The Insider: Charlie Brotman

By: Garrett M. Graff

Brotman’s basement is a shrine to half a century of Washington memories. Photograph by Chris Leaman

For half a century, Charlie Brotman has been a voice of Washington: Whether you were at a Washington Senators game, the Legg Mason tennis classic, or the presidential inaugural parade, chances are good that the voice booming over the PA system was Brotman’s. Since Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 reelection, Brotman has held the title of “the president’s announcer,” giving the play-by-play of the inaugural parade. In between announcement gigs, he and his PR firm, Brotman Winter Fried Communications, specialize in sports events.

Brotman, who turned 80 last year, is a Washington native—he graduated from McKinley Tech high school—and lives in Takoma Park with Sada, his wife of nearly 60 years.

In his own words:

I wanted to be a sportscaster, so I went to the University of Maryland and the National Academy of Broadcasting on 16th Street. In 1956, I was in Orlando as a disc jockey, and the Senators’ spring training was right outside Orlando. I’m a jock—I’m interviewing all my heroes, getting autographs of all the players. Calvin Griffith, the owner of the Senators and Griffith Stadium, told me to audition for his new stadium play-by-play announcer. There were five other guys, but I got the job. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven—getting paid to watch baseball games! My wife, my daughter, Debbie, and I packed everything into a U-Haul and came back here.

Griffith Stadium was just a tiny bandbox stadium. It was more a pitcher’s park than a hitter’s stadium.

It was opening day, the New York Yankees and the Washington Senators, and the Yankees are beating the heck out of the Senators. Around the fifth inning, they put in a relief pitcher—I was new, so I didn’t know all the players—and I start to announce, “Coming in to pitch for the Senators, Truman.” Somebody says he doesn’t think it’s Truman Clevenger, so I stop midsentence. My first game and I’m a disaster. President Eisenhower turns in his seat and looks up at me as if to say, “What is this, some kind of joke? The president I replaced is the new pitcher?” The whole stadium, 27,000 people, are staring at me waiting to finish the sentence. I’m slouching down in embarrassment, and then we see Clevenger’s number and know for sure it’s him and I’m able to announce it. I thought I was going to be fired. 

I must’ve made an impression, because a few months later I get a call from a woman from the White House who says, “Are you the man who announced President Eisenhower’s first pitch at opening day?” Ike wanted to invite me to be the president’s announcer. That was the first domino to fall.

There were so many memorable moments from the parades—like President Kennedy’s inaugural, where they had thousands of Army troops, trucks, and even flamethrowers up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in the morning to clear away six inches of snow.

President Reagan’s first inaugural parade was all about show biz, just like him. He brought Hollywood to Washington. The problem was the parade started late. It started at 2 pm and ran for four hours—and in January in Washington, by 6 pm it’s been dark for a while. So we have all these best marching bands and even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—that was his cherry on top of the whipped cream—parading by in the pitch black. You could hear them, but you couldn’t see them.

One time, in 2005, I mistakenly asked President Bush over the PA system whether he’d consider throwing out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals when they returned to Washington. “Can you make it, Mr. President?” I could see he shrugged his shoulders, as if he didn’t know his schedule that day. A few minutes later, a Secret Service agent came up to me and said, “Don’t ever address the President directly.” But President Bush did throw out the first pitch.

I believe in the Lerners. They have to go to the grocery store, to restaurants—and everywhere they’re hearing, “When are you going to make the Nationals good?” They’ll come around, invest in some players. Are we headed to the World Series this year? No. The playoffs? No. However, they’ve really improved the minor-league system.

Will they ever let Teddy Roosevelt win in the presidents’ race? Nope. Unless there’s something spectacular and a huge reason to do it. You know, the seventh game of the Nationals’ first World Series, something like that. Then they might.

I’ve got to be the envy of every male in Washington. I get to go to all the sports events as part of my job. I’m a lucky guy.

This article first appeared in the February 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here

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