His voice was instantly recognizable. Red Barber's languid drawl was so familiar to baseball fans of the '30s through the '60s that it seemed like he'd single-handedly invented the art of play-by-play announcing. The truth is, he pretty much did: the old redhead sitting up in what he called his catbird seat, telling stories as integral to the game as the sound of horsehide on leather. His autobiography is, in a sense, the story of American sportscasting, but it is also much more than that; it is also a story of triumph over prejudice, and integrity over comfort. A son of the Old South, Barber grew up in a racist world, and took that world with him when he moved north to Brooklyn, and he experienced first-hand its head-on collision with what would be the new world of integrated baseball. Barber was the Dodgers broadcaster when Branch Rickey decided he would smash the color line; Barber was one of the first he informed of his plans.
"I believe," Barber recalls in the most moving section of a wonderful memoir, "that he told me about it so far in advance so that I could have time to wrestle with the problem, live with it, solve it ... I set out to do a deep self-examination. I attempted to find out who I was." This is remarkable candor in a sporting memoir, more remarkable for the way Barber brings us in to his own confrontation with himself, and his conclusion that Jackie Robinson ultimately did far more for him than he, as the voice that introduced Robinson to baseball fans, ever did for Robinson.
Barber is helped throughout by his magnificent ability to tell stories, remember details, and turn past into present. Just as he painted full, rich, compelling pictures with his words over the airwaves, so he does on the page, bringing another series of steps in the long march of baseball to life. Barber witnessed plenty of rhubarbs from his perch in the catbird seat; fans of baseball--and autobiography--will revel in the insights Barber brings to sorting them out. --Jeff Silverman