CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Hall of Fame broadcaster and longtime Voice of the Reds Marty Brennaman’s signature phrase might be, “and this one belongs to the Reds,” but the last week of September belongs to Brennaman and his more than four-and-a-half decade-long career in Cincinnati.
Brennaman’s final game behind the microphone is Sept. 26 and he carved out half-an-hour Tuesday afternoon to reflect on his 46-year career with the Reds.
He again insisted he would not miss baseball, as he did when he first announced his retirement in January, but would instead miss his broadcasting colleagues in the business.
“People like you are the ones I’m going to miss the most," he told a room full of Cincinnati journalists.
When asked how he’d like to be remembered, one important word came to mind: credibility.
“I’d like to be remembered from a professional standpoint as being credible. I’ve been given the right to broadcast games the way I want to broadcast them and the element of criticism comes into that approach," he said. "I’d like to think that the fan knew that if I said something that it was something that I truly believed in, not something that emanated from my heart and my chest as something the powers that be would appreciate, because I feel like – and the same is true with you guys – if you don’t have credibility, you don’t have anything.
“If people can’t believe what you write, if everything’s a puff piece – even in the worst of times – then people are not going to buy into what you’re doing and I felt the same way about what I did, and so if I have nothing else but credibility, I’ll be happy.”
As humble as ever, Brennaman insists that it’s nostalgia that is causing Reds fans to send him fan mail and show up for team events featuring the legendary broadcaster.
“Because I’ve been around so long, my voice is the most consistent voice that they’ve been used to season in and season out, day in and day out. There might be some people that are thrilled to death that I’m gone… maybe some players, I don’t know,” he joked. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the comments that people have made and it goes back to the people who have turned on the radio every night to listen to Reds baseball.”
Brennaman says that though technology has changed, he’ll always believe Cincinnati is a ‘radio town.’
“I know when I came here in ’74, it was impressed upon me and I’ll believe it until the day I die, this has always been a radio town. Now, it might not be as big as it once was due to the everyday aspect of televising Reds baseball and every other local broadcast team does the same all over Major League Baseball, but I was blessed to come at a time that TV didn’t have the impact that it has today and the people were pretty much schooled to turn on the radio at 7 p.m. if it was a 7:10 p.m. game.”
The soon-to-be Reds Hall of Famer said he hasn’t spent time thinking about the emotional impact of Thursday’s final game.
“I’m certainly not going to prepare anything and I’m certainly not going to be specific about a litany of names that have been important to me, because when you get into that preciseness, for want of a better word, you’re going to leave some people out and I don’t want to do that. So in order for me to avoid that I’m going to talk in generalities.
“I have a feeling I’ll be doing it through a lot of tears which will be very tough for me, but it is what it is. I have purposely not thought about it I probably will think more about it tomorrow, I might take some notes to give me some guidelines to the areas that I want to reflect upon, but Thursday will be the hardest day of my life.
“When Joe retired we purposely never talked about it and we did that without ever saying to each other, ‘let’s not talk about it,’ he knew and I knew what was coming when the season came down to its last game and it would be the last game that he ever did. We approached each game like we were going to be together for another 20 more years and we got to the last game and we got to the last out and we got to the post game show and he said, ‘I guess we have to talk about it little buddy,’ that’s what he called me, I said, ‘I guess we do,’ and I couldn’t get through it, I simply couldn’t, and he said, ‘I think you need some help don’t you?’ and I said, ‘yeah I do,’ so the best way not to deal with it is to think about it a lot and not to write down things you want to say because part of it is I don’t want to get too wordy. I’ll figure out a way to get through it and hopefully, I won’t insult anybody. I’ll get my message across to the people I feel are the most important to me.”
The 2019 Reds season has been a ‘farewell tour’ season of sorts for Brennaman who’s received numerous gifts and farewell messages from ballparks across the country and in Cincinnati as his time winds down. However, no gift has been more meaningful than the gift his wife gave him Wednesday.
“In all my life I’ve never gotten a better gift than I got yesterday,” he said of the Wurlitzer-replica ‘Rocket’ jukebox made popular in the ’50s and ’60s.
“Since I was 7 years old and laid my eyes on my first jukebox, I’ve wanted one and yesterday she gave me one.”
As far as ballpark gifts go, no one could top the gift given by Reds rivals Chicago Cubs during Brennaman’s last trip to Wrigley Field Sept. 18.
“The gift from Chicago was special because that came from the scoreboard with number 46 – it had bird poop on it, I cleaned it up for you guys – and somebody said, ‘well you’ve got to get this thing all cleaned up before you display it. I’ve got a basement that’s full of baseball memorabilia,’ and I said, ‘leave it the way it is, I don’t want to take away from the authenticity by taking that away from it,’” he said.
Though the Cubs surprised him with a meaningful and historic gift, Brennaman said he was prepared and actually looking forward to the worst.
“The Cubs kind of low-keyed it. Most clubs would put a big picture of me on the scoreboard and say ’46 year’s and all the rest of that stuff and ‘he’s retiring at the end of the year, Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman,’ but they gave me that piece of Wrigley scoreboard metal which is heavy as heck and they videotaped it they very unobtrusively put it up on the board in the middle of the game without any audio attached to it and that was their best shot.
