In the 1940s Red Barber was solidly entrenched as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ lead broadcaster. But he was not the team’s lone play-by-play man. The “Old Redhead” was ably assisted by Connie Desmond, whose delivery befitted the era in that it was unhurried, calming, and wholly agreeable.
Decades after Desmond last described a game in Brooklyn, those in the know acknowledged his flair for painting verbal portraits of ballgames. Jack Craig, writing in the Boston Globe, referred to Desmond as “late and legendary.”1 The New York Times’s George Vecsey called him “vastly underrated.”2 Fellow Times sportswriter Gerald Eskenazi wrote, “He had a classic radio voice, with no regional accent, and a smooth if nondramatic delivery.”3 Barber himself noted, “He had a warm personality, a warm, pleasant voice. He knew his business impeccably.”4
Given his abilities, Desmond might have emerged as a broadcaster of the stature of a Barber, a Mel Allen, or a Vin Scully. What held him back was an inability to control his intake of alcohol.
Cornelius “Connie” Desmond Jr. was born in Toledo, Ohio, on January 31, 1908, the youngest of four children born to Cornelius and Ruth Desmond. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1931 and began his career the following January in his hometown, where his pleasant voice won him a spot crooning and introducing dance bands on WSPD radio. But Connie yearned to broadcast baseball and emulate his idol, the velvety-voiced Ty Tyson, the announcer of University of Michigan football games and Detroit Tigers baseball games.
He got his opportunity a couple of years later when General Mills began sponsoring baseball broadcasts, including approximately twenty-five Toledo Mud Hens games. A play-by-play man was needed, and Desmond won the job. He labored to perfect his low-key style, and in 1940 General Mills promoted him to the Columbus (Ohio) Red Birds, the St. Louis Cardinals’ top farm club. For the following two seasons, he called Red Birds games on WCOL radio.
In 1942, while in spring training with Columbus, Desmond was offered what a young play-byplay man then would have considered an ideal job: coming to New York and working with Mel Allen as a New York Yankees and New York Giants home-game broadcaster. Desmond readily accepted, but his tenure with Allen was brief. After the season, he was hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a replacement for Al Heifer, who had joined the navy. The April 15, 1943, Sporting News announced that Desmond “has been selected by the J. Walter Thompson Agency as Red Barber’s new assistant in the Old Gold broadcasts of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ games.”5
The key word here is “assistant.” With Barber established as the Dodgers’ celebrity broadcaster, chances for career enhancement within the Brooklyn organization were limited. Desmond instead remained the supporting player, a mop-up man rather than a full-fledged broadcast partner. His duties included preparing and updating the statistics that would be at Barber’s fingertips as he called the game, broadcasting the fifth inning, reporting the out-of-town scores, and reading most of the commercials.
At this time, recalled soon-to-be Dodgers play
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Publication information: Book title: The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. Contributors: Lyle Spatz - Editor, Maurice Bouchard - Editor, Leonard Levin - Editor. Publisher: University of Nebraska Press. Place of publication: Lincoln, NE. Publication year: 2012. Page number: 294.
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