Charlie Brotman’s voice doesn’t do Charlie Brotman justice.
He’s the first to admit his voice isn’t particularly sonorous or authoritative, the way some sports announcers’ voices are. Even deep in announcer mode, he sounds a little like a genial telephone operator taking an order for Sears.
But what Brotman has done with that voice has been exceptional, perhaps because he seems to pack each syllable with well-seasoned mirth and enthusiasm. It’s boosted him to the top of Washington’s sports and political world, as an announcer for the old Senators baseball team and every inaugural parade since President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s.
Brotman again will be giving the play-by-play when he takes the mike Monday for President Obama’s second inauguration. Not bad for a grocer’s son who wasn’t sure what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“And here I am hobnobbing with the president of the United States,” Brotman, 85, said Friday at his Takoma Park home, a shrine to Washington sports and political celebrity.
Minutes after Brotman opens the front door, he’s waving in a visitor the way a third-base coach waves runners home. Downstairs, carpeted in original Astroturf, lies a clubhouse that would make any sports fan cheer. Like all true shrines, the playroom holds relics of his devotion: pine bats once shouldered at Griffith Stadium and now arrayed like pillars holding up his well-stocked bar, an aisle’s worth of ballpark seats, rows of yellowing baseballs signed by men blessed with the talent to play a child’s game exceptionally well.
The testaments to the glories of celebrity include his own: Charlie mugging with baseball greats Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski. Charlie hamming it up with heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, another famous mouth. Charlie in photos grinning with Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Across one picture, Brotman has helpfully plastered black arrows so no one will miss his name affixed to a tennis stadium for an event.
“When Charlie’s around, the sun is shining,” said Bobby Goldwater, who first met Brotman more than 30 years ago at a tennis event.
Goldwater, who then was doing public relations work for Madison Square Garden, said the event’s promoter was from Washington and brought Brotman to New York, even though the Garden had its own stable of excellent announcers. Other Garden employees said a New York audience would never go for him. Brotman’s problem? Too polite. Way too polite.
“At the end of every announcement, he says, ‘Thank you.’ ” Goldwater recalled. “That cheerful ‘Thank you’ chirp. . . . But that’s just the way Charlie is.”
Sugar Ray Leonard, fresh off his 1976 Olympic gold medal, wanted to capitalize on his new fame. But besides Ali, few boxers had broad commercial appeal, and Leonard also had some personal baggage, including having fathered a child out of wedlock.
Leonard, 56, who spent much of his childhood in Prince George’s County, knew that he needed a skilled PR person, and the name he kept hearing was Brotman’s. He liked Brotman from the first, for his kindness and honesty and work ethic. And Brotman helped guide Leonard toward opportunities outside the ring that helped make him one of the most celebrated boxers of his era.
“He wasn’t just my PR guy,” Leonard said by telephone on Sunday. “Charlie was a real friend. I love him. He was there when I had nothing.”
Goldwater, a former head of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, said Brotman was instrumental in returning major league baseball to the nation’s capital. Brotman knew from previous unsuccessful efforts whom to talk to and what had to be done.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that he was the most enthusiastic cheerleader,” Goldwater said.
Brotman is more than a showman. To prep for the inaugural parade, he pores over fat binders with scripts and a wealth of information on each marching band, equestrian team and military unit that will pass. He did the same advance work as the voice of the Senators.
“If I wanted to see him, I went to those games with him,” said his daughter, Debbie Doxzon, 60, of Union Bridge in Carroll County. “I watched. I learned how to score a game. After the game was over, we stayed for hours.”
Brotman’s journey into the heart of Washington’s sports and political worlds began after he left the Navy in 1946. He was attending the National Academy of Broadcasting on 16th Street in the District on the GI Bill when the school said announcers were needed at President Harry S. Truman’s inauguration, the first to be televised.
“It was a like a class assignment,” said Brotman, who was 22.
After graduation, he was a sports director at a TV station in Florida when he interviewed the Senators’ owner, Calvin Griffith. Griffith had heard Brotman was a Washington native and wondered whether he might want to come back to be the team’s announcer.
“I said, ‘My God, if I ever got that job I would have died and gone to heaven . . . getting paid to watch baseball games!’ ” said Brotman. He won the audition and was the Senators’ full-time announcer from 1956 to 1962 and then the team’s opening-day announcer until 1971, when the Senators departed for Texas.
On opening day in 1956, Brotman’s duties included introducing Eisenhower for the ceremonial first pitch. The Senators lost that game (and 94 others) on their way to one of many lousy seasons. But Brotman liked Ike, and Ike liked him. That November, Brotman got a call from the White House.
“Are you Charlie Brotman, the announcer who introduced President Eisenhower at the baseball game?” Brotman recalled.
Yes, he was.
“Well, Mr. Brotman, you must have impressed him because he asked me to try and find you, to see if you would be interested in introducing him again.”
When the caller told him the date, Brotman knew, as a Washingtonian, that he had just been invited to be the emcee of the inaugural parade. The Secret Service installed him on the roof of the press box with simple instructions: “Tell us if you see anything unusual.”