During the winter before the 1974 season, the Cincinnati Reds found themselves needing a new radio broadcaster after Al Michaels bolted to do play-by-play for the San Francisco Giants. Applications poured in from across the country—more than 220 in all—and the job was offered to a smooth-sounding 31-year-old from Virginia named Marty Brennaman.
A few weeks later, Brennaman joined Joe Nuxhall in the radio booth for the Opening Day contest against the Atlanta Braves. In the very first regular season inning of his big league career, Brennaman found himself describing Hank Aaron’s record-tying 714th career home run. At the next commercial break, Nuxhall looked over to his new broadcast partner. “What the hell do you do for an encore after that?” Nuxhall asked. Marty could have been forgiven if he had responded, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Forty-six years later, Brennaman will be hanging up his microphone at the end of September, and what a ride it’s been. The first 31 years of that career, of course, will always be memorable for his partnership with Nuxhall, the ol’ lefthander. “Marty & Joe” broadcast more than 5,500 games together, including division, league, and World Series championships, plus plenty more exciting—often record-breaking—moments than you can count.
Even without Nuxhall at his side for the last decade and a half, however, Brennaman has continued to entrench himself as a cultural icon in Cincinnati. He’s received every honor that can be bestowed upon a broadcaster, including the Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Reds will celebrate his career next month with a series of events, including giveaways and meet-and-greets with fans. Next April, he’ll be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame.
Along the way, Brennaman has always done it his way, a unique voice among baseball announcers, as shown in this Cincinnati Magazine feature story published a couple of years ago. He’s one of a kind. But his impact can’t be measured in plaques and ratings and standing ovations. No, Brennaman’s connection to Cincinnati and its baseball fans goes much, much deeper than that.
My earliest memories of Marty Brennaman are pretty hazy. Honestly, it’s better described as a set of memories that bleed together, weaving in and out of various events in my life, because there’s never been a time in my life when Marty wasn’t in the background. I vividly remember wiffle-ball games in the front yard against my brother, one on one. We created our own rules. Hit it past the end of the porch, it’s a double. If it goes past that tree, it’s a triple. Into the driveway next door, that’s a home run. If the pitcher catches a grounder before it stops moving, it’s an out.
I remember those days fondly now, but in every memory there is one constant. On the porch was a radio—always and forever—and Brennaman’s dulcet tones filled the air.
A few years later, I was a teenager, a cliched version of every teen you’ve ever known—awkward, often moody, trying to figure out where I fit in this world. One Thursday afternoon in early August, I was compelled to help with the construction of a deck on the home to which we’d just moved. I had no talent for construction, and I wasn’t particularly interested in picking up a hammer on that fine summer afternoon. Even in a small town, there are a million better things to do as you face the specter of returning to school shortly.
But there I was. And, as always, there was a radio and there was Marty Brennaman. In the bottom of the first, Ken Griffey Sr. homered to give the Reds a 4-0 lead. My mood began to turn around. I listened in wonder as Brennaman described the offensive onslaught. Singles followed from Rolando Roomes, Todd Benzinger, and Jeff Reed, then a double by Ron Oester. Tom Browning grounded out … and the Reds proceeded to collect nine more consecutive hits. In the first inning!
By the time Brennaman put the finishing touches on the first inning (“…and the inning is over, but one to be remembered. Fourteen runs, 16 hits!”) I was deliriously happy. All of a sudden, a little construction work on a gorgeous summer day didn’t seem like such a bad way to pass the time after all.
I’ve written about some of these memories before, but think about how many thousands of kids over the last 46 years have similar memories. Some of you are reminiscing now about your own lives and Brennaman’s presence at pivotal points. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, in a very real sense, Marty Brennaman has been the soundtrack to our lives, one of the few constants as we grew from children into adulthood.
He won’t be remembered just for his technical brilliance, though Brennaman is one of the greatest practitioners of the craft that anyone has ever heard. Nuxhall described it best: “His voice is excellent, he’s smooth, he’s right on the ball with the action in the game. If you sit there listening to him at the stadium, you can follow the ball with him. That’s one of his biggest assets.”
He won’t just be remembered for his catch phrases, though his most famous one (“…and this one belongs to the Reds!”) won’t soon be forgotten. He won’t be remembered only for the honors and the trophies and plaques that have been presented in increasing numbers over recent years.
No, after all the celebrations, and after Brennaman has called his final game from the broadcast booth, he’s going to be remembered for much more than all of that. Marty will be remembered as the soundtrack of summer for several generations of Reds fans.
On September 26, Marty Brennaman will call his final pitch, and I’m sure he’ll describe it eloquently, but he isn’t really going anywhere. He’s far too ingrained in our fandom, in our inexplicable love for these Cincinnati Reds. For me, at least, he’ll be around forever. After all, legends never die.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. He wrote about the 1970s Reds as part of the magazine’s “10 Events That Shaped Cincinnati” package. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.