courtesy to his boss at the Triple-A Norfolk Pilots, who had recommended him for the job to Reds executive Dick Wagner. At the time, Marty was too enamored with basketball, as the voice of the old ABA Virginia Squires led by Julius "Dr. J" Erving.
14. HOLDING COURT: Marty kept his hand in basketball, doing TV games for the University of Kentucky Wildcats and Indiana Pacers, and doing CBS radio play-by-play for NCAA regionals. Marty's not just a "baseball guy," and often during Reds games discusses the Bengals, Bearcats, Muskies or Big Blue.
15. LET'S GO KROGER-ING: After Rose, Bench, Perez, Morgan, Griffey and Geronimo were gone, Kroger elevated the status of Marty and Joe by hiring them for hilarious Kroger commercials. Kroger captured the essence of Marty and Joe. Hey, Little Buddy, toss me an onion!
16. AL MICHAELS FIELD: We'll miss Marty's self-deprecating humor. He loves to tell about his second spring training broadcast in 1974, after replacing Michaels. He opens the broadcast from the Reds' Al Lopez Field in Tampa by welcoming listeners to "Al Michaels Field."
17. OPENING DAY 1974: Marty didn't blow it his first Opening Day, when Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth's all-time home run record in the first inning off Billingham. "The 3-1 pitch. Swung on! Long shot into deep left field! Rose is back, and that ball is gone! A home run! Henry Aaron has just tied Babe Ruth's home run record of 714 with a clout over the 375 marker in left. … The crowd is on its feet en masse here at Riverfront Stadium as Hank Aaron has just hammered a 3-1 pitch from Jack Billingham over the left-field wall, and the Braves are out in front 3-0.
18. HIS VOCABULARY: En masse? That's what he said. And when Pete's broke Cobb's record, he described the "pandemonium" by saying "the applause continues unabated"… during the "outpouring of adulation." What other baseball announcer would say that?
19. SENSE OF HISTORY: Marty's 46 years represents nearly 33% of the Reds history. Next year we'll definitely miss his historic perspective, without references to Sparky, Nuxy, Little Joe Morgan or those immortal words of Sweet Lou Piniella during a pitching change, "I've seen enough!"
20. THEATRICAL DRAMA: Marty's first love was theater, and his drama training taught him how to convey great excitement, and to elevate his voice for added emphasis. Remember Tom Browning's perfect game in 1988?
"He's ready for the 2-2 to Woodson. And here it comes. And it is SWUNG ON AND MISSED! AND TOM BROWNING HAS PITCHED A PERFECT GAME! Twenty-seven outs in a row, and he's being mobbed by his teammates!"
21. MARTY-ISMS: An infielder "throws a seed" to first base. Or "dials up" the first baseman. A pitcher "pours it plateward." If he goes to a full count, the pitcher "has run the string out." A line drive hitter "sends out a frozen rope" to the outfield. A well-hit ball is "hammered to deep right field." A great play is followed by "a big ol' have mercy!" A swing and a miss means the batter "comes up empty again." Do it three times and "that's a punch-out!" A close game is either "a bona-fide frog-strangler" or "a good old good one." We love Marty's unique lexicon. Ain't love grand?
22. LIVING LEGEND: Before Brennaman thanked his family when presented the Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting achievement in Cooperstown in 2000, he thanked Nuxhall: "It's awfully nice to work with a living legend, and that's what I've done since 1974. Whatever success I've had, I willingly and gratefully share it with the Old Lefthander, Joe Nuxhall."
23. PRANKSTER OF LOVE: We've come to admire Marty as a Hall of Fame prankster. He convinced Brantley that the Great American Ball Park radio booth was heated (it wasn't). He'd put the Old Lefthander on the spot, like asking Nuxhall what he thought of Marge Schott's appearance on 60 Minutes. Or tricking Joe on road trips into thinking their visitors' radio booth had moved to another location.
24. THE BANANA PHONE: The Reds pulled the plug on the "Banana Phone" call-in during rain delays, much to the disappointment of Reds fans. Do you remember hearing Adam Dunn fool Marty as "Adam from Milwaukee?" Marty, do you have your shirt on?
