When I was growing up, Chris Berman was a staple of All-Star Weekend and, more specifically, the Home Run Derby. As a kid, I hung onto every single “back” that came out of Berman’s mouth, as though each one was somehow a measurement of just how far that ball was travelling into the night sky.
For thirty years, Berman covered the Home Run Derby. That’s a lot of “back, back, back, backs.” And while at times it seemed over-the-top and foolish, it was iconic. Chris Berman’s home run calls were singularly his…or were they?
Berman’s Derby catchphrase is actually an homage to the legendary Red Barber, who was the voice of the Reds (1934-39), Dodgers (1939-53), and Yankees (1954-1966).
Barber’s call came in Game 6 of the 1947 World Series, between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. With the Dodgers up 8-5 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Joe DiMaggio stepped into the box with two runners on, looking to tie the ballgame.
Joltin’ Joe took a Joe Hitten fastball deep to left-center, and it took every ounce of speed Dodgers outfielder Al Gionfriddo could muster to track it down. Red Barber’s call is as follows:
“Here’s the pitch, swung on, belted…it’s a long one…back goes Gionfriddo, back, back, back, back, back, back…heeee makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen! Oh, Doctor!”
Was Berman aware of Barber’s call? Or was he unwittingly stealing the famous broadcaster’s lines?
In an interview with the Orlando Sun-Sentinel from 1987, a year after his first Home Run Derby broadcast, Berman sheds light on his inspiration.
“Berman, 32, picked up the phrase listening to the album, Greatest Moments in Baseball History.
‘Red Barber, 1947,’ Berman says. ‘If you listen closely, you can hear Barber go ‘back-back-back’ when Al Gionfriddo made the catch on Joe DiMaggio. Everyone usually uses Mel Allen’s ‘going, going, gone,’ but I wanted something a little different.”Orlando Sun-Sentinel, 1987
Berman immediately noticed the call’s popularity, noting that several MLB players were using it on a daily basis.
“I was in the Reds locker room recently talking to Eric Davis and in the back of the locker room I heard a few of the players start going ‘back-back- back’,” Berman said. “And at the All-Star Game in Houston last year, I had George Brett and Wade Boggs on the air and all of a sudden they start going ‘back-back-back.’ I think the players enjoy it.”
You learn something new everyday. It keeps you young.
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