Hair’s the deal: in Cincinnati, fans dig a good Marty Party.
If memory serves me, in the years after I graduated from the University of Cincinnati, I had several conversations with people from the Tri-State area about the city’s top sports figures.
It wasn’t so much about who were the best players. It was more about who, in the sports landscape, were the most revered. Who, if you will, “owned” the town?
Back then, in the early to mid-1990s, the Reds had both good years and terrible years, the Bengals were unspeakably awful, and with no NBA team to dump on and the only hockey in town being of a minor league variety, there wasn’t much going, sports-wise. At that time, the one team with the most national prominence was UC men’s basketball, a perennial high seed in the tournament and really, at the time, the toast of the town.
So, in my estimation, there were three sports figures in Cincinnati at that time that were revered in the eyes of the public. They were, in no particular order: UC men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins, Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and Reds radio announcer Marty Brennaman.
Back in the old days, it really didn’t matter if the Reds were good or bad (which was good, because some years were just really, really bad). Listening to Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall on the radio was just something you did. You listened in the car. You listened while hanging out at the pool. You listened when you were close to home and, thanks to 700 WLW’s ability to be picked up hundreds of miles from home, you could also listen during the long rides that inevitably accompanied any family vacation.
The broadcasts were never boring. Brennaman’s candid assessments and picture-perfect descriptions made even the snoozers interesting. He was, and continues to be, one of the only radio broadcasters in baseball who willingly will go against the establishment to criticize the team when warranted. His observations often infuriated star players, not to mention ownership (how many times did Marge Schott tried to rid herself of him?). It didn’t matter. Marty always prevailed, because he told it like he saw it, and in turn, he was radio gold for listeners. He was as untouchable as you can get without actually wearing the uniform.
Anyhoo, Marty became the Reds’ full-time announcer when I was not yet three years old, so, for the most part, he’s been calling Reds games my entire life. A few things haven’t changed in his 40-plus years of broadcasting: his booming voice, his popularity, and, well, his hair.
Marty has a lot of hair. He always has. I’m fairly certain it hasn’t always been white, but I have no memory of that, so I have to assume it changed color when he was still a relatively young man. Marty’s hair has always been a signature trait, which I guess is a funny thing to say about a guy who makes his living on the radio. But Marty didn’t hide behind the mic. For a radio guy, he was (and is) everywhere.
About a week ago, the surging Reds were attempting to extend a winning streak to an unthinkable 10 games, and Marty cast his doubts on the team’s ability to carry it out. A Reds coach asked him if he’d shave his head if the team won that night, and Marty said, “Sure.”
I’ll be honest, I never understood why sports-related streaks make so many normally well-reasoned folks want to suddenly challenge their friends to shave their heads. I’ve been in situations where some brazen so-and-so will propose some silly bet about where a team will finish in the standings, and invariably, it’s always the same proposed wager: “If I win, you have to shave your head.” It’s stupid. It irks me in the same way as watching four college-age men at a sports venue in say, San Diego, dancing around for the cameras with their shirts off. It’s a balmy 70 degrees and they’re — gasp! — shirtless? They must be really, really…cold?
Still, when I first heard about this proposed challenge, I pictured Marty and his iconic poofy white hair and tried to imagine what he might look like without it. I thought, this, I have to see.
The Reds won that night, and the focus temporarily shifted from Marty calling the game to Marty to paying up. To make sure this gesture had a point, a stipulation was added: If enough fans ponied up the cash to reach $20,000 for the Reds Community Fund and Joe Nuxhall Character Fund, the shaving would happen on the field, after the game, in front of the fans. If they didn’t raise the cash, the shaving would still go on — just in the privacy of the Reds clubhouse, away from the glare of
Marty’s dome the public spotlight.
Reds fans didn’t raise 20 grand — they raised 50. Charlie Sheen, a long-time Reds fan whose dad, Martin, is originally from nearby Dayton, Ohio, added another $50,000. That’s 100 grand, all for charity, all to celebrate one very beloved local celebrity who transitioned from “poofy-haired fancy boy” to shiny-headed bald guy.
Marty always did own that town. Glad to see some things never change.
My top five most interesting facts about the Marty Party that I learned from watching this video:
1. Marty is quite tan throughout the season. His head, however, had some catching up to do after he parted with his hair. No worries. Marty’s plan for the team’s pending trip to Milwaukee was to spend ample time on the golf course, sans hat.
2. Not only did the act of Marty having his head shaved bring in money, the shaved hair was also auctioned off, for charity. Could make for an interesting decoration on some lucky fan’s mantle, but I’d keep it away from the Christmas lights.
3. Marty had his personal barber of 23 years do the shaving. Many Reds players initially offered to help out, but were rebuffed.
4. Marty fully admits he loves his hair and apparently doesn’t mind singing it from the rooftops. He was quoted as saying, “No one has had a more passionate love affair with his hair than me.” Intense.
5. It took six minutes and 13 seconds to shave the head, from start to finish — five minutes, 27 seconds longer than it takes for the average American man to have his head shaved. (No, not really).