One Of The Many Kindnesses Of Marty Brennaman, And Why He'll Be Missed
All good things must come to an end, and that includes the career of Marty Brennaman as the Reds' broadcaster.
Throughout the 2019 season, the Reds have been celebrating the 150th anniversary of professional baseball in Cincinnati, a story that began in 1869 on a dusty, tiny ballpark on a site now occupied by the Esplanade of Museum Center at Union Terminal.
Today's Reds are not the lineal descendants of that Cincinnati Reds Stockings team, with its $9,300 payroll and perfect 67-0 record. But the 10 players who made up the Red Stockings are the spiritual forefathers of the Reds today.
And Marty has been a part of that for 46 years, since Richard Nixon was in the White House. In fact, nine presidents shuffled in and out of the White House in the years since Marty has been behind the microphone at Riverfront Stadium and Great American Ball Park.
Only his old pal and broadcast partner of 31 years, Joe Nuxhall, has come anywhere close to Marty's longevity as a Reds broadcaster. The Ol' Lefthander spent 38 seasons in the booth, going directly from the Reds pitching staff in 1967 to a new career as a broadcaster that ended – except for some guest appearances – at the end of the 2004 season.
Earlier this year, near the start of the baseball season, we had Marty on WVXU's Cincinnati Edition, talking with me, host Michael Monks and media reporter John Kiesewetter about his career.
He seemed a bit taken aback when I laid this one on him – that, with his 46 years behind the microphone, he has been around for nearly one-third of the 150 years of professional baseball in Cincinnati. (Actually, it is 30.7% of Cincinnati's baseball history.)
Marty cracked a joke about my advanced age as a Reds fan, but you could tell that that fact was both a source of pride and amazement to the man.
I began listening to him in his first season, 1974. I was a student at Ohio University – the same school where Marty's son Thom and daughters Dawn and Ashley went. I remember sitting on the back porch of the ramshackle house I shared with three guys off campus on Oak Street, with my transistor radio on many a spring night, listening to Marty and Joe call a game. As Terry Cashman wrote in his song, I saw it on the radio.
Fast-forward many years. I was established here in Cincinnati as the Enquirer's politics reporter. I was known about town, but not like Marty. Even the mayors of the time weren't that well-known.
But I found out that Marty read my politics column; he had an avid interest in things political and some pretty strong opinions. I heard him more than once mention me on the air as a "great political writer," which, of course, meant I had to widen the doors at my home to get my head through.
I got to know him a bit because the Enquirer would pull me off to work on major baseball stories – Pete Rose's chase of Ty Cobb's hit record, the investigation of Rose for gambling on baseball and his subsequent ban from baseball, the acquisition of Ken Griffey Jr. in 2000, among others.
So, I ended up spending a fair share of time in the press box, but I could always go back to my seats in the park, where cheering for the home team was encouraged, not frowned upon.
After my father died, I started taking my mom to Reds games, just to give her something to do. She had always been lukewarm to baseball, but once she started going to games, she became an intense Reds fan, with a head-to-toe wardrobe of team gear.
Somehow, her favorite player was always the one generally considered to be the best-looking guy on the club. Her first love was Paul O'Neill. Then it was third baseman Nick Esasky, whose career was shortened by severe vertigo. Then she latched on to Aaron Boone, now the manager of the Yankees; moved on to Sean Casey for a brief spell. Then, when 23-year-old Joey Votto was a September call-up for the Reds in 2007 – well, she was head over heels for the handsome first baseman from Canada and she thought Joey hung the moon.
In the spring of 2004, I moved her from her apartment in Dayton to the Otterbein Retirement Community outside of Lebanon. It was her decision – many of her old friends from her church in Dayton had retired to Otterbein; it was just what Methodist old folks did. She wanted to be near her friends.
One time, not long after she moved into a duplex in the independent living area, Marty drove up to Otterbein to give a speech and do a Q&A with the retirees, almost all of whom were rabid Reds fans.
After Marty was done, she walked up to him and announced that, You know my son!
Who's that, dear?
Howard Wilkinson; he writes for the Enquirer.
Marty lit up and started feeding her a big line about how I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, a brilliant writer, a good guy.
You can be proud of him, Marty said.
All she had was a napkin, and so she asked him to sign it.
Then she went all around the room, all puffed up, telling everyone who would listen what Marty had said about her son.
An act of kindness. He didn't have to do it. But he did. And he did it so many times over the years for people who were his fans.
We'd be nothing without these folks who listen to us, Marty told me one year down at the Sarasota spring training camp, after he had been stopped on the training fields by a few dozen Reds fans who wanted to meet him. I owe them a few minutes of my time.
My mother, who passed away in September 2013, had a birthday on April 7. It was always during the first week or two of the baseball season.
I'd listened to Marty send birthday greetings over the air to countless people over the years – people he knew and people he didn't know from Adam – and it gave me an idea. I should ask Marty to give my mom a birthday shout-out.
I would either see him at spring training or give him a call a few weeks before her birthday. And his response was always the same: Sure, pal, be glad to.
He was always – always – as good as his word, and I would make sure that she was listening to the game at the time he had penciled in to give her a shout-out.
She would hear it, and so would dozens of her friends and neighbors at Otterbein. She was, for the day, a rock star because Marty Brennaman – Marty Brennaman! – had wished her a happy birthday on the Reds Radio Network. People in at least six states could hear it!
One year I called Marty knowing the Reds would be out of town on April 7. If they had been in town, I probably would have taken her to the game; she would rather have done that than go to a five-star restaurant.
Marty, of course, agreed: Sure, pal. No problem. Make sure she is listening in the top of the second inning.
The day came and I asked her if she would like to come to Cincinnati and see the exhibits at the Museum Center and then go out for dinner. She jumped at it. I drove to Otterbein to pick her up.
The Reds pre-game show was on the car radio. I wanted to time the trip so that the top of the second would come just before we arrived at the Museum Center.
The plan went awry when both teams (I think it was the Reds versus the Brewers in Milwaukee) were scoring runs in bunches in the first inning. There were pitching changes on both sides. The inning was dragging on and I was approaching Ezzard Charles Drive and the Museum Center.
When is this stupid inning going to end?
She had no idea where she was; she didn't really know a lot about getting around in Cincinnati. So I turned around and started driving up to Clifton. We motored down Ludlow. Then I took her to Pill Hill.
I dipped down into Mt. Adams and still, the first inning dragged on.
She never complained; I guess she just though it was hard to get to the Museum Center.
I was just driving around the city in circles.
I ended up turning from Central Parkway on to Linn Street in the West End when that wretched inning was finally over. Two minutes of commercials and we'd be in the top of the second.
Marty and Jeff Brantley came back, but there were a couple of base hits and still no announcement. I just ran up and down Linn Street until I hit Findlay Street and I heard the magic words come out of the car radio:
I'd be remiss if I did not wish a very happy birthday to Norma Wilkinson of Otterbein Retirement Community. She's the mother of...
She heard every word of it. She was thrilled.
It made her day.
All because Marty Brennaman was kind enough to want to make an elderly lady feel good on her birthday.
You're a good man, Marty B. I'm really going to miss you.