Ask me, and I’ll tell you how I remember like it’s yesterday, the trip down Interstate 71 on a sweet summer evening lo those many years ago. A moment you wish you could bottle up and save for … well, forever. A moment a young man never forgets, scarce removed from eighteen glorious holes on a beautifully manicured tract of earth with his favorite golfing buddy—his Dad. How the subject of baseball arose I can’t recall. What I do remember is reminiscing on the great Al Michaels; how crushed I was when Al left to become the voice of the San Francisco Giants, and how nobody would ever take his place. I’ll never forget what my father said next: “And then Marty came along and made us forget all about Al Michaels.”

Thus began my walk down Memory Lane, through the Marty of my salad days. Franchester Martin Brennaman wasn’t just the voice of the Reds, he was the sound of baseball in Cincinnati — every bit as much as the bat’s crack or the ball’s thump plugging into a well-worn mitt on a bright Saturday morning. So, as the voice changed, became more pointed, bitter, even angry, I couldn’t help but ask, Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend Martin?

Ask me now and I’ll tell you how I remember it like yesterday, the trip across Interstate 70 heading back to NYC on a sweet summer afternoon just a year ago. A moment that left me shaking my head with an all-too familiar recognition. Marty was doing his usual second inning interview with a beat reporter. Upon learning that Williams had shared a piece of player information with the reporter before first informing the Hall of Fame announcer, the Voice of the Reds proceeded to take aim at President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams, going on a “And I Will Strike Down Upon Thee With Great Vengeance and Furious Anger” rant, ending with a clear threat: “Two can play that game.

To his credit, Brennamen would apologize to Williams soon after, but it was another shake-your-head moment, another moment when I could only mouth the word “why?” Another ink-stained mark on the wrong side of the ledger of a wonderful career, a career that deserved a better ending than what was on the horizon, as far as I was concerned.

As I wrote four years ago, his disregard for analytics, the almost sneering tone whenever the subject came up, would shock and sadden me. When Brennaman criticized Bruce for being a poor hitter with runners in scoring position, how could Marty not know that Jay was actually hitting twenty points over his career average with RISP? Marty was as prepared as anyone who ever slid behind the microphone. What the heck was going on?

A great announcer was saying decidedly un-great things. As I often like to say to people when they ask why I’m so hard on the greatest voice the Reds have ever had, I say, “Look, Marty Brennaman is no bar mitzvah singer. How would you feel if you went to a Springsteen concert only to hear him sing Born to Run off key?

If he was the soundtrack of your youth, he was my soundtrack, my newspaper-in-the-driveway, my Encyclopedia Britannica, my baseball whisperer all rolled into one. From transistor to car to satellite radio, he told me all I needed to know about the Cincinnati Reds, day-in, year-out.

How great was Brennaman? Well, unbelievably, baseball may not have been his best game. I fancy myself a fairly serious Kentucky Basketball fan, having nurtured my love of Big Blue at the knee of my father; the crackling airwaves that brought me Cawood Ledford drifting over the nighttime Kentucky hills; the worn pages of Oscar Combs’ The Cats’ Pause newsletter, passed hand-to-hand in Ken’s Barbershop in Newport, KY, giving me the news.

For two glorious years during the Eddie Sutton era, Marty was the play-by-play announcer on the UK Men’s Basketball Network alongside color man Larry Conley. Can you imagine that, Reds fan? For two Novembers, it was Christmas a month early to these ears. The baseball season would end, but my time with Marty would not. It would roll on, uninterrupted through the falling leaves and into the winter frost, with barely enough time for him to pop a throat lozenge before catchers’ mitts would pop again.

“Of all the people I have worked with (in broadcasting basketball games), and there have been 100s, Marty would be on the short list of the best I ever worked with,” Conley says. “One of the things I greatly appreciated, Marty has great knowledge about the history of college basketball.”

“I thought the job (Brennaman) did on calling the Laettner shot for the NCAA Tournament (Network) was one of the great calls I have ever heard in my life,” Lexington broadcasting icon Jim Host once said.

