LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Cincinnati Reds absolutely must win their final home game against Milwaukee on Sept. 26. Losing is not an option, because that would cheat fans in Reds Country of hearing Marty Brennaman say, one more time, “And this one belongs to the Reds!”
Brennaman, 77, is retiring after a 45-year run as the radio voice of the Reds. The team closes the season with three games at Pittsburgh, but Marty already announced he won’t be making that trip.
So the organization’s last official link to the “Big Red Machine”, back-to-back World Series champions in 1975 and ’76, will no longer be around to entertain his vast army of listeners with stories about Sparky Anderson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and the rest.
Reds’ fans always have enjoyed a special relationship with their radio play-by-play guys, going back to Red Barber in the 1930s and continuing through Waite Hoyt, the late Claude Sullivan of Winchester, Ky., Jim McIntyre and even Al Michaels, although he wasn’t around only for a cup of coffee before going network.
I grew up with Hoyt, a Hall-of-Fame pitcher for the New York Yankees in the 1920s and ‘30s. During rain delays, he would kill time with stories about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the other guys on the 1927 team that was considered baseball’s best until the Big Red Machine came along.
Sometimes Hoyt wouldn’t go to away games, so he would do his call off a teletype machine in the studio. You would hear the machine clattering in the background, and then Waite would report on what had just happened. I often wondered how many bloop singles were reported by Hoyt as smashing line drives.
Their voices are the soundtrack of our summers. How many sultry summer nights have we spend sitting on the patio listening to Marty? How many miles have we driven on interstate highways with his voice our only companion?
Brennaman got the Reds’ job in 1974, only nine years after he graduated from the University of North Carolina. He got on the fast track right away, calling the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association and the Triple-A baseball Tidewater Tides.
He was just starting a new gig as the radio voice of the Virginia Tech Gobblers when he got the offer from the Reds. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, considering how good the Reds were becoming, and Marty knew a good thing when he saw it.
He was lucky that Joe Nuxhall would remain his analyst and sidekick. In 1944, Nuxhall became the youngest player in major-league history, appearing for one game for the Reds. World War II was still raging, and lots of big-league players were serving in the armed forces.
When Nuxhall came back to the Reds in the 1952, he became a left-handed mainstay of the pitching staff. In a cruel twist of fate, the only year he wasn’t a Red from 1952-66 was 1961, when he was pitching for Kansas City while the Reds were winning the National League title.
When Brennaman joined the Reds, Nuxxy still was pitching batting practice. He had all the inside stuff from the clubhouse, and he complemented Marty perfectly. From 1974 through 2005, they provided Reds Nation with as entertaining a duo as there was in baseball.
Nuxhall also had a signature sign-off phrase. After doing the post-game show, he always would say, “This is the old left-hander, rounding third and heading home.”
Their personalities were different, of course. Nuxhall was a player at heart and he didn’t try to hide his affinity for the Reds. He was modest and kind to everybody. But Marty was often outspoken, some might even say abrasive, and he had complete confidence in his ability.
It wasn’t surprising that Marty and Pete Rose became good friends because they were much alike. Both were cocky scufflers who didn’t take any guff off anybody. Both spoke their minds, sometimes to their detriment, but the fans loved both.
When out-of-town writers such as yours truly showed up to cover a Reds’ game, Marty always was accessible and helpful. He also liked to talk basketball. For a few years in the late 1980s, he and Larry Conley were UK’s television announcers and they were every bit as good as Marty and Nuxxy.
Oh, by the way, did you know that Marty’s birth name is Franchester Martin Brennaman? A boy named Franchester would surely get as much teasing as “A Boy Named Sue,” to recall a Johnny Cash song, so Marty kept that quiet.
His son, Thom, followed his dad’s career path and now is the Reds’ main TV play-by-play man, in addition to doing some NFL games for the Fox Network. He’s not as outspoken as his dad, but not many announcers in the club’s hire are.
I can’t help but wonder if Marty’s retirement will be the end of a golden era in baseball play-by-play announcing. When Marty came to the Reds, his contemporaries included the like of Vin Scully of the Dodgers, Jack Buck of the Cardinals, and Harry Caray of the Cubs.
Maybe I’m wrong about this, so you tell me: Are there any iconic announcers out there today? The kind that inspire the sort of loyalty and affection that Marty did in Cincinnati for 45 years?
Count me among all those who will miss Marty. I liked him as a friend and admired him as a talent. At the same time, I’m glad to see him going out on his terms, when he still has some steam on his fastball.
If I ever make it back to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., I have a plan. I’ll find the plaque with Marty’s name on it, point to it, and say as loudly as I can, “And this one belongs to the Reds.”
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter from Louisville who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.