A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from August 29, 2019
Catbird Seat or Cat Bird Seat (a superior or advantageous position)

To be sitting in a ”catbird seat” (or “cat bird seat") is to be in a superior or advantageous position to spot prey and then devour them. “Sitting in the cat-bird seat” was printed in the St. Louis (MO) Star on March 22, 1921. The earliest citations appear to be from Kansas and Missouri.

Explanations were given in the Columbus (GA) Enquirer-Sun on March 11, 1927. The “catbird seat” was an advantageous position in a boat, or in a poker game, or possessing money rather than trying to get it back.

Brooklyn Dodgers baseball announcer Red Barber (1908-1992) popularized the term in New York City in 1940. Barber co-authored a book with Robert W. Creamer, Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat (1968).


Wikipedia: Catbird seat
“The catbird seat” is an American English idiomatic phrase used to describe an enviable position, often in terms of having the upper hand or greater advantage in any type of dealing among parties. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded usage occurred in a 1942 humorous short story by James Thurber titled “The Catbird Seat,” which features a character, Mrs. Barrows, who likes to use the phrase. Another character, Joey Hart, explains that Mrs. Barrows must have picked up the expression from Red Barber, the baseball broadcaster, and that to Barber “sitting in the catbird seat” meant “‘sitting pretty,’ like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.”

The phrase “In the catbird seat” was among the numerous folksy expressions used by Barber. According to Barber’s daughter, after her father read Thurber’s story, he began using the phrase “in the catbird seat.” This seems to reverse events, however, as the passage of story quoted above clearly references Barber. According to “Colonel” Bob Edwards’s book Fridays with Red, Barber claimed that Thurber got this and many other expressions from him, and that Barber had first heard the term used during a poker game in Cincinnati during the Great Depression. Barber also put forth this version of events in his 1968 autobiography, Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat.

Wikipedia: Red Barber
Walter Lanier “Red” Barber (February 17, 1908 – October 22, 1992) was an American sportscaster.

Barber, nicknamed “The Ol’ Redhead”, was primarily identified with radio broadcasts of Major League Baseball, calling play-by-play across four decades with the Cincinnati Reds (1934–38), Brooklyn Dodgers (1939–1953), and New York Yankees (1954–1966). Like his fellow sports pioneer Mel Allen, Barber also gained a niche calling college and professional football in his primary market of New York City.
(...)
Brooklyn Dodgers
Barber had been hired by Larry MacPhail, then president of the Reds. When MacPhail moved on to be president of the Dodgers for the 1939 season, he took the play-by-play man along. In Brooklyn, Barber became an institution, widely admired for his folksy style. He was also appreciated by people concerned about Brooklyn’s reputation as a land of “dees” and “dems”.

Barber became famous for his signature catchphrases, including these:
(...)
“Sittin’ in the catbird seat” – used when a player or team was performing exceptionally well.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
the catbird seat: a superior or advantageous position. U.S. slang.
1942 J. Thurber in 55 Short Stories from New Yorker (1949) 61 ‘Sitting in the catbird seat’ meant sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.
1958 P. G. Wodehouse Cocktail Time xiii. 114 ‘I get you. If we swing it, we’ll be sitting pretty,’ ‘In the catbird seat.’

22 March 1921, St. Louis (MO) Star, “Hyde Replies to Byrnes as G.O.P. Campaign Opens,” pg. 2, col. 2:
Col. Burkham introduced Comptroller Nolte as “the luckiest man in St. Louis, a fellow who while all the other candidates were scrapping in the primary was sitting in the cat-bird seat waiting for the returns to come in.”

29 March 1923, Fort Scott (KS) Weekly Tribune-Monitor, pg. 2, col. 3:
Possession being nine points of law, John H. Crawford, whom Governor Davis has undertaken to supercede, is sitting in the catbird’s seat.

