He’s always been quick on the trigger, and always will be. It’s his nature. Ask a question; get an answer, though it might not be the one you wanted. But this, this was different. The question gave him pause, his hesitation stemming from the complexity of his answer.
Marty Brennaman, the hard-bitten Hall of Fame broadcaster, whose voice has become synonymous with Cincinnati Reds baseball, could not fit his feelings into a shot glass of straight-up, straight-on honesty – not on this topic, not just now.
“What’s ahead?” he said, after a long pause. “I wish I had an answer for you. I don’t know. I really don’t . . . I’m not dodging the question. I really don’t know.”
Brennaman is 73 years old, starting his 43rd season in the Reds broadcast booth. In 2000, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He has won a “veritable boatload” of national and regional awards for his work. He has risen to the status of legend in his field, right there alongside the likes of Ernie Harwell , Bob Prince, Red Barber , Jack Buck and Harry Caray.
Only One Is Better
Like the rest of the best in baseball broadcasting, Brennaman is surpassed in reputation by only one, the inimitable Vin Scully, who will work his 66th season for the Dodgers this season, and, of whom Brennaman says, “He is simply the best. There is no one as good as Vin and there will never be anyone as good as he has been.”
In short, he has reached the top rung of his profession. He has built and banked a comfortable lifestyle, and after all this time he could just lay it down, sit in the sun and go play golf. But therein lies the rub.
“One day,” he says, “I think I want to retire and the next I don’t . . . and I’m happy. I’m happy that I’m at the point in my career where I can be conflicted about it, that I can continue to work, if that’s what I want to do -- without the ‘R’ word being imposed upon me -- or, I could step aside if I chose.”
For As Long As He Wants
Entering the last year of a contract, no one is pushing Brennaman. No guillotine sways above as it often does in other industries, when age and an abundant salary add up to a trip to Boca Vista, or an exodus to “explore other opportunities”.
Reds management awaits Brennaman’s decision with open arms. His wife, Amanda, encourages him to do what he chooses to do -- what makes him happy -- and be assured, he is happy.
“I love my work,” he said. “I love the people I work with. I look forward to seeing those people every day and that means a lot. I love the people I work for. This is the best ownership I’ve ever worked for. They’ve pretty much told me, ‘You tell us what you want to do down the road and whatever you do is fine with us. We just want you to keep working.’”
Of course, this is a good example of the Castellini family’s business acumen. Perhaps never has Brennaman been more important to the organization than he will be this season, which doesn’t promise to be a good one.
Brennaman’s value increases because of his knowledge, his following, his veracity and the sheer entertainment value he and Jeff Brantley, his primary partner, bring to the broadcast.
Life After Nuxhall
Brennaman spent 31 seasons in the booth with the iconic Joe Nuxhall. Their performance was a natural hand-in-glove experience that became part of Cincinnati culture. Former owner Carl Lindner began to ease “the Ol’ Lefthander” out of the booth in 2003, and in 2007, Nuxhall died.
His passing cut Brennaman to the quick. The brightness that seemed to emanate from the broadcast booth dimmed. As Nuxhall’s health failed, the Castellinis, who had replaced the Lindner group in 2006, asked Nuxhall to work when he felt well enough, and -- in a huge stroke -- hired Brennaman’s son, Thom, and former Red and All-Star reliever Jeff Brantley, who had become a stand-out analyst at ESPN.
Working with Thom, who made his name at WGN in Chicago and Fox Sports nationally, was the fulfillment of a dream for Brennaman. The addition of Brantley was like a surprise party.
“All that is true,” Brennaman said. “Often when I speak to groups, a question about my 31 years with Joe inevitably comes up, and I always make a point of saying, ‘I’m not a very religious person. I wish I was . . . But, I believe that when God decided to take Joe away, He gave me Thom and Jeff.’”
Brennaman And Brantley
Brennaman’s joy working with his son was apparent. But the team of Brennaman and Brantley was another singular fit, and was reminiscent of “Marty and Joe On the Radio”. Brennaman and Brantley covered all the bases but they were just as apt to veer off on an improbable path -- like esoteric rock n’ roll, for instance.
“Yesterday, I said to him, ‘Do you realize how big a day this is?’ Well, he has no idea. I said, ‘This is David Gilmour’s birthday – from Pink Floyd. I can not believe you would not know that.’ Well, that started a conversation apart from the game…He could care less about Pink Floyd or David Gilmour (the groups guitarist and lead vocalist). He thought that was the biggest bunch of horse(bleep) you could listen to.
“But we had some big laugh . . . and it was something I thought was apropos of a tiring, boring spring training game where they were getting their ass kicked, and it brought some levity to the broadcast which, I think is good.”
Marty and Joe had their tomatoes, their latest round of golf, Elvis statues and “Macho Man” Randy Savage run amok in the booth. Marty and “The Cowboy” reprise that spirit. Folks, it’s not war out there.
“We both want the team to win,” Brennaman says, “but it’s not the most important thing in the world. There is something going on in the world daily that dwarfs the trials and tribulations of the Cincinnati Reds.”
The Home Game
But beyond the professional pleasures Brennaman experiences -- that bring him back to the booth with such vigor -- there is a personal element no less important.
“I’m married to a woman (Amanda) who is 30 years younger than I am, who has revolutionized my life,” he says. “She has gotten me off my ass to do things that, if I were alone, I would never . . . I would be a recluse. I know I would.”
He walks every day, 10,000 steps; carries a Fitbit in his pocket and has for years.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life, seriously,” he says, “and I’m happy. I’m in a great place in my life personally, and I’m in a great place professionally.”
Greg Hoard is a former reporter and columnist for the Cincinnati Post and Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer. He later worked as sports director at WLWT and WXIX. He returned to writing in 2004 and is the author of five books, including "Joe, Rounding Third and Heading for Home," and "Voices In My Head, The Gary Burbank Story." His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Baseball America, The Sporting News, Baseball Digest and NFL Game Day. He is at work on a baseball memoir, "Baseline, A Life On The Fringe of The Game."
See more from Greg Hoard at GregHoard.com