Red Barber

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Red Barber

The Life and Legacy of a Broadcasting Legend

Judith R. Hiltner and James R. Walker

544 pages
26 photographs, 2 illustrations, index

Hardcover

April 2022

978-1-4962-2285-5

$36.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Born and raised in rural Mississippi and the even balmier climes of central Florida, Red Barber, at the age of thirty-two, became one of New York City’s most influential citizens as the play-by-play announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. When he arrived in 1939, Barber brought the down-home drawl and idioms of his southern roots to the borough, where residents said they could walk down any street and never miss a pitch because his voice wafted out of every window and every passing car. From his colorful expressions like “rhubarb” and “sitting in the catbird seat” to his vivid use of similes—a close game was “tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day”—Barber’s influence on his contemporaries and the many generations of broadcasters who followed him cannot be overstated. But behind all the base hits, balls, and strikes lies a compelling story that dramatizes the shifting expectations and roles of a public figure—the sports broadcaster—as he adapted to complex cultural changes throughout the course of twentieth-century American life.

Red Barber follows the trajectory of Barber's long career from radio and television play-by-play man for the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Yankees to his work calling college and professional football games, his nine-year tenure as director of sports for CBS Radio, and his second acts as an Episcopal lay reader, sportswriter, and weekly guest with Bob Edwards on NPR’s Morning Edition. This talented public figure was also a private man committed to rigorous self-examination and willing to evolve and grow under the influence of changing times. When the Dodgers first signed Jackie Robinson and smashed the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Barber struggled to overcome the racism he had absorbed from his culture as a child. But after observing the vicious abuse Robinson endured from opposing fans, Barber became an ardent supporter of him and the many Black players who followed. Barber was also bothered deeply by the strains that his single-minded careerism imposed on his family. He was challenged to navigate longtime family tensions after his only child, Sarah, came out as a lesbian. And his primary role during the later years of his life was caretaking for his wife, Lylah, during her decline from Alzheimer’s disease, at a time when the ailment was something many families concealed.

Ultimately Red Barber traces the career of a true radio and television pioneer who was committed to the civic responsibility of mass media. Barber firmly believed the most important role of a broadcaster was telling the truth and promoting public well-being.
 

Author Bio

Judith R. Hiltner is professor emeritus of literature and languages at Saint Xavier University and the author of books and articles on American literature and culture, including critical and biographical studies of Herman Melville, Philip Freneau, and Deborah Sampson. James R. Walker is professor emeritus of communication at Saint Xavier University and a past executive director of the International Association of Communication and Sport. He is the author of several books, including Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio (Nebraska, 2015), and is the coauthor of Center Field Shot: A History of Baseball on Television (Nebraska, 2008).

Praise

“Red Barber is one of the greatest and most influential baseball broadcasters ever to occupy the ‘catbird seat,’ as the ‘Ol’ Redhead’ called it. From Jackie Robinson’s debut to Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ’Round the World. From Brooklyn’s beloved ‘Bums’ to the Mantle/Maris Yankees, to mentoring a young Vin Scully, Barber’s life and career are an important part of baseball history and the history of the craft he mastered. This complete and carefully researched biography is both merited and most welcome.”—Bob Costas, twenty-nine-time Emmy Award–winning broadcaster and 2018 Ford C. Frick Award honoree
 

“Red Barber was the lilting voice of the Reds, the Dodgers, the Yankees, and National Public Radio. But more than that, he was the conscience of baseball, a man who believed in the power of broadcast for the good of the game and its listeners. Red was perched in the catbird seat while big-league baseball grew in ways he could barely have imagined; he grew with it, as an announcer and as an American. With Red Barber: The Life and Legacy of a Broadcasting Legend, the authors have given this complicated, important figure the biography he deserves.”—John Thorn, official historian, Major League Baseball
 

“At last a full biography of a legendary sports broadcasting pioneer. Red Barber balanced responsible reporting with charming entertainment. Judith Hiltner and James Walker explain how the Old Redhead retained his personal integrity in a field where baseball, broadcasting, and sponsors want total control.”—Bob Edwards, author of Fridays with Red: A Radio Friendship
 

“Red Barber’s voice was my lullaby. He sang me to sleep from the catbird seat, his honeyed literacy suffusing my dreams and forming the bedrock of my writing life in baseball. When I stupidly sent him my raunchy, fictional love letter to the game, hoping he would embrace it, it showed just how little I knew about this complex and courtly gentleman, the seminal voice of baseball broadcasting. Now, thanks to Judith Hiltner and James Walker, Walter Lanier ‘Red’ Barber has belatedly received the serious and definitive biography he deserves.”—Jane Leavy author of The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created
 

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Three Scenes
Prologue: Walter Lanier “Red” Barber
Part 1. Foundations in the Old South: “I Was Carefully Taught”
1. Cultured Roots
2. Celery Capital of the World
3. Bumming Corner
4. “Certain Aspects of Bovine Obstetrics”
Part 2. Cincinnati: Big Break
5. Pay Cut
6. Rising Expectations
Part 3. Brooklyn: The Barber of Flatbush
7. Making of a Legend
8. “Blood” on the Radio
9. On the Home Front
10. “Oh, Doctor!”
11. Losing Control, Gaining a Purpose
Part 4. Yankee Years: Never at Home
12. Stadium Work
13. Breakfast in Manhattan
Part 5. Return to Florida: A Writerly Broadcaster
14. A Developing Writer, A Darker Vision
15. Hall of Fame Broadcaster
Part 6. Red’s Renaissance: “Red Barber Moved People”
16. National Public Radio
17. A Closed Family
18. Legacies
Epilogue: Walter Lanier “Red” Barber, Revisited
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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