The Big Red Machine was an amalgam of perhaps the single most baseball talent the modern game of baseball has ever seen, at least offensively. For nearly a decade, they bashed and clobbered their competition, rolling out a set of regulars featuring four Hall of Famers, and for a good bit of that time none of those four were the team’s best defender - bless your bounce throws, Davey - nor the team’s biggest thumper - bless those sideburns, George.
They won a pair of World Series titles, which we all know. What gets somewhat buried, I think, is that from 1972 to 1979 they only once won fewer than 90 games, and even that was an 88 win season. It was the kind of baseball that lent itself not just to expectations, but to expectations being fulfilled, something that’s a bit hard to fathom in today’s Cincinnati Reds climate.
That it all happened over 40 years ago should make it seem like some far-off piece of history, really. Ali-Frazier fights feel like forever ago. Star Wars has been around so long that it’s been remade, refigured, and recreated umpteen different ways. Elvis has been gone long enough that even Elvis sightings and conspiracy theories are, themselves, old. But for The Machine, it still resonates with Reds fans, and I think there are two distinct reasons behind that.
The first, obviously, is that an ever-present scramble to recreate that kind of success has been the M.O. of the Reds ever since. It likely will be forever, really, since it’s nearly impossible to make that kind of run ever, let alone twice.
The second, though, is Marty Brennaman. Not to suggest that Marty spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on the success of that era of baseball, or that he willfully laments the fact that the Reds simply cannot reproduce what he was given the opportunity to call in his first foray into Cincinnati Reds broadcasting. It’s more subtle than that.
If you listened to the Reds on radio in 1975, you heard Marty call the Reds winning the World Series. If you listened to it again in 1976, that’s Marty, too. For those of us who weren’t on this planet for the miraculous run in the 70’s, it still sounds familiar to us to this day, since that’s the same damn sound we’ve had the ability to tune into for each of our waking summer days.
It doesn’t sound like a bygone era, it sounds like Marty.
From the BRM through the awful 80s, the World Series of 1990, the vest-jerseys, the strike, it’s all sounded like Marty. Countless owners have changed. Riverfront became Cinergy, Cinergy became rubble, and GABP - along with the son of Ken Griffey - gave him teaching points for each of us to follow.
In that regard, I think that’s how I’ll best remember Marty - as not just the voice of the Reds for multiple generations, but like that one teacher who’s taught that one class so long, and so well, that everyone doesn’t just remember what was taught, they remember the manner in which it was taught. Other teachers taught that subject, but nobody wanted to hear it from them.
After Marty hangs up his mic tomorrow, the history books of the modern Cincinnati Reds will still be there. The Big Red Machine still played, Eric Davis still took the baseball world by storm, Barry Larkin still played each and every one of his big league games with the C on his hat, but somehow, it’s just not going to be the same hearing another voice talk about them with the kind of authenticity and authority with which we’ve heard it for 46 years.
I’ve disagreed with Marty at times, and critiqued him, too. That comes with the territory of being the single largest clearinghouse of Reds broadcasting for my entire life. But even when he’s said things that irk me, or taken stances opposite mine, he’s prompted me to do my own digging into the annals of Reds history to make sure that my own inclinations might have some slight, slight bit of merit, too. And despite the familiarity and the definitive connection to the past of the franchise I adore like no other, perhaps it’s that I will fundamentally miss the most when he retires.
Congrats on a brilliant run, Marty, and thanks for keeping the biggest parts of Reds history relevant for me for so long.