CINCINNATI — Whether on the back porch, in a car, or sitting in the ballpark stands, Cincinnati Reds fans have spent the past 45 baseball summers listening to the voice of Marty Brennaman emanating from the radio.
Although in recent years they haven’t heard Brennaman’s signature phrase “And this one belongs to the Reds!” as often as they’d like, the phrase will take on greater significance for fans now that Brennaman has announced he’s retiring from broadcasting after the 2019 season.
“It’s something that I’ve anguished over more than anything I’ve anguished over in my life,” Brennaman said Wednesday. “I wake up at night at 4 o’clock in the morning and I stare off into the darkness and think about what I’m doing. It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time. This is tough for me.”
It’s hard for anyone to imagine Reds baseball without Brennaman. As Reds CEO Bob Castellini noted during the press conference on Wednesday, Brennaman has been a part of Reds baseball for more than 30 percent of the franchise’s 150 years of existence.
Allow that to sink in.
“All broadcasters work hard, and many are excellent, but there isn’t anybody in baseball -- maybe one other legend, Vin Scully -- who has gained the stature and respect as a major league baseball announcer than Marty Brennaman,” Castellini said. “We are forever indebted to his service.”
It certainly seems like forever.
Brennaman, now 76, was an unfamiliar name to most Reds fans in 1974 when he was hired to replace Al Michaels. By then he’d already been named sportscaster of the year in the state of Virginia four times while broadcasting games for the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association, a New York Mets minor-league affiliate in Norfolk, and football at Virginia Tech and William & Mary.
But the Cincinnati Reds were an entirely different animal for the young Brennaman. The Reds, already dubbed the "Big Red Machine," were on the cusp of winning back-to-back World Series titles. And Michaels’ popularity had just begun to take hold when he left Cincinnati for San Francisco.
Enter Brennaman, a wet-behind-the-ears broadcaster from Portsmouth, Virginia, who in his second spring training game with the Reds mistakenly referred to Al Lopez Field in Tampa as Al Michaels Field. His broadcast partner, Joe Nuxhall, turned an embarrassing moment into an anecdote that would follow Brennaman through the rest of his career by saying, “We haven’t even begun the regular season and I already have material for the banquet circuit next fall.”
From that point until Nuxhall’s passing in 2007, “Marty and Joe” were synonymous with Cincinnati Reds baseball over a period of 31 seasons. So well-known and popular were this pair that mail addressed to them would find its way to the ballpark without an address.
Over his more than four decades in the booth, Brennaman called the most iconic moments in Reds history, including World Series titles in 1975 and ’76, Tom Seaver’s no-hitter in 1978, Pete Rose eclipsing Ty Cobb's all-time hits mark in 1985, Tom Browning’s perfect game in 1988, another World Series title in 1990, Ken Griffey Jr.’s 500th and 600th career home runs, and a pair of NL Central titles under manager Dusty Baker in 2010 and ‘12.
Brennaman was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 as a recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, given annually to a broadcaster “for major contributions to the game of baseball.” Brennaman, Red Barber (WSAI, 1934-1938), Al Helfer (WSAI, 1935-36) and Russ Hodges (WFBE, 1932) are the only Reds announcers ever to receive the award.
In 2018, Brennaman was named Ohio sportscaster of the year for the 17th time.
In 2005, Brennaman was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in Salisbury, NC and the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.
In 1999, he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. In October 2013, he was inducted into the Hampton Roads (VA) Sports Hall of Fame. And in 2009, he was selected by the American Sportscasters Association as one of the Top 50 broadcasters of all time.
In addition to baseball, Brennaman also has broadcast the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, including 15 regional tournaments and 11 Final Fours. His son, Thom, also broadcasts Reds games.
“Nobody loves their job more than I do,” Brennaman said. “I love to broadcast baseball. I’ve worked for wonderful people who’ve been very good to me. I’ll miss the people most.”
Brennaman’s precision broadcasting skill was only outdone by his dynamic personality. Never one to shy from controversy or be overly concerned with political correctness, Mary tells it like it is, and fans, players, and managers either love or hate him for it. What Brennaman never lost was their respect.
And, despite numerous offers to broadcast elsewhere, Brennaman never gave in to the temptation to chase fortune in a larger market. On display in the basement of his home, Brennaman has a five-year contract from the Boston Red Sox to broadcast their games beginning in 1981. It’s written on a legal pad, but never signed.
“I’m happy where I am,” Brennaman said. “I was blessed to come to this city. I’ve raised three kids here. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Everybody thinks the grass is always greener. I don’t.”
Off the field, Brennaman has entrenched himself in the local community, drawing much acclaim for his work with the Dragonfly Foundation, which assists young cancer patients and their families.
Brennaman figured he would ride off into the sunset after next season without fanfare, but the Reds convinced him to give fans throughout baseball the chance to bid him a more formal farewell.
“I’m honored, but uncomfortable,” he said.
Brennaman’s retirement, along with the season-long celebration for the Reds’ 150th anniversary, should make for an eventful summer around here.
For Brennaman, the time is right. He and his wife, Amanda, want to continue to travel abroad and enjoy everything life has to offer. The grind of a 162-game baseball season, not to mention spring training and the postseason, has taken its toll on many baseball families. Brennaman won’t let that happen.
While he plans to stay involved with the Reds organization in retirement, Brennaman has no intention of making a cameo appearance in the booth after this season. His final game will be Sept. 29 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, unless …
“The end of October would be a fitting way for me to say goodbye,” he said, smiling. “I don’t think this thing will hit me full force until a year from now, when everybody’s getting ready to go to spring training and I’m not.”