After a 34-year hiatus, a Washington tradition dating back to Dwight Eisenhower’s first presidential term will be officially renewed when Charlie Brotman takes his place behind the microphone in the refurbished RFK Stadium press box on April 14. After a tune-up at an April 3 exhibition game against the New York Mets, the DC native will resume his duties as opening day public address announcer for the new Washington Nationals of the National League?oming full circle from when he first filled the role in 1956 for the Nationals of the American League.
Brotman (who is founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Brotman Winter Fried Communications, a public relations firm with offices in Falls Church, VA, and Washington, DC) got his big break in 1956 during the Nats spring training in Winter Park, Florida. While working in radio in the Orlando area, he was interviewing the team when then-owner Calvin Griffith got wind that Brotman was from Washington.
“He gave me the audition for the job of a lifetime,” said Brotman.
In short order, Brotman was on a plane back to his hometown. He won the audition and began his career on opening day 1956, with President Eisenhower in attendance and the New York Yankees in town. He has not missed a DC baseball opening day since then?hough baseball has missed the last 33 in DC.
The start of something big
Brotman’s first game as PA announcer did not go quite as well as he would have liked. In the fourth inning, there was confusion between Brotman and the spotter over which relief pitcher had entered the game. Brotman announced, “Now coming in for Washington, Truman”?kipping the pitcher’s last name. Fifteen seconds of dead-air followed, and the leader of the free world was staring right at him, wondering why predecessor Harry S Truman was at the game. Brotman thought that this would be his “first and last PA job.” Fortunately, Brotman recovered and announced, “Clevenger now pitching for Washington”, referring to pitcher Truman Clevenger. The president then smiled at him, and the rest of the game proceeded without incident.
While Brotman got off to a rocky start, he managed to impress the White House enough that he was invited to be the announcer for the 1957 Inaugural Parade. Unlike opening day in baseball, he has continued this job without interruption ever since, with a record of 12 inaugurations for nine presidents.
On top of serving as PA announcer?hich he was paid just a few dollars a game to do?rotman was asked to take some PR duties. While he initially thought, “I’m a broadcaster”, he nevertheless agreed to give it a shot.
“What is our name?”
One of the first tasks that Brotman took on was putting together the annual press guide. When it came time to do it, he was uncertain what the team nickname actually was, and asking around did not clear things up. For years, the team had been known alternately as the Nationals and Senators?nd informally, the Nats?ut there was no consensus on which one was correct. Brotman decided on “Senators” and asked graphic artist Zang Auerbach, who also designed the logo (still in use today) for his brother Red’s Boston Celtics basketball team, to “animate the name.” Auerbach was asked what he could do with Senators, and his response was, “Not much.” In the end, Auerbach’s design was somewhat similar to the famous Celtics logo, only this time featuring a revolutionary senator, with a cigar in his mouth, winding up from the mound.
The early years
Getting to know the players was one of the highlights from Brotman’s tenure with the original Senators. His favorite story was in 1957 when he had to take a “bonus baby” to Union Station and put him on the train back to the minors.
“Don’t feel bad. Play every day,” Brotman told the young player, figuring he would never see him again. Nearly 50 years later, Harmon Killebrew is still a good friend of Brotman’s. Jim Lemon and Camilo Pascual were also two of his favorites.
Another highlight for Brotman came during the filming of the musical Damn Yankees. The crew needed a PA announcer, and Nats broadcaster Bob Wolf remarked, “Why not use the real thing?” Thus, Brotman made his Hollywood debut announcing.
“A shock to be sure”
In the late 1950s, rumors floated around that Senators owner Calvin Griffith was looking to move the team out of DC. The team had not been drawing well and was not bringing in much revenue. In November 1960, convinced that the new DC Stadium (to be opened in 1962) was not in a good area (Southeast), Griffith ended years of denials by relocating the original AL franchise to the Twin Cities. Brotman, who was caught just as off-guard as the fans were, was offered an opportunity to move with the team, but he declined.
“I didn’t want to give up my family, friends, and life here.”
Fortunately for Brotman and DC fans, the American League immediately awarded one of the initial two expansion franchises to Washington. General Elwood Quesada became owner, and Brotman retained his position with the new club.
A new stadium
After a season in Griffith Stadium, the expansion Senators moved across town to the brand new multi-purpose DC Stadium, which had opened the previous fall for the Redskins. While Brotman enjoyed the new modern environs, it was not without its critics.
“People would say that the seats were so far from the field,” Brotman intoned. “Of course, when the Redskins moved out of it, people complained about their new stadium too. I don’t think [the complaining] will ever change.”
Faced with a new facility that was not as “homey” as Griffith only added to the sophomore franchise’s woes, which Brotman addressed head-on.
“I had to be creative to motivate and persuade people to come out and see an inferior product. Friends would say, ‘Charlie you’ll never get me out. The team is a bunch of losers’,” Brotman recalled. “So I would bet them a dollar that I could get them there. I had a bat day for the kids and sure enough, I won the dollar.”
Brotman also got Capitol Hill involved?hether it was inviting out the Congressman of visiting stars like Mickey Mantle, or by setting up the Congressional baseball game in 1962. The event, which features Democrats vs. Republicans, continues to this day. Last year, Brotman was honored with an induction into the CBG Hall of Fame, one of a handful that he has been elected to over the years.
Trying something new
In 1962, Brotman took a position with a pro soccer league that doubled his salary.
“I hated to leave, but it was a big opportunity.”
Before he left, Brotman found a successor: Phil Hochberg, who would serve as PA announcer at RFK through 1997, when the Redskins moved out of DC and into their new facility (FedEx Field) in Landover, MD. Despite this move in venue, Brotman would still continue his role as the opening day announcer.
