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Q&A: Brennaman on career, memorable moments in baseball

June 4, 2016

Growing up, Marty Brennaman knew he wanted to be a sports broadcaster. He just wasn't sure which sport.Baseball, however, came calling -- and Brennaman answered. It has worked out well. Now in his 43rd year as a member of the Reds' broadcast team, Brennaman has been recognized for his efforts

Growing up, Marty Brennaman knew he wanted to be a sports broadcaster. He just wasn't sure which sport.
Baseball, however, came calling -- and Brennaman answered. It has worked out well. Now in his 43rd year as a member of the Reds' broadcast team, Brennaman has been recognized for his efforts on many fronts, including being named the 2000 winner of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented by the Hall of Fame for "major contributions to the game of baseball." The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association selected him as Sportcaster of the Year 12 times in Ohio and four times in Virgnia.
There have been numerous memorable moments for Brennaman, including calling Hank Aaron's record-tying 714th home run in 1974, Tom Seaver's only career no-hitter in '78, Pete Rose's record-breaking 4,192nd hit in '85, and Tom Browning's perfect game in '88.
Brennaman is the subject for this week's Q&A. What got you into being a baseball broadcaster?
Brennaman: I fell into it. I worked at a small radio station in North Carolina. I did everything you could do as far as play-by-play. I did small-college football and basketball. I did American Legion baseball. I did high school football and basketball. When the ABA put a franchise in Virginia, a salesman for the radio network called my dad, who ran a milk company. He asked him about advertising and then asked him where I was. My dad told him I was working at a radio station in Salisbury, North Carolina. He said they were looking for a guy with local ties for their broadcasts. I got the job.
I did that for 3 1/2 years, and they had to find something for me to do in the summertime. The Mets' Triple-A farm club was there in Norfolk, and they said, "Well, would you like to do that?" I said, "Yeah." I did the Triple-A games for three years, and all of a sudden, Al Michaels leaves Cincinnati after three years and goes to the San Francisco Giants. The general manager of the Triple-A club in Norfolk, Dave Rosenfield, ran into Dick Wagner, who was the assistant general manager of the Reds, at the Winter Meetings in Houston in November of '73.
Dick said the Reds were looking for a replacement for Al, and asked Dave if he knew anybody, and Dave said he did. Dick told him to have me send a tape. They said 221 people applied. I was one of the final three. I'm convinced to this day that the only reason I got the job was because they could get me cheaper. The others were established Major League Baseball broadcasters. A dream come true?
Brennaman: I always wanted to be a play-by-play guy. Not necessarily baseball. It just happened. I would have been perfectly content doing pro basketball, but I ended up in Cincinnati, and I've been blessed. To be 43 years in the same place and still going strong, I feel like, at 73 years old, I couldn't ask for a better thing to have happened to me as far as my career is concerned. You got spoiled with those Reds teams you announced initially.
Brennaman: I'll never forgot Byrum Saam, who was a Hall of Fame announcer with the Phillies, coming up to me in '77 and he said, "Young man, do you realize how fortunate you are?" Rather flippantly, I said, "Yeah, I guess I do, why?" He said, "You got two World Series rings in three years, and I've been doing Phillies games since the mid-40s and I've never gotten one." Thank God Al decided to go to the San Francisco Giants, because he would have still been around to enjoy all the wins for that Big Red Machine team. During the ensuing 43 years, did you ever come close to leaving?
Brennaman: I have had opportunities tons of times to leave, and quite honestly, the only job that I gave serious thought to was going to the Red Sox. That was 20 years ago. They outlined a five-year contract. It gave me the freedom to do anything else I wanted to do, because I did a lot of basketball, and I wanted to have the freedom to do that, which the Reds would not give me. At the end of the day, I said, "Maybe my act wouldn't fly somewhere else. It flies in Cincinnati, so why in the hell do I want to leave?" What about television?
Brennaman: I did TV in Cincinnati for 13 years, and I didn't like it. One, you have to dress up. I love going to work with jeans on and a nice shirt and a pair of loafers with no socks. You have a little more of an edge than a lot of the local announcers.
Brennaman: A little? I've been fortunate to work for people who have allowed me to express my opinion. If I'm going to be given that freedom, then I'm going to express my opinion. I truly believe that the road taken is not a real popular one among guys in our business, because a lot of guys want to be friends with the players. I don't care about that. That doesn't bother me one bit. I respect the fact that we are involved in the toughest game there is to play well. I truly believe that -- tougher than football, basketball, hockey. It doesn't make any difference. This is the game. My feeling is, and I've said it a number of times, if I'm going to praise you when you play well, I reserve the right to be critical when you don't.
I've had my times when I've gone nose-to-nose with players about something I might have said. The one thing I do is I walk down the middle of the clubhouse every day, so they don't have to go looking for me if they want to say something. I'm old enough now to be their granddads, so that part of it you can't relate to them, nor can they relate to me. Jack Billingham provided the defining moment in my career, in 1975. I was a homer when I came to the Reds in '74. I was a big cheerleader. It was "we" and it was "them." Then the Reds beat Atlanta bad, and the next day I said to Jack, "Boy, that's a great game we played last night." He said, "How many hits did you get? How many people did you get out?" That was it for me.
We used to have a COO named John Allen, and in social situations somebody would bring up my style and he'd laugh and say, "Well, you know, the opinions that are expressed by Marty don't necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership." Final question. How much longer?
Brennaman: I don't know. I just met with Phil Castellini, who is the COO of the Reds. He called and said, "I want to sit down and talk with you." I said "OK." He said, "We want to know how long." I said, "Is there a reason?" He said -- and this is interesting, because I've said a million times, when I walk away, I'm going to tell him the day after the season's over I am not coming back. I don't want all the (farewell) stuff. He said, "We cannot allow you to go out like that." He said, "The fans would not appreciate it. The club would not appreciate it." He talked me into that. I told them, "Right now we'll operate on a year-to-year basis. Contract's over this year. I told them I'd be back in 2017. I still love going to the ballpark. When I'm home, for a 7:10 game, I'm at the park by 2:15. My wife says, "Why do you go to the ballpark? You don't need to go there that early." I go for one reason: because I enjoy being there.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy.