TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Walter Lanier "Red" Barber, the "Old Redhead" whose folksy, insightful calls of Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees games earned him a spot in Baseball's Hall of Fame, died today. He was 84.
Barber, who began his career in the 1930s when the national pastime was only on radio, spanned seven decades on the airwaves. His warm, Southern drawl became a familiar and comforting sound for millions of listeners and television viewers.
In typical Barber-ese, a team was in control when it was "in the catbird seat," and a rallying team was "tearin' up the peapatch." An argument was a "rhubarb," and sometimes a home run was accompanied by "Oh, doctor!"
Barber worked at a time when there were few ex-athletes in the booth who could offer insights on what it was like to be on the field. But the Old Redhead spent hours before a game - on planes, trains and in hotel lobbies - absorbing baseball until he could think like a manager.
Barber, who built a loyal audience the last several years with a Friday morning talk show on National Public Radio, died from pneumonia and kidney complications, according to Warren Jones, spokesman for Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
Barber was admitted to the hospital Oct. 10 for emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage. He remained in critical condition until his death.
When Barber began his broadcasting career, the man in the booth had to provide the picture for the fans at home. When TV came along, he learned to shut up and let the picture tell the story, but radio remained his favorite medium.
"Radio is a pleasure to work in," Barber said. "Television is like day labor."
Barber, an announcer for the Cincinnati Reds from 1934-38, always was a stickler for detail. He was fired in 1966 for telling it the way it was - that there were exactly 413 people in attendance at Yankee Stadium for a late-season game.
After Barber stopped broadcasting baseball games, he remained active, writing books, articles and a monthly column for the Christian Science Monitor and doing a weekly show on NPR.