Even after a 13-year career in Major League Baseball, the title that Jeff Brantley loves the most is Mississippi State graduate.
“Just about everybody knows I’m a Mississippi State grad,” Brantley said. “When I do commercials, I’ll throw some Bulldogs comment or maroon comment in there to see if they notice. I’m a Mississippi State guy and always will be, that’s for sure.”
That includes being a supporter and contributor to the Bulldogs baseball program that is starting the rebuilding process with a Super Regional appearance last year.
“It can not be understated what having a guy like Jeff Brantley involved with your baseball program does for our kids and for Mississippi State,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “His approach is full speed ahead and I grew up in the state of Alabama idolizing him and the way he competed.”
Tonight, he’ll add another title to his name, Mississippi Hall of Famer, when he’s inducted in the state’s sports hall of fame in Jackson. The 49th annual induction celebration kicks off with a 5:30 p.m. reception and 7 p.m. banquet at the Jackson Marriott.
“He gave a speech to our team two years ago that I’ll never forget and I’m almost sure he’ll include it (tonight) because he stresses that he was never the best player on his team at any level of play,” Cohen said. “Think about that for just one minute. That’s a pretty remarkable thing to only happen but for somebody as accomplished as him to say and admit.”
Others in the Hall of Fame 2011 induction class include longtime baseball administrator and Jackson pro baseball team owner Con Maloney, Delta State baseball coach Mike Kinnison, Southern Miss baseball coach Corky Palmer, Mississippi College women’s basketball star Rita Easterling and the late Jerrell Wilson, a football standout from Southern Miss.
“I’m very honored to be inducted and it would be hard to describe in words what it means except to say any place that’s honoring your accomplishments athletically and academically is special,” Brantley said. “When you think about the people that are in this from football, baseball and basketball, female athletics – you’re talking about a heck of a lot of talent.”
Brantley lives in Ridgeland and is regular attendee of at least one MSU football game per season and a season ticket holder of Mississippi State men’s basketball. His son Murphy is currently a junior at MSU.
“It’s important I stress this because covering Major League Baseball is a grind, but not for me, but my support system back home,” Brantley said. “I don’t go two weeks without seeing my wife and kids and from October through February we’re at home in Mississippi.”
Brantley says he followed MSU’s 2011 season run to being eight outs away from a trip to Omaha.
“I’ll say this – if John Cohen calls me and asks me for something, I don’t care if it’s two in the morning because I’m available for anything he needs,” Brantley said. “I support what he’s trying to do and drilling into guys heads that we need players and fans pulling on the same side of the rope.”
Brantley said he still remembers he was on arguably the most talented college baseball teams to not win the national title when MSU advanced to the 1985 College World Series and included future Major League Baseball players Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen and Brantley as well.
“I still can’t understand how we lost to a team in Miami (Fla.) that didn’t have a single Major League guy,” Brantley said. “You don’t have to have big league all-stars to win in college baseball. Even nowadays because the kid that throws 95 (miles per hour) without effort isn’t going to ever be on campus. You have to find guys in this sport collegiately.”
While earning All-American and All-Southeastern Conference honors after starring on Mississippi State’s celebrated 1985 College World Series team, the right-hander became the Bulldogs ace starting pitcher. During his four-year MSU career from 1982-95, Brantley set and continues to hold or share the SEC single season record for wins (18) along with career wins (45) and got his jersey number retired at Dudy Noble Field – a venue he calls one of the best atmospheres in his playing career.
“I think any ball player knows there’s no greater thrill than playing in front of a packed house,” Brantley said. “That place was packed every game no matter if it was a Wednesday night game against William Carey. It should be like that now because every player has threshold they can go above with the right push and being supported.”
Brantley was a color commentator for ESPN broadcasts of Major League Baseball games and an in-studio contributor for Baseball Tonight from 2002 through 2006. In 2007, he joined the radio broadcast team of the Cincinnati Reds on the Cincinnati Reds Radio Network joining Marty Brennaman and Thom Brennaman and the FSN Ohio television broadcast team with Chris Welsh and George Grande. As the 47-year old describes his career, it’s a “natural thing.”
“All I’ve ever done since I was probably 10 or younger is wake up, get in the car and go to the ballpark – I don’t know how to do anything else and wouldn’t want to do anything else,” Brantley said. “I’m very lucky.”