Just a little more than 24 hours after Barack Obama was elected president, I was sitting with Charlie Brotman, the godfather of public relations in this town, in the President’s Club at Nationals Park.
We were there for a party for the legendary fighters who were in town for the charity Fight Night event, but we weren’t talking boxing. We were talking history. Charlie was still in awe of the election and what it meant not just for the nation, but for his own personal history.
At the age of 81 and having seen most of everything in this town over the past 50 years, Charlie knew he would yet be at the front door of another historic moment — the inauguration of the first black president in this country. And Charlie would introduce him at the parade. Charlie has been the public address announcer for every presidential inauguration parade since President Eisenhower’s second term in 1956. He was positively giddy about the election and his place in the upcoming historic event.
“I am knocked out about this,” Charlie said. “I grew up in Washington when Florida Avenue was literally the line between the black neighborhood and the white neighborhood. It was, don’t go over there. I worked with Sugar Ray Leonard for 15 years, and probably the only white guy in camp when Angelo Dundee wasn’t there.”
Charlie, the PR spokesman for the Washington Senators, got the inauguration gig because someone was impressed with the way he introduced President Eisenhower for the first pitch of the 1956 Senators home opener at Griffith Stadium. They kept using him when President Kennedy took office, and he has continued as the public address announcer for the parades. And it all started because of Washington baseball.
“I introduced President Eisenhower to throw out the first pitch in 1956,” Charlie said. “In November I get a call from a woman from the White House. She said, you are the announcer who introduced President Eisenhower on Opening Day, and I said, yes I am. She said, you must have impressed somebody because I have been told to contact you to see if you would like to introduce the president again. I said, wow, what an honor. Just tell me where and when.”
It would be nice for this to go full circle and have Charlie be the public address announcer for the home opener at Nationals Park in April to introduce Obama, if he does throw out the first pitch as expected. And maybe he could teach the president the words to the song Charlie wrote that is being used by the Nationals, “Nuts about the Nats.”
This is what makes baseball in Washington different than any place in the country. It can reach all the way into the White House.