Brennaman not afraid to speak his mind
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Cincinnati Reds' veteran radio announcer Marty Brennaman never has been afraid to speak his mind.
Such decisions haven't always been in his best interest, but the 68-year-old has earned some clout during his 37 years in the booth.
On Saturday night during Marshall University's preseason baseball banquet and fundraiser at the Cam Henderson Center, Brennaman - the keynote speaker - determined that Marshall's president must be "queer" for softball since the university managed to open a $2.5 million softball facility in March 2008, but baseball is still traveling for home games.
Think that'll go over well with the guy - Marshall President Stephen Kopp - who is partly responsible for bringing a Herd baseball facility to Huntington?
Brennaman gave his opinions on everything from the struggles of the Pittsburgh Pirates to Pete Rose's Hall of Fame prohibition.
Many of his comments resulted in rousing ovations as he spoke to a contingent of more than 400 interested in what he had to say.
The preseason banquet - during which the members of the Marshall baseball team introduced themselves - included the Herd's former record-setting coach, Jack Cook, and Toronto Blue Jays Manager John Farrell.
Coach Jeff Waggoner made no bones about the purpose of the get-together: to raise money to replace University Heights Field - a rundown, dirt-covered tract of land that serves as the Herd's home for non-Conference USA baseball games. Marshall plays its conference games at Charleston's Appalachian Power Park - roughly 45 minutes from Huntington.
Pledge cards were available, Marshall supporters and alumni were seated at tables across the tarp-covered basketball floor where Coach Tom Herrion's team plays.
Also on hand was Tim Meeks, Hurricane businessman and father of Marshall catcher Thor Meeks. The elder Meeks pledged $20,000 to the cause over the next five years.
Also in attendance were Hurricane High Coach Brian Sutphin and Buffalo Coach Billy Joe Hicks. I attended as a guest of Poca assistant coach J.R. Collins.
I mostly was struck by Brennaman's candor. When asked a question during the three-plus hours event, he didn't dodge it.
He was open about the status of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a longtime rival of the Reds. The Bucs will enter the 2011 campaign hoping to end a Major League-record string of 18 consecutive losing seasons.
The West Virginia Power is the low Class A affiliate of the Pirates and plays at Power Park, which Marshall calls home for Conference USA games.
I would guess nobody briefed Marty on the Herd's indirect association with the Pirates?
"They've (Pirates) probably improved themselves, which means they'll probably lose 97 games," said Brennaman of the Pirates, who were 57-105 in 2010. "There's no light at the end of the tunnel for that franchise. There really isn't.
"I don't think it has great ownership, I don't think it has great baseball expertise in its front office, and is strapped for finances, which is probably the single biggest problem. I feel bad for them. PNC Park is one of the fine ballparks in Major League Baseball."
As for the Reds, Brennaman said they'll be the hunted this year, instead of the hunters.
Last season, the Reds earned their first playoff appearance in 15 seasons, but will be challenged to repeat as champions of the National League Central Division - which includes Milwaukee, St. Louis, Chicago, Houston and Pittsburgh.
Brennaman offered his assessment on the Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates and Brewers.
St. Louis Cardinals - "I'm not a big St. Louis fan, because I'm not a big Tony LaRussa fan. I refer to him as 'Mr. Baseball' on the radio, because he acts like he invented the game."
Chicago Cubs - "The Chicago Cubs won't be a factor because, no matter how much they add to their club, at the end of the day, they've got 'Cubs' across the front of their jerseys. That's the reason why they won't win."
Milwaukee Brewers - "The franchise we all have to be worried about is the Milwaukee Brewers. What they've done is mortgage their future for one shot. That's this season. They lose Prince Fielder, probably to free agency at the end of this year. They've traded away almost every good, young prospect in their organization in order to try to be better than the Reds and the Cardinals."
Pittsburgh Pirates - "It's a catastrophe."
Most of his focus was on the Reds, who were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies 3-0 in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
He said first baseman Joey Votto - the reigning National League Most Valuable Player - is the Reds' best player, but centerfielder Drew Stubbs has the chance of being their second-best.
"He can do it all," Brennaman said of Stubbs. "He's the fastest player in the league, he can run down the ball in center field with about as good as it gets in our league, and, he had 22 home runs last year and he and Jay Bruce pretty much carried this club the last half of the season."
Aroldis Chapman, the Reds' hard-throwing Cuban rookie last year, will be the left-handed setup complement to Nick Masset.
"He throws 100 miles per hour every time he turns it loose," Brennaman said of Chapman. "I've seen some guys who can throw it hard - Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard. I've never seen a guy throw it as hard as (Chapman does).
"As far as his role beyond 2011, he could be a closer or as a starting pitcher. We don't need him to start. They'll handle him with kid gloves and let him get his feet wet this year. He's about as exciting an act as you get from a pitcher."
How about Pete Rose's Hall of Fame candidacy?
"He bet on baseball," Brennaman said. "There's no question about that. He admitted it in a book a few years ago. But, if they're going to allow these guys who either confirmed, or alleged, druggies ... steroid guys ... just to be on the Hall of Fame ballot, which they are - (Roger) Clemens and (Barry) Bonds. (Rafael) Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa and (Mark McGwire). If they're going to allow those guys to be on the ballot, then damn it, Pete needs to be on there too.
"When you go to the Hall of Fame, you realize the level of hypocrisy about this whole thing. Everywhere you go in Cooperstown, you see some evidence of Pete Rose. He's good enough to have his stuff in there, but he's not good enough to have a plaque in there, and that's got to change sometime in the not-too-distant future, and hopefully it will."
Brennaman had plenty to say, much to the delight of the crowd. He left to a standing ovation.
The veteran broadcaster once said that he's not afraid to say what he thinks.
Nobody at the Henderson Center on Saturday night would argue with that.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.