A year of change
In 1969, Brotman created a public relations firm. Not surprisingly, the first account for Charles J. Brotman & Associates (predecessor to Brotman Winter Fried Communications) was the Senators, which had just been bought by Bob Short. The firm was brought on to advise Short, who “did not know anything about baseball” on promotions and public relations. Short did know enough to bring on former Red Sox great Ted Williams to manage. The improvement was dramatic, as the team went 86? that year and drew over 900,000 fans to the re-christened Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Slugger Frank Howard had a monster season, hitting 48 homers. However, the jubilation was short-lived, and in 1970 the Senators returned to their losing ways, finishing 70? and drawing 100,000 fewer fans.
As the Senators continued their return to the bottom of the standings, and as their finances suffered more, rumors of another move (this time to Texas) surfaced despite Short’s insistence that he “loved Washington.”
Still, Short threatened to leave if he could not find a buyer, and when he did not, he petitioned the American League to move to Texas. Some of The Washington Post’s Sports staff tried to get President Richard Nixon to “to invoke the prestige of the Presidency” against relocation, but Nixon felt it would be inappropriate.
In the end, Brotman added, “Short was not loyal to the community.”
“We’ll get another team”
While the move in 1971 was hard on Brotman and Senators fans, people assumed that the absence of baseball would be short-lived.
“We figured we would get another team in a year or two, three at the most,” said Brotman. “We didn’t think that baseball would operate without being in the nation’s capital. Wrong again.”
Brotman came close to being right in 1974 when the San Diego Padres were nearly sold to local interests. The deal was so close that Topps baseball cards for the Padres read “Washington National League” instead of San Diego. However, local investors could not come through with the money, and McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc purchased the Padres and kept them in San Diego. Even back then, the Expos were mentioned as a candidate for relocation, but little came of it. In the mid-90s, the Astros nearly moved to Northern Virginia, but Houston residents voted to build a new ballpark, and they remained in Texas.
As the years went by, baseball continued to bypass the nation’s capital, and so Brotman was invited to work in the Baltimore Orioles’ press box. He never viewed the Orioles as “the enemy”, though; in fact, he was practically a member of the Orioles family, and was a good friend of Edward Bennett Williams, the legendary DC attorney who bought the O’s. Brotman did, however, have reservations about Baltimore marketing itself as the home team for DC.
“I did not think it was a good idea. Just promote that it is Major League Baseball only an hour away.”
Despite the disagreement, Brotman has no regrets about his experience with Baltimore.
“They were my friends.”
As faces changed over the years, though, Brotman and the Orioles drifted apart. Washington area baseball fans became apathetic, and expansions in 1977, 1991, and 1997 brought DC no closer to having a team.
A whole new ballgame
In recent years, Brotman’s hopes for a new era of Washington baseball began to rise.
“For 32 years, we begged and pleaded for a team, but baseball did not need or want DC because of Baltimore. I could sense a change recently?LB needs DC more than DC needs MLB.”
Brotman’s intuition on MLB needing DC proved right?rimarily because MLB was out of options?ut so did another hunch about MLB’s excitement over the relocation.
“Even now, MLB is not excited because of [Orioles owner Peter] Angelos,” Brotman said in early March. Since then, MLB and Angelos have agreed to a compensation plan that paves the way for broadcasting the Nationals on over-the-air television and restarting the ownership search.
While MLB and Angelos are not necessarily thrilled about Washington’s being big-league again, Brotman is. He feels that the enthusiasm and excitement in the area has been significant, and he happily cites changes in the area since the Senators left: “Easier transportation, more people.” Ticket sales of nearly two million before opening day back up his claims.
On the topic of the team’s name, Brotman was pulling for Senators, but not everyone felt the same way. Though he coined the nickname nearly 50 years ago, Brotman was “not too deeply disappointed” that DC Mayor Anthony Williams was did not favor using the Senators name, on account of no Congressional representation in DC.
“Close but okay”
The nickname was hardly the only controversy of the Expos move. District law mandates that for a law to be passed, it must be voted on twice by the city council. Following the first vote, a 6?? decision, MLB scheduled a November 23 press conference at Union Station to announce the new team name and logo. Just prior to the start of the event, Adam Eidinger, a DC Statehood Green Party activist, started yelling, “This is a bad deal, people!” over the microphone. Speaking to the Reliable Source column in the Post, Brotman said, “He jerked his arm away and continued his remarks. So I grabbed his elbow a little harder and said, ‘You’re going to have to leave so we can get our news conference going.’ The third time I used both hands on his elbows and arms and started to pull him away, and that’s when he started pulling very hard?nd I pulled back very hard. ? I didn’t realize how big this guy was. I’m five-six and a half ? I boxed in the Boys Club years and years ago. I had one fight and now I’m undefeated.” The scuffle with Eidinger? “That was a draw.”
Weeks later, a bitterly divided council nearly torpedoed the deal by passing legislation that altered the Expos relocation deal. MLB was so upset at the deal’s new language that they closed shop on the Nationals for a week while the council worked behind the scenes to get a new deal?orking out what Brotman called the “many arguments and misunderstandings.”
“I never spent so much time at the city council.”
In the end, the ballpark financing legislation passed with a 7?vote and the team opened for business again right before Christmas, giving Washingtonians the present for which they had waited so long. The Nationals are now home in Washington and after a 34-year absence, Charlie Brotman is too, in the RFK press box in front of the microphone again, working the job of a lifetime. He hopes the third time is the charm.
Copy editor Erica J. Marker and Associate Editor Fritz Hamme contributed to this article.