State of the Hogs: Chuck Barrett

Chuck Barrett painted the picture for all of us when the Razorbacks traveled the SEC baseball circuit. Don't envy the man that follows him in the broadcast booth. It's an impossible task.

There are few things as difficult as stepping in for a legend. Ask Lou Holtz about following Frank Broyles as coach. Or, ask Jeff Long about the pressure of being next after Broyles as athletic director.

It isn't easy to be next after a great one, as Chuck Barrett did after Paul Eells in the football play-by-play booth, or court-side following Mike Nail for basketball. It's hard to be good enough.

Now someone is going to follow Barrett, THE man and THE voice the last 23 years in the baseball booth. I don't envy that person. It's a great job, thanks to what Barrett did to build what is one of the great college baseball radio networks.

Some think his gift was to broadcast the game. No, his gift was to build a network with all of the radio people in our state. Chuck was magnificent with them.

When Barrett started as the first real baseball voice for Arkansas baseball, there were times that hardly a station carried a game. And, the one that did sometimes was so weak that you couldn't hear it few miles from the tower.

But Barrett kept at it, then worked the roads in the off-season to add more stations. He grew it out of the contacts he made from doing statewide talk radio with his syndicated show through the Arkansas Radio Network.

Barrett worked the station owners, general managers at statewide meetings in Little Rock. He begged them to carry Razorback baseball. Many did. And, he gave them a professional broadcast that kept getting better. After all, he was a radio man, like them. He understood their business and showed them how to make money with the broadcasts. And, they did.

I've seen those owners and GMs come to the Baum Stadium press box to find Barrett. They wanted to shake his hand and thank him for making them money. He was their hero, a legend. They know great radio men when they hear them. So do we.

And, as he built the network, Norm DeBriyn and then Dave Van Horn built a program that everyone wanted to follow. It all just kept getting better and better. One helped the other. It's been a great 23-year ride.

I felt for Barrett the last two years, broadcasting a game that wasn't nearly as exciting, what they call the dead ball era. Yes, the games were close. But it isn't as much fun when the bunt replaces the home run. And, that's what Barrett was left to describe. Oh, he described it.

I've never worried for Barrett doing a broadcast, after seeing the way he prepared for a talk radio show, then when his turn came in the football booth after Eells.

Oh, did he prepare. He rode the lift high above the football practice field with the man taping practice. I saw him up there and asked. He was getting a feel for the way Bobby Petrino's offense would look from the booth. I had never seen a radio man do that before or since. You couldn't miss him up there. His bald head was shiny in the sun!

I remember doing radio with Barrett when you could do live reports from football practice. Chuck would be in the studio. He'd get me on the cell phone and quickly urge, "Clay, paint the picture. Tell us what you see."

What Chuck did from Gainesville, Athens, Columbia and Starkville and all of those other stops in the great SEC baseball circuit was paint the picture. He told you the wind direction, the size of the park and all of the other details, including if the umpire had begun to squeeze Nick Schmidt. Was Van Horn on the first step with a hand on the railing? Yup, you knew.

I remember a Sunday afternoon on a walk around the neighborhood talking with four men working the flower beds and the edging. All wore headsets. I got the score eight times on Razorback baseball as I made two loops. And, they began the conversation with, "Chuck says Sawatski is ready in the pen." Or, "Chuck says McCann's line drive was inches foul. He's on this LSU pitcher."

Chuck was painting the picture and we all were there, even if Chuck was in Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa. And, make no mistake about it, if someone said Chuck, you knew they were talking about our friend, the radio play-by-play man.

I sensed Chuck was ready for more than Razorback baseball about three years ago. I urged him to get an agent and send the tapes to a major league front office. They should take him and let him paint the picture in Wrigley, Fenway and all of those storied parks. I don't know if that will happen or he wants it, but he's ready. He's that good.

I talked to him a few days ago about his decision to step down on the baseball broadcasts. It was gut wrenching for him, but personally there has to be weekends for family for a life outside the broadcast booth. It's almost impossible to do football (and all of the coaches shows), basketball (and all of the coaching shows) and then follow that up with the grind of SEC baseball, potentially lasting until late June. The weekend trips start on Thursday and end late Sunday night.

Jeff Long is a smart man to let Chuck stay in those first two jobs, the meat and taters of being the Voice of the Razorbacks. Remember, one man had never done all three before at Arkansas. One man had never done two of the three before Chuck. I'm amazed that Chuck lasted this long in that post.

Oh, is it going to be tough next spring when a new man steps into that booth in Baum Stadium to do an Arkansas baseball game. He's following a legend. He is going to be compared to the greatest baseball play-by-play man in Arkansas history. No one has been close.

I say that in all due respect to the late Jim Elder, a member of the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. Chuck will be there soon, too.

I've got advice for the next man; don't try to be Chuck Barrett. That's an impossible job. Just try to paint the picture as best you can.

And, tell me the score, count and inning often. And, tell me if Van Horn is on the top step. If he's on the umpire, I want to know that,too. I guess I want it all. That's what Chuck Barrett always gave us from Baum Stadium.

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