It started innocently enough.
In May 2012, standing in an airplane before departing for a road trip, Reds play-by-play announcer Marty Brennaman was casually conversing with bench coach Chris Speier. When Speier mentioned that the Reds had a shot to win 10 games in a row, Brennaman shut down that theory and agreed to shave his head if the Reds won 10 straight at any point in the season.
The rest, like Brennaman’s hair, is history.
Brennaman agreed to the bet, but he forgot about it no sooner than he said it. Even as the wins piled up, he was oblivious to the momentum building behind the scenes. That changed on July 29, when he walked into the visitors’ clubhouse at Coors Field before the final game of a series against the Rockies. Players were bouncing off the walls, noticeably more amped up than usual. When Brennaman asked what was going on, Speier began to remind him of their conversation in May. Before he could finish, Brennaman stopped him. He knew.
“You have to consider that winning 10 games in a row is a very tall order. Because of that, I felt very confident that I would not come back and rethink my bet,” Brennaman said.
During that game, some of the players would walk off the field after an inning, look up at the radio booth and gesture to their heads to remind Brennaman of what was coming. Sure enough, the Reds completed the sweep of Colorado. Brennaman wrapped up that game with his normal catchphrase, but this time he added something a little extra.
"And this one belongs to the Reds! Cincinnati has won 10 in a row, and I'm going to shave my head absolutely bald," he said.
The younger generation only knows a short-haired Marty Brennaman, and much of the older generation has probably gotten used to his current look by now. But at that time, nearly 40 years into Brennaman's Hall of Fame broadcasting career in Cincinnati, the thought of him without his iconic hairdo was like imagining Tom Selleck without his mustache. It was unfathomable.
With Reds Country buzzing over the impending haircut, Brennaman wanted to make the most of the situation and challenged Reds fans to make a donation to the Reds Community Fund in return for getting his head shaved at the ballpark after a game. The bar was set at $20,000 -- fans responded by raising more than $50,000.
Brennaman had also received a phone call that week from a friend who had just visited Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, who told Brennaman that some of the patients who had lost their hair wore shirts that read “I’m Still Me,” referencing an awareness program created by the Dragonfly Foundation, which helps pediatric cancer patients and families find strength, courage and joy. Brennaman eagerly agreed to wear one of the shirts under his own attire the night of the haircut.
So on Aug. 3, a sold-out crowd stuck around after the Reds beat the Pirates to witness the main event. Even some players and coaches stayed for the festivities. Brennaman sat back in a barber's chair and smiled as layer by layer, Reds Country bid farewell to one of the organization’s longest-tenured members, the famous Brennaman coiffure.
“Losing my hair wasn’t hard at all,” he said. “I say that because as my hair was being shaved off my head, there came a point where [my wife] Amanda said, ‘That’s it!’ She was totally in favor of the so-called 'new look,' and I was fine with it. I never considered growing it back. Simply because I liked it.”
With his shiny new look, he stood up and revealed the “I’m Still Me” shirt. Three girls from the Dragonfly Foundation were at the ceremony, and sported their shirts as well. An emotional Brennaman embraced each of them and addressed the crowd and those youngsters to cap an incredible night.
“My friend John Burns was over at Children’s Hospital the other day and a young patient said to him, ‘On Friday night, Marty Brennaman will look like us.’ And I can’t begin to tell you how much it touched my heart and how thrilled I am to be a part of your club,” he said.
What started as a tongue-in-cheek bet ended with a massive donation and the start of a special relationship between Brennaman and the Dragonfly Foundation, one that continues to this day.
“All of that is tough to put into words,” he said. “I have been so closely associated with the Reds Community Fund, and to be able to contribute in the manner that I did was a personal thrill for me. Under the circumstances you don’t expect something like this to take on a life of its own as it did. As for the Dragonfly Foundation, it was an emotional experience unlike anything I had ever experienced before at the ballpark. My introduction to Dragonfly that night and meeting those little girls on the field made that night, for me, the best single night I have ever spent at Great American Ball Park.”
These days, Brennaman, who in his own words has “embraced retirement better than anybody,” still follows the Reds and watches or listens to games when he’s able. As remarkable as everything turned out nine years ago, these days he is much more careful about the wagers he makes.
But it does make you wonder, had this bet been made in 2021, what a short-haired Brennaman would have to lose if these Reds won 10 straight games.
“I’m trying to think what Chris would ask me to give up," he said. "It would probably be to stop playing golf for a year, and I don’t think I could do that at this point!”