Sunday, February 06, 2000

Marty gives it straight


Brennaman not afraid to take a little heat

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Marty Brennaman needs an editor. He has a lot of time to fill between pitches and an allergic dread of dead air. So he tends to use six words when one will do, describing a double as a “hit of the two-base variety,” turning phrases as if they were as unwieldy as aircraft carriers.

        The Voice of the Reds is as wordy as Hemingway was spare, bringing to each baseball broadcast a veritable boatload of cliches, conceits and circumlocutions. It is part of his folksy charm, but only a small part of his appeal.

        The real source of his strength — the reason he wears so well and has been rewarded with the Ford C. Frick Award — is the one word he avoids like the plague: We. Marty Brennaman started to become a Hall of Fame announcer the day he stopped being a shill and began giving it to us straight.

        “Jack Billingham once said to me when I used the word "we,' "How many hits did you get? How many people did you get out?” Brennaman recalled the other day. “He was kidding, but he was right. I'm not responsible for what happens on that field.”

        Brennaman realized at an early stage of his evolution that his chief responsibility lay in communicating the facts to the fans in right-now fashion,with a minimum of evasions and euphemisms. He came to understand that the fans can do their own cheering — or Joe Nuxhall can do it for them — but they can't understand the delicate chemistry of the clubhouse or the intricate politics of the executive offices unless someone bothers to brief them.

        Most of the titanic struggles Brennaman describes take place on the diamond, but he doesn't stop at the dugout step. He works his beat with a reporter's instincts and a gossip's delight in fresh dirt. If he sometimes acts as if he has all the answers, it is because he usually does.

        “You can't sugar-coat it 162 times a year,” Brennaman said Saturday. “You just can't do it. There are guys who like to root for their clubs — and I'm the last person in the world to say that's the wrong way to do it — but I think guys who cheer and say "We' have a need to feel they're a part of it.”

He won't back down
        Marty Brennaman feels a need for credibility. While some players resent his criticisms — the wife of one former Reds pitcher wrote a letter of protest to then-owner Marge Schott — it's a lead-pipe cinch they won't intimidate him. When Schott scolded Brennaman for dining with a reporter who had offended her (this one), he told her that no one could choose his friends for him. When players complain about a caustic remark, Brennaman's standard reply is to ask when they last thanked him for a compliment.

        Brennaman's relationship with Reds captain Barry Larkin is still strained as a result of the shortstop's perceived role in Ray Knight's 1997 firing. Brennaman's friendship with Pete Rose has dissolved, partly due to the announcer's belief that the exiled Hit King bet on baseball.

        “I think down through the years, I've not been very well liked by the players,” Brennaman said. “And that's OK with me. All I ask is that they respect the job that I try to do. If I'm going to praise them when they play well, I feel like I reserve the right to be critical when they don't. There is a line beyond which I cannot go, but where that line is is not clearly defined.”

        Brennaman's discerning eye and daunting standards spare no one — not Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, not Reds General Manager Jim Bowden, and certainly not the poor sap who makes an umpiring, scoring or sartorial blunder in his presence.

        Off the air, Brennaman is profoundly profane, consistently caustic and utterly unbiased. He skewers his son, Thom, for being too cozy with University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins.

        If Marty's feeling merciful, he might let you off with a great big HWE (Hang With 'Em) instead of a stern lecture. But if you listen to him long enough, you can start to hear his contempt in a pregnant pause or a sigh, say after a pitcher has walked the bases loaded or a hitter has taken a called third strike with runners in scoring position.

Want an opinion? He has one When seated in the radio booth, you never have to wonder about where Brennaman stands. He and Nuxhall are believed to be the only broadcasters ever summoned to baseball headquarters for allegedly inciting a riot. Brennaman is certainly the only play-by-play man in the business who has publicly endorsed a ballpark site his bosses wished would evaporate.
        No club-employed broadcaster pulls fewer punches and sustains fewer scars. Jon Miller, a good old good one who now graces the airwaves for the San Francisco Giants, lost his job with the Baltimore Orioles because he wasn't homer enough to suit owner Peter Angelos. Brennaman might have faced a similar fate had Dick Wagner continued to run the Reds after 1983.

        “I was in constant trouble with him,” he said. “I'm convinced if he had not been fired, I would not have been here after the '83 season ended. I went to him on the first road trip and asked for a contract extension and he told me, "I'm not going to discuss a contract with you 'til the season ends.' I told him, "You've got 'til the 15th of August.'”

        Wagner was discharged barely a month before that deadline. The announcer went on to become an institution.

        Marty Brennaman's current contract ensures that he belongs to the Reds at least through 2002. His place in Cooperstown is permanent.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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