The days when he would take aim at Joey Votto were the worst. No matter what disappointment we might have with the Reds and their fortunes on the diamond, we always had Votto. The Yankees might have Jeter. We have Joey MVP. When Bob Castellini decided he was too important to the city to lose to free agency, he extended Votto to what became the largest contract in Reds’ history. The Reds’ first baseman was now making New York money in a conservative, working class town that valued chili over chateaubriand. But, Joey was no cog on a beloved Big Red Machine. Nor was he a court jester on a wire-to-wire fun bunch. He was a quiet, thoughtful baseball player on a team many viewed as underachievers. He led with his play, not with his voice, as many insisted, given the size of his wallet. And he didn’t have Marty’s stamp of approval.

Votto needed Marty. He needed the Voice of the Reds and all those fifty-thousand watts of radio power in his corner, the kind of juice he gave to Pete, the kind he withheld from Adam Dunn.

Instead, Marty turned his ire on Votto. Perhaps he saw the best hitter in the National League as passive, not heroic enough to turn pitches outside the strike zone into game-winning hits. Joe Morgan could walk a hundred times, helping turn his ability to get on base into 2 MVP awards. That was Cooperstown stuff—while Votto’s plate discipline was dismissed as sabermetric hogwash. Selfish. Misguided. The cognitive dissonance was generational.

Or maybe Votto, who had become Major League Baseball’s standard bearer for the analytic revolution, challenged too many long-held beliefs. Maybe Marty couldn’t accept the direction the game was going. Near the end, he said he’d miss the people, but not the game. Maybe that was it.

Or, perhaps it was more prosaic than that. Perhaps it was about the dollar bills:

BRENNAMAN: If I were owner of a baseball team, I would say to him, if I could trade him, I would trade him yesterday. And I would say, hell, I can lose 94 games without you just as easily as I can lose 94 games with you. I don’t care about the O-P-S. I don’t care about none of that. This club made a bad deal when they signed Joey Votto to a ten-year contract, and he’s gonna make 22 million dollars this year and either next year or the following year, he’s going to make 25 million dollars. There is no sanity on God’s earth that justifies this being a good contract.

CALLER: Okay, well, Bryce Harper is probably going to make thirty ….

BRENNAMAN: I don’t give a damn about Bryce Harper! You’re talking about Washington, D.C. Why don’t you bring up Mike Trout in Los Angeles?

CALLER: Well, okay …

BRENNAMAN: We’re done with this guy. We can argue all night long, and you’re dead wrong and you’re never gonna convince me that this contract is a good contract.

This was 2017. Votto would go on to finish second in the MVP voting, two points behind Giancarlo Stanton, the 4th closest vote in MLB history, despite the Reds winning a paltry 68 games. But, according to Marty, the Reds’ first baseman was stealing the silverware.

Whatever the reasons were, it had long ago become a pattern. We loved it when he stood up to ownership, whether it was Marge or Carl Lindner. The famous “I was here before you and I’ll be here after you” row with Griffey, Jr. was understandable. You could see how each might have had more than a dash of self-importance about them; but the verbal takedowns of Homer Bailey, Bruce and now Votto felt badly misplaced. And you knew from all the stories from those who worked with Marty and the fans who crossed his path that he could be generous to a fault when he was so inclined.

It must be difficult to become so well known, to be first name recognizable. Ringo. Madonna. Marty. All of us average Joes face moments in our lives when we must tame the monster within, when ego rises into the throat. For Marty, it must have been a titanic struggle on some days.

You’d keep coming back because the play-by-play was as gold-plated as ever. Where Vin Scully was lyrical and gentlemanly, Marty was incisive and direct.

Someone wised-up and changed the rules or the by-laws of the Reds Hall of Fame to admit the finest voice radio will likely ever have in Cincinnati. Now, some other good folks should smarten up and get Marty’s signature phrase in lights on the west side of Great American Ball Park, just past home and heading for first. Marty and Joe, together again in lights.

There will be one more speech next April, when Franchester Martin Brennaman is inducted. I won’t see it. But, some midsummer evening soon, I’ll park my car in a secluded spot. I’ll toss a well-worn Reds hat on the seat next to me, in honor of my dad, who sat with me in the driveway so many times so many years ago, as we listened to Marty paint Riverfront red. I’ll fire up the internet and find some calls from days gone by. I’ll roll down the windows and let the voice out into the Kentucky night one more time.

Browning ready with his payoff. There goes Ozzie. Swung on, drive, deep left-center field. Eric Davis going back to the wall   ….   Swung on, a looper, left-center field, a base hit, here comes Chaney, the throw to the plate.  ….  He levels the bat a couple of times, Show kicks and he fires.  …   And a high drive, hit back into deep right field …

… and this one belongs to the Reds.

