“Baseball is dull only to dull minds.”–Red Barber
Walter Lanier “Red Barber was born on this day in Columbus, Mississippi , USA in 1908. today is the 105th anniversary of his birth.
When he was ten his family moved from Mississippi to Sanford, Florida. At 21 he entered the University of Florida where he made ends meet by working part-time as a janitor. His broadcasting career started by accident. Barber was cleaning at the college’s radio station when the featured guest, an agriculture professor, failed to show. The station’s manager grabbed Red and had him fill the air time by reading the professor’s paper on “Certain Aspects of Bovine Obstetrics.” He was hooked — on broadcasting, not animal husbandry, and he changed his major. He became the Voice of Florida Football the next fall.
In 1934 Barber broadcast the first Major League Baseball game he ever saw, calling play-by-plays for the Cinicatti Reds against the Cubs. (The Cubs won in a 6-0 shut out.) Gor 33 years from the mid 30s to the 1960s Barber worked as a play-by-play announcer for the Reds, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. He sprinkled his broadcasts with colloquialisms called BARBARisms like “sitting in the cat bird seat” “OH Doctor” “tearin’ up the Pea Patch” “Walkin in tall cotton” and “Tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day.”
He learned about Branch Rickey’s decision to integrate the Dodgers before the manager offered Jackie Robinson a contract and became one of Robinson’s biggest supporters.
In 1954 he switched to the Yankees and called games for the Bronx Bombers for another decade before retiring as a Major League Baseball announcer. But in 1981 he came out of retirement to hold a weekly “conversation” with NPR’s Bob Edwards on Morning Edition. They talked about Sports, Florida, Barber’s cats and the state of camellias in his garden.
Barber died in 1992 in Tallahassee.