Legacy: Red Barber
Friday mornings on National Public Radio used to feel like a call home to Granddad. At 7:35, Morning Edition host Bob Edwards would ring up baseball-broadcasting old-timer Red Barber for a chat. You never knew if Barber would talk about spring training or the dogwood blooming near his Tallahassee, Fla., home. Either way, Barber’s honeyed drawl and gentle musings were heartening counterpoints to the latest unemployment figures. For more than a decade, his three-and-a-half-minute segment was the most popular regular feature on public radio.
When Barber died at 84 on Oct. 22 of complications from intestinal surgery, with him died the stories he gleaned in a career spanning seven decades. It started at the University of Florida radio station, when he filled in for a professor to read a paper called ”Certain Aspects of Bovine Obstetrics.” Barber began doing play-by-play for the Cincinnati Reds in 1934 and won a national following as the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1939 to 1953. He left baseball in 1966 after 12 years with the Yankees, fired for noting that only 413 fans had showed up for a late-season game.
By that time, ”the old redhead” had announced baseball’s first game on TV and the first televised World Series. He had overcome his Southern-bred prejudices when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947. And he had enriched the lexicon: Pea patch was his phrase for the diamond, rhubarb for an argument, catbird seat for a team in control. His colorful language and fairness inspired sportscasters like Vin Scully and Bob Costas.
Who can say what Barber would have thought of a Canadian team’s winning the Series? And who will tell us when the camellias bloom again?