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Baseball’s last ombudsman

The end of the larger-than-life announcer, and a transition into a new medium

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New York Mets v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

We’ve known this day was coming all season, but Thursday marks the end of the Marty Brennaman era in Cincinnati. He’s a Cincinnati institution, and that much has been written over and over this week by people who are much closer to Marty than I am. I’ve spent time with Marty once, and that really just consisted of listening to him and Tom Browning exchange anecdotes for a couple of hours. (Note: it was the best couple of hours.) It’s been great to read some excellent pieces all around the internet from John Fay’s tribute in the Enquirer and Mo Egger’s can’t-miss interview with Marty’s longtime producer.

My memories of Marty are going to be fond, for sure. I was fortunate enough to catch the tail end of the Marty and Joe days, and I’ve enjoyed watching his rapport with Jeff Brantley develop to where it is today. (I’ve never been as wrong about an announcer hire as I was when the Reds brought in Jeff Brantley.)

At the same time, I’ve been critical of Marty over the years in this space, making sure to voice my displeasure when I’ve felt that he’s been unfair to certain players, or unfair to the team in general. The days of the announcers with the clout to say whatever they want have probably passed, with Marty being the last one with the clout and hot takes to be that presence for this team.

It makes me wonder if that’s something that’ll be missed, or if the overall experience of being a fan will be better off without it. For a long time, Cincinnati baseball has had its unofficial ombudsman, someone to hold the front office and field staff accountable to the fan base. If Marty saw a player dogging it, he’d have the ability to call it out. At the same time, his opinion would play so well with fans that at times, fans have trouble coming up with their own opinions about players and would just parrot whatever Marty thought. I hope that with Marty out of the spotlight, fans will pay closer attention to the players as individuals and do more of their own research to come up with what they think.

Marty’s retirement got me thinking about how the culture around how we follow baseball has changed. What Marty brought to the booth for the last 46 years was entertainment first, with baseball as the backdrop. From the conversations he’s had with Joe, and Jeff, and any of the other guys that have worked with him over the years, the main draw is to see the ball-busting that Marty would bring to the proceedings, with the result on the field maybe adding some drama but the camaraderie never taking a backseat to it. It’s the type of entertainment that supersedes the game; if the team stinks, the broadcast is still the same product every night.

That same idea is the thing that has made new mediums grow in the radio show’s place, whether that’s #RedsTwitter or even game threads here at Red Reporter. The baseball game is the excuse to get together, the common bond to talk about that people use to get to know each other. Marty reading faxes he was getting during the game is no different than a green’d game thread comment or a viral tweet.

There’s a good chance that going forward, the new radio crew won’t handle things that same way Marty and his cohorts have, but what show-beyond-the-show announcers like Marty did was to create this medium. I’m not sure there’d be a market for Red Reporter if Marty and Joe didn’t pave the way by talking about things other than baseball. They took watching the ball game with your friends out of the bar and onto the airwaves, and the medium they created will live on.