At the end of every message he reads to the stadium crowd at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, Charlie Brotman says “thank you!,” and you can almost hear him beaming from the Charlie Brotman Press Box when he says it.
He’s got a voice that somehow sounds like a smile, one that adds a twinkle even to that announcement about that car with its lights on in the parking lot — a voice you feel you’ve been hearing your whole life, but still like nothing you’ve heard before.
For 46 tournaments, Brotman has thanked crowds at the event formerly known as the Washington Open and the Legg Mason Classic, among other names. On Sunday, his voice sparkled over Rock Creek Park for the last time, as he’ll retire from his job as Citi Open public address announcer after presiding every year since 1969. Sunday’s women’s singles final was his last as the voice of the Washington tennis tournament.
Brotman is more than the voice of D.C. tennis. The 85-year-old is the voice of the city, and has been since the 1950s. He has narrated every president’s inaugural parade since Dwight Eisenhower’s in 1957 and introduced the president for his ceremonial first pitch at every Washington Senators opening day from 1956 to 1971. When baseball returned to the District in 2005, Brotman announced President George W. Bush’s first pitch then, too.
His first love is baseball, but tennis became part of his life after his good friend Donald Dell, the tournament’s founder, asked Brotman to help out at that initial 1969 event.
“At the beginning, it was really fun,” said Brotman, remembering days when he sat courtside.
“We were able to kid the players during introductions. We treated it lightly. People would laugh and get a kick out of it. Now, it’s a lot different because of technical things: ‘Charlie, you can’t do this because you’re on TV. Charlie, we can’t have you doing X and Y, making fun.’ Now it’s tempered. I don’t ad lib as much.”
As he explained this, gazing over Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau’s 7-5, 6-4 win over Sam Groth and Leander Paes in the Citi Open men’s doubles championship, Brotman was passed a message. There was a car in the parking lot locked and running.
“Shame on you if it’s yours,” he said in his slow, easy way to a giggling crowd. “If it’s yours, my advice to you is get to it quick! Because it won’t be running long.”
“See?” he said as he turned away from the microphone. “Like that. It used to be a lot more of that.”
Brotman’s levity earned him close friends in high tennis places. He knew Arthur Ashe well — “a great individual,” he says — and can tell you about the time a reporter called asking him if Jimmy Connors had been shot. Brotman woke Connors up at midnight the night before a match to ask. Instead of being mad, Connors asked his friend if he thought he should leave town.
When he asks players how to pronounce their names, many of them tell him “whatever you say will be perfect,” his reputation precedes him so.
Saturday night, he was inducted into the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation’s Hall of Fame, his 11th Hall of Fame to date. After his long list of achievements and contributions was read as part of the induction ceremony on court, Brotman took the mike.
“Thank you!” he said, as only he can.
The crowd laughed, then applauded.