Thursday, August 26, 2010

August 26, 1939: The start of something good

BROOKLYN - Red Barber became known as one of the legendary voices of summer, the long-time radio announcers who became synonymous with their teams. In 27 years covering baseball in New York City, first with the Dodgers and then with the Yankees, he became as famous as the teams themselves, his voice as much a part of the World Series each fall as the Yankees were. Over his long career, it started to seem like he had been made to call baseball, that he was calling baseball from the very beginning.

That's not too far from the truth.

The first Major League game Barber ever attended was on opening day in 1934 in Crosley Field in Cincinnati. The Reds were playing the Cubs, and Barber, sitting in the stands behind home plate, was the new play-by-play voice of the Reds. He stayed there through the 1938 season, when he moved to Brooklyn.

On August 26, 1939, a few months after televising the first college baseball game, experimental New York NBC station W2XBS broadcast a doubleheader between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds. Behind the mic that day was Barber, in his first year as the Dodgers radio announcer. He called the landmark doubleheader without the benefit of a monitor. There were only two cameras capturing the action, and Barber had to describe the action shown based on which camera's light was on and which direction it was pointed. It was purely guesswork.

The broadcast was a success. Though baseball owners were very reluctant to let televised baseball grow too much for fear that it would dissuade fans from buying tickets to the game, they soon realized there was no better way to spread interest in their team than through telelvision.

It took eight year, however, for the World Series to be televised, as the first championship series to hit the airwaves was the 1947 matchup between the Yankees and the Dodgers. Fittingly, Barber was behind the mic for that series, just as he would be for most of the series through the 40s and 50s.

Not from the 1939 game, but these are two of Barber's most famous calls. First, Cookie Lavagetto's hit with two outs in the bottom of the 9th is the Dodgers' only hit of game 4 - but it won the game:

Second, Al Gionfriddo makes a sensational running catch of a Joe DiMaggio line drive in game 6:

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