CINCINNATI -- For the past 14 years as I’ve covered the Reds for MLB.com, I’ve been very fortunate to get to work with and around the team's radio broadcasting icon, Marty Brennaman. But being around Marty never actually feels like work.
When Marty blows through clubhouses around the league or into our Spring Training media workroom, I am often left laughing -- even if his biting commentary is at my expense. I learned quickly that if Marty makes fun of you, it means he likes you. What a thrill it’s been knowing that.
“You know I’ve dug on you as good as anybody,” Marty told me. “But there’s no maliciousness behind it. There’s no animosity behind it. The people that I truly like are the people that I get on a lot. I think the people that know me understand that.”
It’s likely that we’ll never again hear a broadcaster call baseball games like Marty does.
He was already a rarity for his penchant of criticizing the team he works for. Sometimes it rankled the various ownership groups and front offices over the years, and especially the players. When a member of the Reds confronted him, Marty wouldn’t cower. Instead, he would back it up and repeat the criticism.
More than a few players who were unhappy with Marty likely heard him say, “I was here before you got here, and I will be here long after you leave.”
Another great line in Marty’s repertoire: “I’d like to buy him for what he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth.”
One of the perks for me is I’ve been among the traveling beat reporters who appear on air with Marty and Jeff Brantley during the half of the second inning when the Reds are pitching. I was nervous the first few times, but I got comfortable knowing this: Marty would always make you sound good.
“It’s been tremendous,” Marty said. “I’ve said it a million times, that I’m stunned other teams don’t do it. I think you get a side of this game, and of this team, that we present to people that they normally would not get. … To hear it on a nightly basis, I wish I had a nickel for every time a person said to me ‘that feature you do with the writers in the second inning is a great feature.’ I looked forward to it.”
Sometimes, the writer’s half inning would be over in six pitches and sometimes the inning would drag over 40 pitches and five runs with a mound visit or injury to boot. When it was a long one, sometimes I had very little fresh news to share or we’d exhaust the myriad topics.
That’s when it could really become fun.
I learned quickly that Marty doesn’t take himself too seriously. But he is also a total professional and can seamlessly go from comically making fun of something to play-by-play of sudden action happening on the field.
Marty and Jeff would indulge me saying some pretty silly stuff about the “swashbuckling life” of a traveling baseball beat writer or the mirth I bring to others, and they would just play along and carry the gag further. We’d talk about the generally mundane things I’d do before or after a game, or about my miserable pool at home that used to often turn green.
For many years, Marty would get on my case for not shaving and ask if I was afraid of the razor. Often, I’d bring up the exploits of one of my closest friends, Matt “Woodpile” Dickson, and Marty loved that nickname (which has no origin story). Anytime we went to Cleveland, where Woodpile lives, Marty would ask about him. When they finally met in person, they hadn’t even shaken hands yet when Marty questioned Woodpile’s character for hanging around a low-rent guy like me.
I know he never means that. What Marty does take seriously is friendship. He’s often asks me about how my two kids are and never says no to letting the boys visit the booth on the rare chances I get to take them to a game. He is always agreeable to a story interview when I need it. Once when I was going through a tough time personally, Marty noticed I wasn’t myself. He called me after work to check on what was wrong.
Because of the second inning, Reds fans are often kind and come up and tell me they recognize my voice, or they liked my chemistry with Marty, Jeff and others who have been in the booth through the years. But that’s certainly more about Marty’s skill than my own.
“You’ve gotten better,” Marty said to me the other day. “Part of that is you come in with barrels cocked when you walk into this booth because you know you’ve got a chance to deal with a little heat when you come in. You’ve handled it extremely well and handled it in the manner in which it was meant to be handled. I think that’s all a part of it.
“On those nights when the baseball questions are hard to come by and we talk about your travels, your incredible desire to eat and the restaurants of cities we might be going into, I think that also serves a purpose. I think you’ve become very adept at it. Hopefully we’ve played a part in our own small way of bringing you along in that area and you’re good to go, man.”
And for that, I’m incredibly grateful. Thank you, Marty.