For non-Miami Marlins fans, Tommy Hutton sounded too much like a homer. For the Marlins’ thin skinned administration, Hutton wasn’t homer enough. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
But if it makes Hutton feel any better, now that he’s been pinked by the Marlins, even Hall of Fame broadcasters have been fired for calling or reporting games and their atmospheres honestly. Hutton has only to look at Tim McCarver and, well before him, Red Barber. He’s joining some pretty elite company.
McCarver made his real broadcast bones with the New York Mets in the 1980s and 1990s. When the Mets let him go in February 1999, in favour of franchise icon Tom Seaver, the skinny had it that then-Mets manager Bobby Valentine and even the front office bristled when McCarver criticised poor play or dubious managerial tactics. Both, of course, denied it.
That was only something McCarver had done from square one. (It’s also something two other memorable former Mets—Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez—now do in the Mets’ broadcast booth.) And the 1990s Mets for the most part weren’t exactly a team to inspire hosannas and beatitudes, on or off the air.
But there probably wasn’t a soul in New York who believed that neither Valentine nor the Mets’ front office finally wanted McCarver gone. Certainly not about a manager whose reputation for in-game tactical brilliance was matched only by his equivalent reputation for trying to tear down a team’s best-liked-in-the-clubhouse player, usually with dubious reasons.
And when Valentine didn’t shy from saying he was rankled often enough by a McCarver on-air barb, it didn’t take a genius to believe Valentine’s denial of pushing for McCarver’s ouster was just so much smoke.
The fact that McCarver (also a national game commentator for Fox) moved from the Mets to the crosstown Yankees within a thirteen-day span only amplified the morbid fascination for a spell. That was after George Steinbrenner had bristled for a few years over Tony Kubek’s on-air critiques, when Kubek—himself a former Yankee shortstop—went into the Yankee booth in the early 1990s.
Kubek left on his own terms, quitting in 1994. Red Barber in 1966 didn’t have that kind of good fortune. There are those who still think it was further evidence that CBS, which bought the Yankees in a dubious deal in 1964, knew about as much about baseball as The Beverly Hillbillies knew about balls and strikes.
Red Barber had come to the Yankees after Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley refused to back him during a World Series salary dispute with Gillette in 1953, leaving the anchorage of the Dodgers’ broadcast booth to Vin Scully, who hasn’t surrendered it. Yet.
Barber’s Yankee tenure wasn’t without its own problems, usually with then-lead sponsor Ballantine Beer, who once tried to cut Barber’s salary in order to bring Jerry Coleman aboard as a fourth broadcast booth presence. He also survived his none-too-silent criticisms—to the faces of the Yankee brass, around the time of the sale to CBS—when then-general manager Ralph Houk, likely at Ballantine’s behest, decided to dump longtime Yankee voice Mel Allen.
And not long after he confronted Joe Garagiola about Garagiola’s then habit of starting to talk before the current talker had finished, Barber was confronted by then team chief Perry Smith about—wait for it!—”talking too much.” Smith called Barber on it in front of a press room gathering. When Barber complained to then general manager Ralph Houk, Houk dismissed him with what Barber remembered as “a vocabulary mules can’t stomach.”
By 1966, there came to be periodic rumours in the papers that the Yankees were going to trim their broadcast team and that Barber would be one of the men to be trimmed. And CBS had completed its administrative takeover of the Yankees, moving longtime and now former co-owner Dan Topping out and its own Mike Burke in as president of the club.
The Yankees had hit hard times as it was after the 1964 World Series loss. Their parched farm system, their inconsistent young players, and their aging and battered stars made for a sixth-place 1965 and would send them right down to the basement in 1966. That plunge would finally mean the end of Barber—who’d spent nine years between the 1940s and 1950s as CBS Radio’s director of sports—behind the Yankee mikes.
Come 22 September 1966, Barber was behind the television mike when Yankee Stadium boasted a paid attendance of 413 people. Barber asked the camera people to pan the near-empty park; the camera people didn’t do it, on apparent orders from above. Unaware of those orders, Barber simply spoke on, saying, “I don’t know what the paid attendance is today, but whatever it is, it is the smallest crowd in the history of Yankee Stadium, and this crowd is the story, not the game.”
Barber would learn the hard way that Burke happened to be one of the 413, attending his first live game since becoming CBS’s Yankee overseer. He’d previously invited Burke to join him for breakfast in his hotel suite to discuss coming plans. But after that game, Smith called Barber to tell him the site of the meeting would change to the Plaza Hotel.
Barber and Burke met. Burke told Barber he was through at the end of the year. The CBS man claimed that decision had been made earlier in the year, purportedly over Barber’s “disinterest” and “bitterness” coming out in some of his game broadcasts. Barber wasn’t buying it for one moment.
“These past two years,” Barber remembered replying, in his memoir Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat, “broadcasting for a ball club that was crumbling on the field and off, I regard as the best two years of work I ever did. I tried to help this ball club and its broadcasts. I went out of my way, every way I knew, to try and help. I have never been more interested in broadcasting in my life.”
The Ol’ Redhead also made sure the Yankees couldn’t do to him what they’d done to Allen, waiting until the 1964 Series began to announce Allen’s departure. Barber simply caught hold of a friend of his in the press, television columnist Jack O’Brian of the World Journal Tribune*, and it was headlines that afternoon.
Perhaps typical of the Yankee fortunes during their ownership by CBS, Barber had planned to finish the season by calling the closing three-game set with the Senators in Washington. All three games were rained out. Greeting Barber in Washington, though, was a telegram: You are a real man. May the wind be always at your back. God bless.
The telegram came from Mike Burke. Neither Barber nor his wife, Lylah, were amused.
* If you don’t remember the World Journal Tribune, it was the short lived merger between three New York newspapers—the World Telegram and Sun, the Journal-American, and the Herald-Tribune—which began slightly before Red Barber unwittingly wired himself into the Yankee electric chair. The three papers which merged into the new one had been crippled by a pair of devastating labour strikes in 1963 and 1965, and the merger was initiated by the World Telegram and Sun in a bid to keep all three alive somehow.
The merger itself was supposed to occur in April 1966 but yet another strike delayed it until September’s beginning—with prospective layoffs as part of the deal to make the merger work, the papers’ unions demanded concessions of their own. The World Journal Tribune survived only eight months; it couldn’t even afford to build its own Washington bureau or hire a team of foreign correspondents, relying instead on the news service operated jointly by the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
Only two publications survived from the merger-turned-collapse. The Herald-Tribune’s European edition, the International Herald-Tribune, was bought jointly by the Post and the New York Times and published that way until 2003, when the Times bought the Post out of the project. In 2013, the Times changed the publication’s name to the International New York Times.
The second survivor was the Herald-Tribune’s Sunday magazine, New York, already legendary for such “New Journalism” stars as Jimmy Breslin and Tom Wolfe. When the World Journal Tribune collapsed, New York editor Clay Felker and his publishing partner Milton Glaser rounded up a group of investors with whom he bought the supplement and made it into a weekly journal in its own right by 1968.