25. FAVORITE TEAM: No, it wasn't the 1975 Big Red Machine, or the '76 World Champs which swept the Yankees in four games. Marty's favorite team was Piniella's 1990 wire-to-wire champs who weren't expected to win the NL, or sweep the Oakland As. And '90 was the only World Series Brennaman broadcast with Nuxhall.
26. FAN FAVORITE: We love Marty because he's as nice to us as you'd ever want him to be. He truly enjoys talking to Reds fans – at the ball park, at spring training, at Kroger, at Reds' events, etc. How many of us have selfies with Marty?
27. HOMER TIME: Believe it or not, Marty says he started out as a "homer," until scolded by Jack Billinghman after saying to the pitcher, "Boy, we really played well last night." To which Billingham replied: "How many hits did you get?" Immediately Marty realized that this one belonged to the players. "That was one of the defining moments in my career."
28. MARTY & JOE, CINCINNATI, OHIO: At the height of their popularity, Reds fans sent letters to addressed simply to "Marty & Joe, Cincinnati, Ohio." U.S. Postal officials knew where to deliver them -- Riverfront Stadium. Marty told me: "I was blown away by that. If that isn't the biggest compliment of all time, I don't know what is."
29. CLOSE SHAVE: Marty has been a dedicated advocate for animal adoption, the Reds Community Fund, the Dragonfly Foundation and other charities. Who will forget Marty getting his head shaved in 2012, then taking off his Reds jersey to reveal the "I'm Still Me" T-shirt and hugging young cancer patients who had lost their hair?
30. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED EXPOSURE: Why did Brennaman get in trouble with Dick Wagner from a 1979 Sports Illustrated story about Nuxhall still pitching batting practice at age 50? Because the SI writer described how "Brennaman reads a book – not about baseball, of course – (while) Nuxhall broadcasts the middle innings." Wagner told him never to do it again.
31. THREE MEN IN A BOOTH: In an effort to curb Marty's critical commentary, Wagner added TV announcer Dick Carlson into Marty and Joe's radio booth 1980. Brennaman was hot. He blasted Wagner publicly, doing "everything that weekend to get fired." His relationship remained Rocky into the 1983 season, when Wagner refused to talk contract renewal with Marty during the season. So Brennaman gave Wagner an ultimatum of Aug. 15. It didn't matter. The Reds fired Wagner in July. "I was convinced that I was done here, that Wagner wasn't going to bring me back."
32. CREDIBILITY: We love Marty because he is honest, sometime's brutally so. "The one thing I'm going to have when I leave this business is my credibility, and that's the most important thing in the world to me in my profession. If I sugar-coat everything that happened, then nobody can believe anything I said," he says.
When asked in 2002 if his contract contained any restrictions on criticizing the team, Marty said: "There's NOTHING in my contract. If there was, I wouldn't be standing here today. … I cannot be a cheerleader. If the time ever came when I was told by anybody in this organization that 'You've got to stop broadcasting the way you broadcast,' then I'd have to leave."
33. CANDOR PART THREE: Marty danced a fine line to keep both Dick Wagner happy and his credibility, as he once explained to me: "Dick had an idea of how he wanted games broadcast, and I had an idea the way I wanted to broadcast, so we were at odds with each other. And I was kind of stupid, because I took him on and it was a no-win situation, because he could fire me any time he wanted to."
34. HONESTY: Cubs announcer Pat Hughes, in his 2006 Marty Brennaman: Voice of the Reds compact disc, called Brennaman "as honest as a broadcaster can possibly be." I'm proud to say that in 1992 I wrote that "Brennaman's reputation for fairness and hard work ... could conceivably earn him a plaque in Cooperstown." I was right. He was honored with the National Baseball Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award in 2000.
