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Monday Book Review

March 08, 1993|By John Goodspeed

REX BARNEY'S THANK YOUUUU. By Rex Barney with Norman L. Macht. Tidewater Publishers. 264 pages. Illustrated. $19.95. REX Edward Barney is best known in Maryland as the public-address announcer at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and, before that, at Memorial Stadium. Barney's is the distinctive voice that declares, "Give that fan a contract!" and, at the end of announcements, "Thank youuuu."

His announcements have a polite-macho edge, somewhat detached in the manner of a circus ringmaster. They're delivered, oddly enough, in a native Baltimore accent, though Barney is a native of Omaha, Neb.

We fans know, and this memoir now confirms, that Barney is a homer's homer -- a sincere admirer of everything about the Orioles, even less likely to utter a discouraging word about the home team than those other two unabashed Baltimore sycophants, Vince Bagli and Chuck Thompson.

Barney's book tells us how thrilled he is to be acquainted with Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer and the entire Baltimore sporting scene.

Like many Irish-American jocks of his generation, Barney, now 69, is almost embarrassingly sentimental about baseball. And like many major-league jocks and former jocks -- Barney was a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers -- he's proud of his record and doesn't want us to forget it.

Barney's major-league career ended just before the Orioles took over the old St. Louis Browns franchise in the American League. Barney had pitched in the National League, and his book is more sentimental about teammates of his time -- Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider -- than it is about Orioles of later years.

Barney is still revered in Brooklyn for having thrown a no-hitter against the hated New York Giants in 1948. He was once a celebrity, and enjoyed it, in Toots Shor's saloon in Manhattan, and he has a place in the hearts of New York Yankee-haters because he struck out the sullen slugger Joe DiMaggio in the 1947 World Series.

But Barney was never a great pitcher. He had to be very talented to play in the big leagues -- as he reminds us now and again in the book. But he wasn't as good as, say, Palmer, or as talented as Babe Ruth when the latter pitched for Boston.

Barney threw the ball very hard, over 100 mph, but he tended to be wild. He frightened a lot of batters, who didn't wear protective helmets in his era. But he walked too many men and often couldn't throw a strike to save his soul. He's credited with 35 wins and 31 losses over six seasons, but his control deteriorated, and he was through as a big-time athlete by the early '50s.

Fortunately, radio and television began to employ former jocks as broadcasters at about that time, and Barney caught on, first in the South, where he heard another announcer cry, "Thank youuuu!" and eventually in Baltimore, where he is still at work.

He tells us that he once drank too much, once had a stroke, was married and divorced twice (the second time to and from a Baltimorean) and last year suffered complications from diabetes that required amputation of his right leg below the knee. He now gets around nicely on a prosthesis and managed, in fact, to throw a pitch from the mound to an Orioles catcher at Camden Yards to celebrate the 44th anniversary of his no-hitter. The pitch was wild -- high and outside.

The memoir is written in a lively style and is a better read than the average sports book, but it's not nearly as entertaining as "Ball Four," the expose of life among the sinful 1960s Yankees as recorded by another big-league pitcher, Jim Bouton. That may be because Bouton wrote his book without help, while Barney produced his "with" Norman Macht, an experienced writer and former minor-league executive who may be less critical of baseball management than the underpaid players of yesteryear.

The book isn't entirely enthusiastic. Barney is critical of one player, Frankie Frisch, and two owners -- the late Edward Bennett Williams (Orioles) and George Steinbrenner (Yankees), who returned to the Yankee helm last week after serving 30 months of a curious "lifetime" suspension from baseball for consorting with a known gambler.

He also tells a story about meeting Gen. George Patton on the battlefront in World War II, a surprising disclosure about "Old Blood and Guts' " legendary bravery. And Barney opposes the designated hitter rule, no real surprise coming from a National Leaguer.

John Goodspeed writes from Easton.

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