Marty Brennaman has been the Voice of the Reds for the last 41 years. Has he earned the right to say what he wants for as long as he wants, or has he hit his “expiration date”?

Recently on this blog, Steve Mancuso wrote an open letter to the Reds owner about changes needed in the organization. In that post, he suggested a change not only in players and staff but also broadcasters.

Steve wrote: “But to help bring the fans along, you also need to change the voice of the organization. The radio and television broadcasters – who work for you – must also understand and accept the changes in the game. They can help explain it to the fans. How can fans understand the critical role that on-base percentage plays when the voice of your organization never discusses that concept? Communication plays a vital role in a successful paradigm shift. Other organizations include modern player statistics in their graphics. Their announcers introduce new concepts of how to think about baseball to their fans. In contrast, your announcers resist modernization with all their might. (Chris Welsh and Jeff Brantley are notable exceptions.)”

Redleg Nation readers already know that Steve is clearly not a fan of the Reds radio announcers, especially Marty B as he showed in this post from last year –  “Comments like the one Brennaman (made) work dramatically against the image the club strives so hard to maintain. I’ve written here before about the impressive job the non-baseball side of the organization does to create a real, positive experience at Great American Ball Park. Brennaman’s baseless and reckless comments do nothing but undermine the fundamental goals of the organization for which he works.”

This is an interesting take from a media “outsider” on the current state of baseball media and economics (I used quotes because while Steve does not work in the day to day media, he’s more than just an outside observer.) Especially against a prominent and popular broadcaster such as Marty Brennaman.

Used to be that radio and TV stations showed up at the ballpark and broadcast the game, sometimes without even asking permission. The idea of “rights fees” and exclusive coverage were not yet considered. For years, the Reds may have been on more than one station at the same time (as late as 1942, the Reds were on three local stations at the same time.) Even the first Super Bowl was broadcast on two different TV networks – CBS and NBC.

Some broadcasters were hired by the station running the games. Others worked directly for the advertiser paying to sponsor the broadcast “I’m Waite Hoyt for Burger Beer“.

But team owners began to realize how important the broadcasts were to both their fan base and their bottom line. (Here a story or two from our rivals in Missouri on how the choice of radio partners affected their marketing.) While some teams sell the rights to broadcast their games to a third party, the Reds have chosen to retain those rights and operate the Reds Radio Network as a part of the team.

So Marty Brennaman gets his paycheck from the Cincinnati Reds, as many other broadcasters do. He works at the pleasure of Mr. Castillini and his staff. But what exactly is the job of a play by play broadcaster?

As a radio morning show host, I’ve got two different audiences – advertisers and listeners. I have to create a show that attracts listeners and “increases ratings” and at the same time sell our advertisers products within that show. There are times when those two goals can and do conflict. For a play by play baseball broadcaster working directly for the team, add a third audience – team ownership. I would think that the team has expectations of their radio announcers to keep fans happy and excited about the team and listening, even in the 7th inning of a 10 run blowout. Not an easy job.

How do you judge the performance of the play by play broadcaster? There are awards for broadcasters and Marty has won a few, including the big one. In 1978, the Baseball Hall of Fame decided that broadcasters deserve to be immortalized on their walls, and created the Ford C. Frick Award.  To be considered for this award – “Voters are asked to base their selections on longevity; continuity with a club; honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star Games; and popularity with fans.” Marty certainly met all those requirements when he won in 2000, but I’m thinking that’s more a sign of longevity more than anything else.

Over the years, broadcasters earn a certain amount of respect and gravitas from their performances and develop an identifiable on air persona.

Vin Scully = Master Storyteller

Harry Carey = Bigger Than Life Baseball Fan

Jon Miller = Humorous as Well as Baseball Knowledgeable

How would you describe Marty’s on-air persona? Lately, many people (including Steve Mancuso) might use the phrase “Grumpy Old Baseball Traditionalist.” (Google “Marty Brennaman Critique” or variation to see many of the criticisms).

And Reds fans have a lot more Brennaman in store in upcoming years, as it is obvious who is being groomed to replace his father as the day top day voice of our favorite team.

But let’s get back to the basic questions – should baseball broadcasters be asked to change by adding modern statistics and analysis to their on air performance? Do broadcasters like Marty earn the right to say what they want about anyone and anything? Is Marty a good broadcaster? Is Marty the right broadcaster for the Reds today?  Please add your opinion in a comment. I’m holding onto mine for a future post.