- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008

It’s no balls, two strikes, three on. It’s a high fly ball going to medium center field. Harry Craft comes under it, sets and takes it, and it’s a double no-hitter for Vander Meer.”

This description of Johnny Vander Meer’s singular feat for the Reds in June 1938 doesn’t come close to matching Red Barber’s two famous airwave moments in the 1947 World Series:

When Cookie Lavagetto ended Floyd Bevens’ bid for a no-no after 8 2/3 innings: “There’s a drive hit out toward the right-field corner! Henrich is going back! He can’t get it! He-ah comes the tying run, and he-ah comes the winning run!”

And when Dodgers left fielder Al Gionfriddo robbed Joe DiMaggio: “Back goes Gionfriddo! Back, back, back, back, back, back! He makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen! O-ho doctor!”

But the not-so-Old Redhead had a good excuse. He didn’t work Vander Meer’s second consecutive gem in 1938 because the game was played at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and the three New York teams had a five-year agreement not to allow any broadcasts in their parks.

Red’s re-creation came in 1979, long after his retirement, the New York Times recalled this week, when he attended a meeting of the Florida Association of Broadcasters in Orlando, Fla. After accepting an award, Barber promised to give his audience “something no one else has” and launched into an extemporaneous description of the ninth inning of Vander Meer’s gem against the Dodgers.

From memory.

Forty-one years later.

Somewhat ironically, Barber wasn’t yet the Dodgers’ “voice” in 1938; instead he was in his fifth season of doing the Reds’ games for presumably appreciative Ohioans. The following year, Dodgers owner Larry MacPhail scrapped the broadcasting ban and brought Red to Gotham, where he achieved fame as the longtime voice of first the Bums and then the Yankees.

But Barber was sitting at home, presumably puffing his on his pipe or reading a newspaper, when Vander Meer achieved what probably is baseball’s most unmatchable achievement. Perhaps he felt his “play-by-play” performance in 1979 was simply a case of making up for lost time.

It’s interesting to note that Vander Meer was supposed to be merely a sideshow in the notable happenings of June 15, 1938. MacPhail, the grandfather of Orioles president Andy MacPhail, had introduced night baseball to the majors three years earlier in Cincinnati. Now he was doing the same in Flatbush, and an overflow crowd of 38,748 was on hand. Vander Meer’s no-hitter was what theaters of that era called an extra added attraction.

So was Barber’s belated “broadcast.”

“He was a showman - when he was young he wanted to be in vaudeville,” Sirius XM radio host Bob Edwards told the New York Times. Edwards became friends with Barber during the 12 years they spent doing “Mornings With Red” together every Friday on NPR.

In re-creating that ninth inning, Barber was reviving a technique mastered by virtually all play-by-play men in the distant days when few broadcasters traveled to road games. Instead they sat in a studio and described the action from terse messages sent by Western Union operators at the parks. Handed a scrap of paper on which a station employee might have typed, say, “B1HO” - ball one, high and outside - the announcer could let his skill and imagination run wild.

This ancient method could be surprisingly effective, especially if phony crowd noises and cracks of the bat were added in the background. The District had three expert practitioners in the 1940s and early 1950s: Arch McDonald and Bob Wolff doing the Senators over WWDC-AM and Nat Allbright working the Dodgers on several Northern Virginia stations.

Yet Barber, who paired with Mel Allen to receive the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award in 1978, wins the re-creation prize. Spinning a dandy account more than three decades later of a game he didn’t see? O-ho doctor!

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