I never heard Walter “Red” Barber announce a Dodger game. I was born in 1954, the same year Barber left the Brooklyn booth to join Mell Allen in the Bronx. By the time I was old enough to remember him announcing Yankee games, his voice and style really didn’t make much of an impression on me. Allen was my guy and I can still remember details about the way he called games and talked about different Yankee players.
Then I read Roger Kahn’s classic Boys of Summer and fell in love with the old Brooklyn Dodgers, so in love that I continue to strive to improve my knowledge of D’em Bums still today. In doing so, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to tapes and watch old television broadcasts featuring Barber during his days describing the action at Ebbetts Field. This younger Barber was much better than the older Yankee version I remember listening to on my big brother’s GE transistor radio as a boy. He did those Dodger games with more emotion and made much more liberal and entertaining use of the glorious homespun lexicon of his native Mississippi. From “can of corn” to “walkin in the tall cotton,” the Ol’ Redhead invented a whole new way of describing the action taking place on a Major League baseball field that endeared him to hundreds of thousands of Dodger fans and got him into the Hall of Fame.
Barber’s most famous moment in the Yankee booth took place sadly the day that cost him his job. On September 22, 1966, the Yankees were ending a season that would see them finish in last place and playing in front of a paid home crowd of just 413 people. Barber rightly attempted to focus his television audience’s attention on the fact that the once mighty Bronx Bombers had fallen on such hard times that nobody was willing to pay to see them play. He instructed his cameramen to focus on the thousands upon thousands of empty seats that existed in the House that Ruth Built that afternoon but was overruled by one of the Yankee suits upstairs. He was fired by new club president Mike Burke just a week later.
Barber died in 1992 at the age of 84. This former Yankee reliever , this one-time replacement for A-Rod as Yankee third baseman and this great former Yankee first baseman were each also born on February 17th.