(Note how we professional sportswriters throw all AP style out the window and simply call him “Marty” here at Redleg Nation: We know you know who we mean. That in itself is a tribute.)
Since it’s my job to think about the Reds, I thought I was emotionally immune to Marty’s final game–in a sense I just wanted to get it over with rather than continuing to drag out the lasts and the overwhelming emotion–but then my sister made a long post on Facebook which tagged transistor radios, our grandparent’s back porch, the Corolla we shared, and her renewed gratitude for West Coat games while rocking my then-baby nephews to sleep at night. Well, then I was ruined all at once instead of in an ongoing trickle of feelings: She had exactly encapsulated the whole city’s attachment to Marty.
It didn’t happen in the World Series games or the record-breaking calls. It developed over lifetimes, in the front seats of cars, working late, and when little Reds fans don’t yet know who or what they’re even rooting for yet.
In one of the highest honors a public figure can command, Marty’s name–and, even more tellingly, references to him but without his full name, for everyone would understand–appeared on store signs throughout the city. “HEY MARTY,” read the marquee of Wardway Fuels at the corner of Bridgetown and Glenway, “WE’RE HIRING.”
But Marty’s final game was his ultimate tribute. The crowds and media attention took on the appearance of Opening Day, but the morning was chilly and distinct melancholy mixed in with the revelry. He provided normal play-by-play on a very abnormal day–and left reminders of the love-hate relationship some fans have with modern Marty. He spouted off a last-moment mini-rant about Pete Rose which stirred Twitter anger. He spoke dismissively of Joey Votto’s third strikeout of the game, ignoring his significantly significant advanced stats, and one of the finest players this franchise will ever see left the final 2019 home game of the season to a chorus of boos from fans clutching giveaway radios. Then Marty cried and told Jeff Brantley he loved him and everybody was friends again.
After the game, Marty mentioned that he appreciated his adoption as one of Cincinnati’s own. Such an observation is proof of his membership. You can be born here, but you can never really leave; you can try to enter via marriage or a move, but as my husband can attest after living here over 5 years, the threshold of true acceptance can’t be forced, bought, or won. It’s earned.
Marty Brennaman earned it.
Here in 2019, we’ve cycled from the massive radio cabinets of my grandparents’ generation, to the flickering television of my parents’, to the insta-digital realm of my own, and now right back to the rise of audio-only podcasts. Marty Brennaman’s career has spanned the lifestreams of every single person who has experienced every single form of audio.
A game-ending walkoff grand slam would have been the fairy-tale ending to an unparalleled career, but it didn’t happen. And that’s okay… fitting, really. The fairy tale story was up in the broadcast booth– one man who bound us together and drew us in one pitch at a time.