31 Responses

  1. gusnwally

    I generally do not like most of your posts. Too much acidity for my liking. Even though it is usually pretty much justified. But, and this is a big but. This was one of the finest pieces I have read in quite a while. Not only the brutal honesty along with a true love of the game. It had both. But the beauty of the writing combined with content make it a memorable piece of Redleg nation lore.

    Reply
      • Tim

        Finally, someone agrees with me. It JUMPED out at u when he sat next 2 Joe . Joe would never say ” that’s the most boneheaded play I ever seen. ” Instead… ” I’m not sure what he was thinking there “… I think Marty was jealous of those who made more than him . Always after the BIG name guy. His attitude was so that I wondered if he ever played…a baller wouldn’t say such things about another baller, would he ??? Turns out a MINOR league 2nd basemen would. HATS OFF 4 UR HONESTY SIR ! ! !

  2. LWBlogger2

    Richard, I almost never comment anymore. Been crazy busy and so many of the comments just tend to rile me up. So, I don’t do it much anymore. Yet, here I am commenting on a piece. Why? It’s your writing. It’s simply fantastic. It is always a joy to read your stuff, even when your thoughts and opinions don’t match my own. In this piece and the “Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend Martin?” piece you reference, your thoughts very closely match mine. So great writing that includes thoughts and opinion I agree with 100% is something I just had to comment on.

    Reply
    • Matt WI

      Hope you do come back to commenting more again… I noticed over the season you ended up commenting several days after a post sometimes, where obviously the feedback mess is usually avoidable. But much like Richard’s piece, your voice is a good one to have around here.

      Reply
  3. Daytonnati

    I noticed as Marty’s final game ended and the Reds players emptied the dugout to give him a final cap-tip farewell, that Joey Votto was among the most prominent. Have we ever heard a peep of criticism from Votto about Marty? I love Marty, but it was time.

    Reply
  4. Pete

    “Upon learning that Williams had shared a piece of player information with the reporter before first informing the Hall of Fame announcer, the Voice of the Reds proceeded to take aim at President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams”

    What was said?

    Reply
    • Richard Fitch

      I was listening on XM radio while driving so I may get the particulars wrong, but as I remember it, it was with C. Trent Rosecrans. Marty was furious that Williams shared the news of Bailey going to the bullpen with the beat reporters before informing him. Sounded like it wasn’t the first time this had happened and he was having none of it.

      Reply
      • Pete

        Question: how did Marty know Williams hadn’t shared this information with Bailey? Really bad judgement on MB’s part.

        I love me some Marty but in many ways he saw himself above the team in recent seasons. It was a great time to retire if I’m thinking this way because I’m no Brennaman basher. My memories will remain virtually untainted.

    • LWblogger2

      It wasn’t that the news wasn’t shared with Homer yet but that the news was given to the beat writers before Marty… Of course if you’re being a little sarcastic then I may have missed that since I have a hard time picking it up in written form sometimes.

      Reply
      • Pete

        Thanks for clearing that up, my misunderstanding. No sarcasm, I was genuinely curious.

  5. Mary Beth Ellis

    Well said. Angry Marty vs. Joey makes me sad… thanks for this.

    Reply
  6. Pete

    Great work as always.

    My theory on Votto and Marty is somehow Marty expected JV to carry the team by himself and took the frustration out on Votto. 100% undeserved. MB was the best PBP guy I have ever heard. Vin Scully was poetry and story telling of facts rarely known. Vin was calling a great golf game, MB calling a major prize fight. The two best by far but completely different styles – both one of a kind.

    In the end: Joey Votto is a great baseball player and Marty Brennaman a great announcer of baseball games. Cincinnati is lucky to have both, each has made some dreadful seasons tolerable. No what?

    Reply
    • vegastypo

      Always seemed fairly obvious to me that for the kind of money Votto got, Marty wanted Mr. 40 Home Run and 120 RBI Guy. … He didn’t want the guy whose devotion to on-base percentage seemed to come at the price of taking lots of called third strikes. Even if Votto was correct that the pitch was actually a ball, heading back to the dugout bat in hand is a bad outcome.

