Curt Gowdy, Red Barber, Bob Edwards, and Me

February 21st, 2006
 

Yesterday we learned that Curt Gowdy had passed away. I don’t know anything about Mr. Gowdy, but in reading his obituary, I learned that he modeled himself after Radio Hall of Fame announcer Red Barber. The mention of Red bought back a flood of memories. I never heard Red Barber call a game, but I heard him talk many, many times on NPR’s Morning Edition with NPR newsman Bob Edwards.

Red and Bob talked on Fridays, Bob fron NPR’s studio in Washington DC, and Red by phone from his home in Tallahassee. As I remember it, these conversations occured only during baseball season, from spring training through the world series. My memory about that may well be wrong, though, but I’m pretty sure I remember Bob Edwards one year saying something like “Spring training started this week, and you know what that means: it’s time to resume our Friday conversations with Red Barber.”

These conversations weren’t interviews; they were more like old friends just chatting for three or four minutes. I don’t know how the two men came to know each other, but to hear them speak was to know that their friendship was easy-going, affectionate, and genuine. Red always referred to Bob as “Colonel”, because Bob Edwards held the honorary rank of Kentucky Colonel, and Bob always spoke to Red Barber with great respect.

Red’s voice always sounder older than dirt, and he obviously had a world of experience beyond baseball. He often led off the conversation by describing the Tallahassee weather. In the spring months, Red was likely to talk about how his camelias or azaleas were coming into bloom. He not only knew the game of baseball, but also about American culture, and baseball’s role in our culture. One time he even read from the 90th Psalm.

When I read Barber’s name in the Gowdy obituary, it was the first time I had thought of him in many years. The very first thing that came to mind was how much I enjoyed hearing him talk with Bob Edwards. I looked up Red Barber’s biography at Wikipedia and was astonished to discover that over thirteen years have passed since his death. It doesn’t seem like it has been that long. And it seems funny that one could develop a respect for a man just by listening to him talk for a few minutes a week, but I came to like and respect Red Barber, and after thirteen years, I still miss hearing him talk about baseball… and his garden.

If you have Real Player, you can hear a few of Bob’s conversations with Red that are archived on the Bob Edwards page at npr.org.




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