• 64°

Brennaman reflects on his masterful career

Jim Walker
jim.walker@irontontribune.com

CINCINNATI — Marty Brennaman is the Rembrandt of baseball announcers.
The Cincinnati Reds’ play-by-play announcer has painted a verbal picture for listeners for the past 45 years, creating four-and-a-half- decade love affair with Reds’ fans.
But at the end of season No. 46, Brennaman will put his colorful descriptions and opinions away for good as he ends a 55-year career that has seen him earn the Ford C. Frick Award and place him in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Brennaman began his career with the Reds’ on Opening Day in 1974 and was able to call Hank Aaron’s then record-setting 715th career home run breaking the mark previously held by Babe Ruth.
But there have been many other great moments in Brennaman’s career. Among his favorite calls are:
• Tom Seaver’s only no-hitter 1979 at Riverfront Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It was the only no-hitter he ever pitched,” said Brennaman.
• Pete Rose’s record breaking No. 4,192 career hit Sept. 11, 1985
• Tom Browning’ perfect game
• Homer Bailey’s two no-hitters
• Both Ken Griffey Junior’s 500th and 600th home runs
• And, of course, the 1975-76 and 1990 World Championship seasons.
“I’ve been blessed to be around great players and great teams,” said the 76-year-old Brennaman who is a 12-time Ohio Sportscaster of the Year, four-time Virginia Sportscaster of the Year and member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
And his favorite calls?
“In my business, you are your own worst critic. If you have an opportunity to broadcast a momentous event and you screw it up, you know it,” said Brennaman.
“The one I like is Griffey’s 500th home run. It was in St. Louis on Father’s Day, and then the home run that Jay Bruce hit in 2010 at Great American Ballpark in the bottom of the ninth against Houston that sent them into the postseason. Those are two of my favorite calls.”
On the other end of the spectrum was the ninth inning incident on April 30, 1988. Reds’ manager Pete Rose and umpire Dave Pallone were involved in a highly controversial confrontation.
Pallone called New York Mets Mookie Wilson safe on a delayed call in the ninth inning, with the delay giving Howard Johnson the time to score the eventual game-winning run. Rose immediately rushed to Pallone to argue both the call and how slowly it was made.
Pallone began mocking Rose’s gestures by pointing his finger at Rose which led Rose to accuse Pallone of poking him in the face which video replays confirmed. Rose shoved Pallone causing an immediate ejection.
Brennaman and color analyst Joe Nuxhall offered their take on the situation while Reds’ fans were irate and booed Pallone while throwing debris onto the field.
Brennaman and Nuxhall were summoned to New York as a result of their verbal comments. Brennaman still contends that they were not part of the problem.
“We were called to New York. We had to meet with Bart Giamatti who at that time was the National League president. We had to meet with Peter Ueberroth who was the commissioner and they accused us to helping incite a riot which I disagreed that day and I disagree until the day I die,” said Brennaman.
“It was so loud in that ballpark that if they were listening to the game on the transistor radio, they’d have a hard time hearing what we said to begin with. But it was one of those things and we got through it and it didn’t create any lasting negativity with either one of us. It was an interesting night when Pete bumped Pallone on the field and all the things that went down after that.”
Although Brennaman is not a big man in physical stature, he has never shied away from speaking his mind. He is very passionate about many subjects including Rose who was banned from baseball for gambling.
Brennaman doesn’t condone Rose’s actions, but he said it has nothing to do with is rightful place in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
On the other hand, Brennaman has no sympathy for players who used steroids to enhance their accomplishments.
“I’ve always maintained Pete should be in the Hall of Fame and I’ll maintain those other guys don’t deserve to be. They cheated. (Barry) Bonds and (Roger) Clemens and (Sammy) Sosa and (Rafael) Palmeiro and whoever else you want to throw in there. They had an unfair advantage. That’s the reason why a lot of people will say that Barry Bonds was the greatest player in the game in the decade of the 90s,” said Brennaman.
“For my money, Ken Griffey was the greatest player of the 90s because he did it and he did it clean. He didn’t do steroids and he didn’t do any performance enhancing drug. So, I’m not a big fan of those guys getting into the Hall of Fame. I think right now, they’re going to have a hard time getting there.”
Home run slugger Mark McGwire was one of the players accused of using steroids. McGwire came clean and admitted his guilt. And while it is always said that people are forgiving if one admits guilt, that was not the case for McGwire who has 583 career home runs and 1,414 runs batted in but hasn’t come close to enshrinement.
“Maybe that’s the reason Bonds and Clemens will go to their grave refusing to admit they ever did anything like that,” said Brennaman.
When it comes to comparing players from different the nearly five eras, Brennaman threw cold water on anyone who tries to argue one era is better than the others.
“The player of today is equally as good as some of the players that we saw — I can’t go beyond the 70s. I can’t go back to the 40s, 50s or 60s. But I think you’ve got players today that are equal to some of the great players of the past,” said Brennaman.
“I think Ted Williams was the greatest who ever stepped on a baseball field. But having said that, all those guys traveled by bus (or train) and they never had to go west of the Mississippi River. They would normally face the same pitcher into the seventh or eighth inning because there wasn’t the emphasis placed on relief pitching back then that there is today.
“Williams or (Joe) DiMaggio or (Stan) Musial might face the same guy four times in a game. That’s a distinct advantage over the hitter of today who may face the starting pitcher twice and then have to face the other team’s bullpen two or three times.”
When fans, players, coaches, sports writers or broadcaster attempt to compare players and create some heated arguments, Brennaman just smiles.
“It’s one of the great arguments in sports. What era did the greatest players come from. That’s why this is the greatest game that’s ever been because you don’t have conversations like that that gets people stirred up in talking about the great players in the NFL now and in the past or the NBA players,” said Brennaman.
“One of the greatest subjects you can ever start a real argument about as far as baseball is concerned.”
When asked if he could pick the best players at each position whom he has seen play during his career, Brennaman just shakes his head.
“Of all the players that I’ve seen, I don’t think so. That’s a good question. It’s something I may apply some time to when I try to pick an All-Marty Brennaman team,” said Brennaman.
“You know what, it would almost be impossible. I’ve seen so many great players. It would be awfully tough for me to pick a starting eight plus a left-handed pitcher plus a right-handed pitcher plus a reliever.”
Brennaman’s job is only to describes the greatness of a player. And as he knows so well as a verbal painter, beauty is in the eyes of the fan.
And that’s why Marty Brennaman’s career is a true masterpiece.