31 March 1927, Columbus (GA) Enquirer-Sun, “Good Morning” by W. C. Woodall, pg. 4, col. 7:
FROM TIME TO TIME we hear the quaint expression, “He has a catbird seat.” Just what is a catbird seat, anyhow?

We asked Hon. C Graham Johnson, one of the wisest looking of our druggists.

‘That’s easy,” he said. “A catbird seat is that occupied by the man in the front of the boat, who has the first chance to make a cast.”

We wondered if that was final and so asked Rev. Dr. L. A. Henderson, who is well posted in a general way on carnal as well as church subjects—that is—er—is a widely informed gentleman.

“As I have always understood it,” he said, “a catbird seat is that occupied by the gentleman who has a strategical position in a poker game.”

Major acknowledges that both of these definitions have merit but says the most striking illustration of the idea, to his mind, is that supplied by the man who has already got the money from the bank, and the bank can either renew the note or go outside and cool its heels.

6 March 1928, St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, “Illegal Gasoline Tax,” pg. 16, col. 2:
The State government passed an unconstitutional law, collected the illegal tax and holds the money. The State is in the catbird’s seat. It has collected the money illegally, but cannot legally pay it back, and holds the spoils.

4 July 1928, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 22, col. 5:
THE CATBIRD’S SEAT.
“Politically speaking, Mr. Henry J. Allen would seem to be sitting in the catbird’s seat.”—Fort Scott Tribune.
“Now will some kind brother arise from the audience and explain just what the catbird’s seat is?”— El Dorado Times.
“It’s what the catbird sits on, on the limb that has been sawed off.”—Chanute Tribune.

Not on your life, rejoins the Fort Scott Tribune. Go out and watch a catbird and see what he sits on. Also, next to the mocking bird, he’s an eloquent publicist.

5 June 1932, Birmingham (AL) News, “Dusting ‘Em Off” by Zipp Newman, sec. 2, pg. 1, col. 1:
Bill Terry, the stubborn holdout, is now sitting in the catbird’s seat.

14 May 1940, Brooklyn (NY) Eagle, “Jo Ranson’s Radio Dial Log: ‘Red’ Barber’s Lingo Gets an Analysis,” pg. 10, col. 6:
“In the catbird seat”: Southern expression for sitting pretty. Catbird is a predatory species usually perched in an advantageous position for hunting field mice, frogs, insects, etc.

10 August 1940, Daily News (New York, NY), “Listening In” by Sid Shalit, pg. 23, col. 6:
Doing a satisfactory reportorial job on the unpredictable Brooklyn Dodgers is a man-sized job. WOR’s Red Barber himself, has become as colorful as the team he covers, particularly his unique vocabulary. Sample Barberisms: “The boys are tearing up the pea patch,” meaning the club is red hot; “In the catbird seat,” meaning the Durochermen are out in front, sitting pretty; and the soul-stirring rallying cry along the Gowanus—“F. O. B.,” meaniung the bases are loaded with run-hungry Dodgers.

OCLC WorldCat record
Rhubarb in the catbird seat
Author: Red Barber; Robert W Creamer
Publisher: Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1968.
Edition/Format: Print book : Biography : English

OCLC WorldCat record
View from the Cat Bird Seat.
Author: John Keith Peters
Publisher: [Place of publication not identified] : Charter Publishers, 1976.
Edition/Format: Print book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
P.I. from the cat bird seat : a highly personalized retrospective
Author: Sidney Malitz
Publisher: [No place, no publisher ] 1987.
Edition/Format: eBook : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Red Barber : from the catbird seat
Author: Gregory L Rhodes; Marty Brennaman
Publisher: [Cincinnati, OH?] : VXYOU Network, ©1993.
Edition/Format: Audiobook on CD : CD audio : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Seventeen days in the cat bird seat
Author: Meggin Crom
Publisher: 2001.
Dissertation: M.A. Portland State University 2001
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Fiction : Manuscript Archival Material : English

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CitySports/Games • Thursday, August 29, 2019 • Permalink