Marty will honor Sinatra his way

Saturday, May 16, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Marty Brennaman
Marty Brennaman already had the album. Friday, he sprung for the compact disc. Sinatra at the Sands. Ol' Blue Eyes at the top of his game.

"I was very depressed this morning," the Reds radio announcer said. "I think Frank Sinatra is the greatest entertainer of the 20th century. Nobody could deliver a song like he could."

Much as it pains us to speak of Sinatra in the past tense, listening to him remains pure, soothing pleasure. Ella Fitzgerald's voice may have been a more perfect instrument, but no singer compares to Sinatra for style and craftsmanship. No other vocalist could paint so many shades of blue, or breathe more life into an old ballad. Some people have hit harder notes, but no one has yet equaled the emotional range or the definitive phrasing of The Chairman Of The Board.

When Frank Sinatra did a song, it was done.

Marty Brennaman learned of Sinatra's death Friday morning, and his first reaction was to rush out and get more of his music. He bought Sinatra at the Sands and The Main Event, and he is trying to select an appropriate spot to hang a signed photograph of the singer at his home.

Though Brennaman once built a memorabilia monument to Elvis Presley in the Reds radio booth, Sinatra has always been No. 1 on his personal hit parade. He will not need much prodding to start a Sinatra shrine at Cinergy Field.

"I don't think people would have enough merchandise to do it," Brennaman said. "Not yet, at least. Frank Sinatra had too much class for them to put out busts and crushed velvet wall hangings of him. The guy never went on stage unless he was wearing a tuxedo. But if people have stuff they want to send to me, I'll put it out."

Elvis is gone

What does Frank Sinatra have to do with baseball? He's the patron saint of all those who swing. To qualify for Marty Brennaman's broadcast, a subject need not be pertinent, only interesting.

After nearly two years of honoring Elvis, Brennaman put away his Presley collection at the close of last season. His nightly "Elvis Fun Fact" became such a staple that it attracted advertising, yet the announcer grew convinced that the gimmick had run its course. "Elvis has left the building," he said at the end of last season.

Yet as his broadcast has become increasingly dominated by "drop-ins" -- corporate sponsors for calls to the bullpen; steel company plugs for each stolen base -- Brennaman prizes that material he can continue to call his own. His favorite Sinatra song is "I've Got You Under My Skin," but his anthem is "My Way."

Had someone from marketing suggested celebrating Elvis or Sinatra, the announcer would probably have opposed it on principle. If he is sometimes susceptible to cliches and inside jokes, Marty Brennaman is nobody's shill.

He is more likely to rant than to root, and Reds fans have come to count on his candor for insights on the ballclub. Fans trust his independence and they indulge his tangents. If he should decide to celebrate Sinatra, his fans will surely follow.

"The irony of it is that for the last three days I've been listening to (Sinatra) CDs in my car," Brennaman said. "I've been gearing up for this (Sinatra's death), but it's still hard. He was so big it was a shame."

He was The Man

Brennaman figures he has six books on Sinatra and saw him four times in concert, most recently at Riverbend during the 1994 baseball strike. Francis Albert had lost his fastball by then -- he was, after all, 78 -- and he would frequently forget the words, but he could still make a lyric linger in your mind.

He'd sing one of his "saloon" songs -- "One For The Road," "In The Wee Small Hours" or "Angel Eyes" -- and you'd know the texture of melancholy. He'd take on an up-tempo tune like "Fly Me To The Moon" and you'd think he had just met Ava Gardner.

"Make no mistake about it," Marty Brennaman said. "He was The Man."

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at

Special Sinatra coverage from Associated Press