Monday, August 24, 2020

Thom Brennaman’s Foot-in-Mouth Disease

By Jeff Kallman

The story of the second game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Kansas City Royals Wednesday might otherwise have been Matt Harvey. Freshly exhumed by the Royals from the scrap heap, after some thought his pitching career might be extinct.

It might have been Reds outfielder/designated hitter Jesse Winker giving Harvey a very respectful a thumbs-up in the top of the first after Harvey struck him out looking on a rather filthy-looking fastball, with more movement than speed, then hitting Harvey's first-pitch curve ball over the right field fence with two out and Nicholas Castellanos aboard in the top of the third.

It might have been Winker and Eugenio Suarez taking Harvey out of the yard back-to-back in that third inning. It might have been Harvey managing to wriggle out of further trouble for the side before his evening ended and, when all was said and done, only those back-to-back bombs ruined a mostly encouraging night for the erstwhile Dark Knight.

It might also have been Castellanos facing the Royals' prodigal reliever Greg Holland to lead off the top of the sixth and, after looking at a strike on the low inside corner, catching hold of another four-seam fastball to just about the same real estate and sending it over the left center field fence.

But something happened as Castellanos prepared to swing on the former leader of the Royals' once-vaunted H-D-H bullpen. (Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvim Herrera.) Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman began an on-air, on-camera apology shortly before he was removed from the broadcast, having been caught on a hot microphone earlier in the evening referring to "one of the great [email protected] capitals of the world."

What follows is a complete transcript of the Brennaman apology.

Castellanos to lead things off. Jim Day's gonna be taking us the rest of the way through this game, as Holland takes over on the mound. [Strike one called.] I made a comment earlier tonight that, uh, I guess, uh, went out over the air that I am deeply — ashamed of. If I have hurt anyone out there, I can't tell you how much I say from the bottom of my heart I'm so very, very sorry. I pride myself and think of myself as a man of faith, as there's a drive into deep left field by Castellanos, it will be a home run, and so that'll make it a four-nothing ball game.

I don't know if I'm gonna be puttin' on this headset again. I don't know if it's gonna be for the Reds, I don't know if it's gonna be for my bosses at FOX, I want to apologize for the people who sign my paycheck, for the Reds, for FOX Sports Ohio, for the people I work with, for anybody that I've offended here tonight. I can't begin to tell you how deeply sorry I am. That is not who I am, and never has been. And I'd like to think I could maybe have some people that can back that up.

I am very, very sorry. And I beg for your forgiveness. Jim Day'll take you the rest of the way home.

To which city Brennaman referred wasn't clear as his spontaneous case of foot-in-mouth disease went slightly beyond viral from almost the moment it was captured. Was it New York, where Harvey once shone as a Mets pitcher before injuries and especially thoracic outlet syndrome collapsed his career? Was it Kansas City for itself or for having taken a flyer on an earnest new Harvey trying for one more major league comeback?

Does it matter?

If you can call it good news, Brennaman delivered his apology without a written statement. Nobody with the Reds or FOX swung their damage-control action troops into action to bang out a boilerplate mea culpa, slide it under Brennaman's head, and order him, "This is it. If you even think about going off script, we will kill you to death on the spot."

Once upon a time, to err was human and to forgive, divine. (Never mind stage and film legend Mae West: to err is human, but it feels divine.) Today, to err is human but to forgive is not always social policy. Once upon a time John Lennon got himself and the Beatles off the hook, more or less, by apologizing at a press conference after Lennon's once-infamous 1966 observation, that the Beatles then were more popular than Jesus Christ, raised a furor in the U.S., never mind that it was published slightly out of its original context.

Saying you demur from homosexuality is one thing. Saying you prefer not to associate with the gay world is likewise. Neither remark by themselves would mark you as an unrepentant homophobic bigot, even if one or both might suggest you're not exactly in step with the politically correct times, so long as you do or say nothing otherwise that suggests gay men and women ought to be unemployed, or isolated, or even eradicated.

But saying it in the sort of insult once reserved for the schoolyard in the bad old days or a Ku Klux Klan gathering any days is something else entirely, whether or not you were aware of a live microphone delivering it uncut to a television audience. It raises legitimate questions as to whether or not you can be accepted comfortably as a man or a woman who would leave your biases outside the door when you report for work.

Brennaman has been a sportscaster for three decades and a Reds broadcaster since 2006. His father, Marty, is a Ford C. Frick Award honoree in the Hall of Fame, and he has had his share of admirers and detractors purely in terms of his own professional work, independent of his father's legacy.

With one careless remark he may have talked himself out of a job and perhaps out of the industry, no matter the haste and unrehearsed and unscripted apology. The Reds suspended Brennaman after the game and added that they would "address our broadcasting team in the coming days." When men and women sink their own careers and legacies in single isolated moments of abject brain vapor it's always enough to make you sick.

There was an irony in the entire affair that should sober you and Brennaman even more. Castellanos's mid-apology home run seemed to hit a sign above a three-row section of seats behind the left field fence. The purple sign reads, in bold yellow lettering, "Judgment-Free Zone."

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