“I was all ready because I felt like if you got a standing ‘boo’ – which I would’ve gotten – in a visiting ballpark, I would’ve worn that as a badge of honor for the rest of my life. I was ready for it. I was going to really rip them, then Mark Grace, who used to play for the Cubs and is now a broadcaster with Arizona said, ‘ no you can’t do that, that’s a badge of honor if they boo the hell out of you,’ and he said ‘I’ve got a feeling they will if the Cubs single you out,’ so the Cubs handled it very delicately and they handled it with great class with I’m very appreciative of.”
Never a flashy man, Brennaman tried to go out quietly at the end of the 2018 Reds season.
“The original plan was I was going to retire last year and I was going to do it without any mention to anybody and do the Sunday afternoon game and then Monday morning call Bob Castellini and say, ‘I’m done,’ and I don’t know how in the world the club got wind of it, but they did and they prevailed upon me to come back again this year,” he said.
He said other than the acknowledgments at ballparks across the country and the fan mail sent in by retirement well-wishers, this season has not been very different from the previous four decades of radio broadcast.
Brennaman joked that he thinks the people sending him fan mail think he’s going to ‘automatically drop dead’ after he calls the last out Thursday night.
To be clear, he isn’t going to drop dead, he’s simply going to enjoy a normal, quiet life.
Friday, his first day of retirement, Brennaman has plans to hit the links with two of his grandsons and his son-in-law and then attend an Anderson High School football game that night.
Even 46 years later, Brennaman is still in awe of his career in the Queen City and says leaving was never an option for him.
“I never dreamed about it, I never thought about it, I was so thrilled to be in the big leagues as a broadcaster, coming to Cincinnati and really not knowing what kind of run I would have here, but then the years started to build up and one year became 10 years, then all of a sudden it’s 15, then 25, and I had opportunities to go other places and after I’d been here awhile I realized, maybe the money was better, but the quality of living would never equal what I felt I felt the quality of living was in this part of the country and I was never one of those guys who felt like the grass was always greener. I know a lot of guys that did and more often than not, they regretted the decision they’d made.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’m one of only eight guys that have done 45-plus years in the big leagues with only one team. That, to me, means more than anything in the world and that has more to do with where I live than it does with any other aspect of the job I have."
Cincinnati is the place he helped to raise three children and built a life with three wives, he said. The city has ‘everything’ he could want: ‘great education,' the arts — he and his wife frequently attend Broadway shows — and what he calls, “the best people in the world.”
He says leaving never crossed his mind and he never regretted a decision that kept him in Cincinnati, even in retirement.
When the 2020 season begins, you’ll see Brennaman on the field and at Great American Ball Park only twice: for his Reds Hall of Fame induction ceremony before a game April 25 and the gala the following day. Don’t expect to see him around GABP after that, he says.
Brennaman made it clear he doesn’t approve of when broadcasters retire but still come back seasons later to do games.
“That means my retirement is a complete sham,” he said of the idea.
He didn’t completely rule out the possibility of broadcasting in the future, joking that if he was going to stay in the business, he would travel down to Lexington to broadcast Kentucky basketball again if the university asked him to.
Brennaman reminisced on two years of ‘real bad’ UK basketball he broadcasted in the ’80s, but said then-Athletic Director Cliff Hagan and then-coach Eddie Sutton, along with fans, treated him ‘royally.'
As he reflected on where the game was when he began working for the Reds in the ’70s and where it is now, the ever-candid radio voice also lamented social media’s current role in broadcasting and in sports.
He said there’s hardly a thing that goes on that the public doesn’t know about now, and said there are things that happen now that when he began his professional career weren’t talked about or reported on and people just didn’t know about them.
“Everyone becomes a bit more cautious,” he said.
However he feels about the role of social media in today’s society, that’s not the element of the game he finds the most troubling.
Brennaman has been clear from the beginning when he announced his retirement that he would not miss the game. Many might have inferred that this simply meant he spent so many years in the radio booth that he’d had enough for a lifetime, however, it seems he has issues with the current game itself.
“I’m not as big of a fan of the game as I used to be. I think that some of the rules that have been implemented, some of the things that are talked about and not acted on, it’s just as bad by the powers that be in this game,” Brennaman said.
He continued airing his grievances with what he takes issue with when it comes to America’s pastime.
“Bunting has become a dinosaur, hitting and running has become a dinosaur, stealing bases has become a dinosaur. It’s all about home runs and strikeouts and walks and I’m not a big fan of that,” he said.
Brennaman says he still sees remnants of classic baseball in some modern team and roots for those teams to win it all.
“Last year I rooted like hell for the Red Sox to win the World Series. Now, granted, there are big hammers like Betts and Martinez and other people, when they go to the plate they’re swinging for the fences, but when it got to be two strikes, they shortened up their swing, they tried to hit the ball the other way, they hit and ran and stole bases and I was a big fan of that,” he said.
After nearly five decades behind the mic, Brennaman is ready to take the good, bad, and emotional moments home with him to enjoy.