Charlie Brotman grew up in D.C. and graduated from McKinley Tech High School in 1946. After two years in the Navy, he decided he wanted to be a sports announcer. “Who didn’t?” he once told an interviewer, so he enrolled at the National Academy of Broadcasting in the District, in addition to attending classes at the University of Maryland in College Park.
While he was still at the broadcasting school, an instructor recommended him to be an announcer at President Harry Truman’s inauguration ceremony on January 20, 1949, the first such ceremony to be televised.
Brotman took a job as a disc jockey and part-time sports announcer in Orlando, Fla., where the Washington Senators held spring training. In 1956, Calvin Griffith, who had heard him and found out about his D.C. roots, offered him a job with the team. He became the public address man at Griffith Stadium and later took on the promotion director’s duties.
President Dwight Eisenhower was on hand for opening day in 1956 as Brotman was starting his Senators’ job. He introduced the president to the crowd. It must have made an impression because that fall, the White House called Brotman to ask if he’d be willing to be the announcer for Ike’s 1957 inaugural.
Thus began a run of 15 consecutive inaugural ceremonies with Brotman as the public address announcer, a non-partisan endeavor, eight times for Republicans and seven for Democrats.
Brotman remained the regular public address voice at Griffith Stadium through the original Senators departure after the 1960 season. He continued as the expansion team’s promotions director through 1966 and was behind the microphone announcing the lineup every opening day for the team through 1971.
The expansion team was so bad the first three seasons that when Brotman suggested the slogan, perhaps factitiously, “Off the Floor in ’64,” team management adopted it. (Those Nats didn’t finish last, but lost 100 games again.)
Back in 1957, Brotman was assigned the task of putting together the team’s yearbook. His artist couldn’t come up with anything inspiring using “Nationals,” still the official if rarely used team name. So the two of them went all in on “Senators,” using an old fashioned caricature of a U.S. senator throwing a pitch. It appeared on the ’57 yearbook cover and was quickly adopted as the team symbol. Team uniforms began to feature “Senators” across the front for the first time.
With D.C. without baseball in 1972, Brotman returned to his work with the public relations firm he had helped found a decade earlier. His most famous client was boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who grew up in Prince Georges County, Md. In 1969, he had started what became a 46-year tenure as the announcer for Washington’s major tennis tournament, now known at the Citi Open. He retired from that duty in 2014.
Brotman became a persistent advocate for getting a major league team back in Washington. When it was announced in September 2004 that the Expos would move to D.C., Brotman was part in the celebratory ceremony. After a 33-year break, he was back at RFK Stadium to introduce President George W. Bush and the members of both teams at the Nationals’ April 14, 2005, home opener.
The basement of Brotman’s Takoma Park, Md., home has long been a mini-museum of Washington baseball history, featuring four seats from Griffith Stadium’s presidential box and a row of the stadium’s bleachers. Brotman has bats, caps, autographed balls and photos of the Griffith-era Senators and of himself with every president from Eisenhower to Joe Biden, with the exception of Donald Trump, whose inaugural committee famously dumped him in 2017. Brotman’s revenge was to serve as the announcer for the massive women’s protest march a day after Trump’s inaugural. Biden brought him back to announce the 2021 swearing-in ceremony, Brotman’s 16th.
Charlie Brotman turned 94 on Dec. 30, 2021.