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"Red, good morning."
"It is a good morning down here in Tallahassee, Bob. About 73 degrees, and we've been having thundershowers this last week, so everything is green."
"Let's go to the Pete Rose story. He has knee surgery today, and should recover in time to serve a five-month sentence for tax evasion...."
'Yes, I do not think there is any question that he will be recovered by then. Of course this is the big story, it was even on the front page of the Tallahassee Democrat"
"But it's a sad story, wouldn't you agree?"
"It's a tragic story. A man so talented physically and so emotionally dedicated to baseball. He played every play just as hard as he could. But you have to go all the way back to the 1919 World Series as far as baseball's position is concerned. That's when baseball realized that its biggest danger was gambling. And Judge Landis became the first commissioner and immediately sentenced for life the White Sox players involved."
And so began a typical Friday morning conversation on National Public Radio's ( NPR) Morning Edition between host Bob Edwards and Baseball Hall of Fame announcer Red Barber. Though their conversation is usually about sports, don't expect to hear strings of scores being spewed out as if they were commodities prices. Instead, Edwards and Barber shoot the bull, like old friends at the corner store jawing over a game of checkers. They don't always agree, and on occasion, they may not get the facts exactly right, but listeners love them all the same. In fact, Edwards and Barber's weekly four-minute segment on sports, now in its 10th year, is carried on more than 385 stations in the United States and is occasionally heard overseas on the Voice of America.
How did an 82-year-old baseball legend find fame and a whole new generation of listeners on the country's most erudite radio network?
Well, that's a good story. Let me tell you about it, as Barber would say. We go back to Dec. 14, 1980. Elston Howard, the first black to play for the New York Yankees, had died that day and NPR was looking for someone to comment on his passing. Ketzel Levine, then a sports producer at NPR, remembered how her father used to listen to Barber's broadcasts of the Brooklyn Dodgers' games. She also recalled that Barber was the Dodger announcer in 1947 when Jackie Robinson joined the team and broke major league baseball's color barrier.
Levine tracked down Barber, who had retired to Tallahassee, and asked him if he would be interested in taping a brief tribute to Howard. Says Barber in his oft-imitated drawl, "I told them if the equipment was ready, I could do it right then." Which he did, in one take.