      I know that one time, when Votto was called out on strikes with runners in scoring position for the third out, just as the broadcast was going to a commercial, Marty was grumbling audibly something along the lines of “on base percentage, give me a break.”

      I can recall other instances where editors and commenters here have pointed to blatant inaccuracies about Marty’s comments: for example, calling a pitcher such a good control pitcher when for the last x number of starts, or even a previous year, he wasn’t anymore. That’s a guy who isn’t really doing his homework, and it’s also a little annoying that nobody in the booth would set him straight. They have a stats guy now who contributes, right? Joel Luckhaupt?

      Those are what worry me. I can look something up if I think it’s wrong. But if I have no idea that what he is saying is suspect, then I’ll likely stay misinformed. Unless I look up every single thing I’m not already sure of. And I want to have a little more faith in the broadcast team than to have to do that.

      Reply
  7. Jeff Gangloff

    If hindsight were 50-50 the Reds would have traded Votto 3-4 years ago.

    Reply
    • Pete

      Honestly? I think the Reds would have blown it and the team worse than it was. Joey was worth the price of admission. They made the right call but maybe not for the best reason. I’m glad he is sill in Cincy but he must be the second half 2019 Joey not the first half. It’s business. If the Reds trade with bottom feeders, Marlins and Tigers, they have a chance to make out. Teams like the Yanks and Dodgers pick our pockets.

      Reply
      • Michael Smith

        @jeff,

        The only way Votto was getting traded after he signed his deal was if Joey wanted to be traded. He has a no trade clause.

    • Fred

      Hindsight 50-50?!?
      Oh how we sports fans can mangle the English language 🙂

      Reply
  8. Tom

    Joey was paid a lot less than he was worth for his great seasons and a lot more than he’s worth now toward the end. Everyone knew that would happen. Had the Reds not screwed around with his knee and got him an MRI, he might not have lost the best part of his best years. I always had a feeling, though, the issues with Joey went back to when he went in the DL for depression after his dad died or that Joey wasn’t quite masculine enough for a guy who kinda over does it in the masculinity. To me, Joey’s my favorite baseball player ever because he’s the nerd that made it! He out thought and then outworked baseball.

    As for Marty – I’ve met Marty and, for me, he’s the best play by play guy I’ve ever heard. And, while I liked that he shared his unvarnished opinions, I rarely agreed with them. That’s okay. He was still entertaining and at the end of the day, that’s his job and he was exceptional at it.

    Reply
  9. AirborneJayJay

    Another Fitch article, another web gem.
    You write better than that Fitch out in LA. No wait, that was a guy named Fletch. (Wink).

    Reply
  10. redfan4life

    Marty is the best PBP baseball announcer ever. But nobody will ever touch Cawood
    Ledford doing a UK game EVER!

    Reply
  11. Timothy Perkins

    Miss you Marty ! Next yr we will realize how much we miss you when you are not behind the mic

    Reply
  12. mick

    Marty is a legend. But you can’t mention Marty without Joe Nuxhall in my opinion. I think Joe had a calming influence and they were a team. The reds had another shot at a dynasty. The 2009 through 2012 teams perhaps frustrated all of us to no end. Votto, Bruce, Dusty and Cueto and Chapman… Should have brought home several world series titles. I think Marty saw that as we all did and we projected our frustration. The disassembling of the team was the last straw and Votto got the blame because he was the only man left standing. The endless tinkering of the team was due to the limited budget and small ball market. It is unfortunate and unfair that Votto became the dartboard in the end. I stopped listening to Marty because it was no fun due to his inability to recognize that he should retire. He overstayed his welcome by at least five years. And that coincides with the awful Reds management.

    Reply
  13. Roger

    I always enjoyed listened to Marty and Joe. As Marty got bitterer the last few years I was glad when Cowboy took the microphone. And those TV commercials!! Hopefully those will go away too. He had a good career but I’m glad he’s retiring.

    Reply
  14. Chris

    Great stuff, Richard.

    I’ve tried to erase “Bad Marty” from my brain the last few weeks, but it’s there. Just as the artistry and generosity. The man could be stubborn, and too quick to judge. He walked with great power. He knew it; he relished it. But sometimes (too often for my taste, I guess), he didn’t follow Uncle Ben’s advice about great power.

    Life’s complicated. Our heroes are human too.

    Reply

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