35. DOGGIE'S DAY: Marty's theatrical background was evident his first season. Here's how he called a game-winning home run by Tony "The Big Dog" Perez with two outs in the ninth to beat the Giants 14-13 in July 1974:
"Fly ball to centerfield! It's all over! IT'S ALL OVER! THE REDS WIN IT! THE REDS WIN IT! THE REDS WIN IT! A HOME RUN TO CENTERFIELD BY TONY PEREZ! THE REDS WIN IT! THE REDS WIN IT! 14-13! THE REDS HAVE SCORED FIVE TIMES IN THE NINTH INNING AND THE REDS WIN ON A TONY PEREZ HOME RUN TO CENTERFIELD! OH MY GOLLY! HOLY COW, WHAT A FINISH!" Holy cow! What a call!
36. SHARED EXPERIENCE: We'll miss Marty because he's provided a shared narrative for Reds' Major League milestones for 46 years. You can't think of Ken Griffey Jr.'s 500th home run on Father's Day in 2004, with his dad at the game, without Marty's "knocked down the door" call: "A high drive! Hit back into deep right field! Junior has just knocked the door down to the 500 club!! … Number 30 touches them all, and boy what a Father's Day gift for Senior!"
37. UNPREDICTABLE: We tuned in every game because you never knew what Marty would say. During spring training in 1995, when football star Deion Sanders was playing centerfield for the Reds, Marty told listeners that Deion would be performing as a rap artist at a Florida nightclub after the game. Then he announced: "And rumor has it that Joe will be also rapping tonight with Deion to 'She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain.' "
38. YEAR OF ELVIS: We weren't all shook up when Marty declared 1996 as "The Year Of The King." Fans sent Marty and Joe an Elvis Presley bust and all kind of Elvis memorabilia -- velvet wall hangings, posters, photos, postcards, old concert tickets and a lamp.
39. GOLF: In his 22nd year with Nuxhall, Brennaman finally started playing golf. Their broadcasts were filled with references to their golf games -- and Joe's propensity for hitting his ball into water hazards.
40. HALL OF FAME CREDIT: When Brennaman accepted the Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting achievement in Cooperstown on July 23, 2000, the first person he thanked was Michaels. "There's one person I want to thank right out of the chute, and that's… Al Michaels. Had Al not left after the '73 season to go to the San Francisco Giants, I wouldn't be here today. So Al, where ever you are, thank you very much!"
41. TALKIN' TOMATOES: Before Marty started playing golf, Marty and Joe talked about their tomato plants every summer. It wasn't contrived to connect with listeners. "I've got tomato plants. If people don't believe me, they can come to see them," Brennaman said in 1992. Later that season, the Cincinnati Post sent a photographer to his home to do just that.
42. CANDOR PART FOUR: On the morning of "Marty and Joe Night" in 1993, Brennaman went on WLW-AM to blast principal owner Marge Schott for nixing the broadcasters' contract renewal. "We don't have signed contracts for next year. I don't know if either one of us will be back next year. ... If I don't have a signed contract by the last out next Sunday (Sept. 29), I'm outta here." Within days, Marty and Joe got new three-year deals.
43. PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT: Marty has often said he's most proud of his 46 years with one Major League team, and 31 years with Nuxhall. "The 31 years (together) is a record. No one will ever equal that. Our business is a transient business. Guys always think the grass is greener on the other side."
44. HE'S NO. 1: Marty is No. 1. So are his pencils. He uses a special stash of No. 1 pencils (not common No. 2 pencils) which make a darker mark. Marty also has kept his scorebooks from all 46 seasons. Don't be surprised to see them some day in the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.
45. JOE'S LASTING IMPACT: Witnessing Nuxhall's health decline their final years together left a huge impression on Marty. Joe retired from full-time radio work in 2004, but continued to do some games until his death in 2007 at 79. Marty turned 77 in July. Joe's deteriorating health their last years together was "the biggest single reason I decided to quit when I did," he says. "When Joe retired, he was physically incapable of doing a lot of things that he wanted to do. … I decided then that I'm going to retire when I have my health about me, when I can go places and do things."
46. HEADING FOR HOME: No, Marty's not rounding third and heading for home. He's looking forward to lots of road trips with his wife, Amanda. They're going back to Europe again, and they want to see more national parks and landmarks. Next year they won't have to wait until October to travel.
Thanks Marty for 46 wonderful, memorable years. We love you, Marty, and we'll miss you.
Ain't love grand!