John C. McGinley embodies Red Barber in '42'
Jackie Robinson isn't the only iconic sports figure seen in "42," the new biopic about his groundbreaking first season in Major League Baseball now in theaters. Actor John C. McGinley ("Scrubs"), a New York native, plays famed Brooklyn Dodgers and later Yankees broadcaster Red Barber.
amNewYork spoke with McGinley about his pitch-perfect impersonation of the Ol' Redhead.
Growing up in New York, obviously after the Dodgers left, were you familiar with Red Barber and the whole Brooklyn world? It was not in my purview. I bled Yankee blue. At the time I was a Yankee fan, which would probably be by '68 or '69, the Brooklyn Dodgers were, what, ten years removed by then. I came to know Red Barber just as a baseball fan over the years, but more as a museum piece and then as a voice on NPR. So going back and excavating through different broadcast archives was really the detective stuff that I think's fun for most actors.
To prepare for the film, how much did you need listen to him? I was issued about six different discs of Red and Mel Allen doing World Series [broadcasts] by the director Brian Helgeland. I was also given the opportunity to cherry-pick through these different broadcasts and bring any Red Barberisms to Brian that he had missed, which is always great when an Academy-Award winning director says you can contribute to the script. So in between cherry-picking these different broadcasts and just obsessing on the very strange cadence and sound that was Red Barber, that took about four or five weeks. By the end of it, I had his sound down between my ears enough to be able to apply it to the words Brian put on the page.
Do you have any particular Red Barber catchphrase favorites? I think the ones that Brian put in the film: "This game's tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day;" "It's like throwin' a lamb chop past a hungry wolf," I don't know how you beat those.
What did you learn about the art of announcing? What I found was fascinating in the two autobiographies that Red wrote, he references the generation that came before him, specifically in New York City. ... In New York City, before Red Barber and the Mel Allens, guys were in the bowels of the Empire State Building reading ticker tapes and creating the games in these studios a la Orson Welles in "War of the Worlds." Why? I don't know why, presumably because of technology, so when you finally let the dogs out and put these broadcasters in booths at the stadium, it must have been nirvana, instead of having Felix over in the corner there do the clap of the ball hitting the bat in the sound studio.
What was Barber's impact when it came to Jackie Robinson? I think in modern terms, for my generation, I'll do an SAT question or an answer to an SAT question: Walter Cronkite was to the Vietnam War as Red Barber was to the Brooklyn faithful's accepting of Jackie Robinson. Obviously, as Cronkite went away from being a believer in the Vietnam War, Red Barber accepted, elevated and integrated Jackie in the way he accepted him, and remember Barber is a product of the segregated South and a proud Southern gentleman, so for him to bring Jackie into the Brooklyn faithful, for him to elevate Jackie and accept him, that exponentially speeded the rate that they accepted him.