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Monday Book Review

January 16, 1995|By M. William Salganik

ORIOLES MEMORIES 1969-1994. By Rex Barney and Norman Macht. Goodwood Press. 263 pages. $19.95.

EVEN THOUGH he turned 70 last month, and even though there might not be a baseball season this year, Rex Barney is a better bet for the Cy Young Award than for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

But Mr. Barney, who last pitched in the major leagues in 1950 (33 2/3 innings, 23 strikeouts, 48 walks), isn't throwing professionally these days. He's writing. Sort of.

"Rex Barney's Orioles Memories" hardly seems like a book. Mr. Barney is beloved in Baltimore as long-time Oriole public-address announcer and radio personality who is known for his exaggerated "thank you" to the fans. His new volume, done with the collaboration of Norman Macht, reads like a transcription of Rex Barney's warm, courtly reminiscences offered on call-in sports-talk shows.

Not that he has the slightest pretensions. "Writing is not easy," he says in his preface. "I'd love to be able to write, but I can't. I can talk and tell a story, but put it down on paper? No way. What you are about to read and -- I hope -- enjoy is just me talking."

If you're not expecting "The Natural" or "Boys of Summer," Mr. Barney's book is pleasant, even more so given the boorish nature of baseball current events.

The book presents Mr. Barney's recollections of players and others he's met during 25 years of reading lineups and announcing pinch hitters. It's organized into chapters, most dealing with Orioles position-by-position.

Virtually every Baltimore player gets a mention, often only a paragraph. As a result, you might not find out as much about Jim Palmer as you'd like, but you get at least a mention of Jackie Gutierrez, Tom Shopay and Ken Dixon.

At times, it seems as if Mr. Barney is talking the book from the all-time Oriole roster which appears in the appendix. The results is sometimes be choppy, as in this section from the chapter on catchers ("The Men in the Iron Mask"):

"Catchers I remember. Dan Graham -- looked good, but ate himself out of the league.

"Floyd Rayford, a catcher-third baseman, built like Roy Campanella, looked like Campanella, but couldn't play like Campanella. Came to spring training 25 pounds overweight and never hit his weight again. Very likable guy.

"Joe Nolan, a serious clutch hitter, but had so many knee operations he had to quit.

"Dave Skaggs. About the only time he ever caught was when Dennis Martinez pitched. Superstition or not, he became Dennis' favorite catcher. Stayed in the organization as a roving catching instructor in the minor leagues.

"Which brings us to Chris Hoiles . . ."

In addition to the near-comprehensive Oriole chapters, Mr. Barney devotes sections to visiting players, coaches, managers and owners.

Again, each tends to receive short treatment:

"Dave Stieb was highly competitive, a little like Jack Morris, battling you every second. He was part of a Toronto staff that included Jim Clancy and Jimmy Key, another pair of old school, pitch-inside hurlers. Like a lot of players, Key is an avid fisherman. He and [Mike] Flanagan would talk more fishing than baseball whenever they got together."

The book also includes, besides the all-time roster, Oriole year-by-year results, award winners and other data. And there's a fun chapter filled with a variety of All-Star teams (best Oriole defensive players, dugout clowns, the "All-Tough, Battle-you-all-the-way Team").

While no one would claim it's great literature, if you like Rex, you'll like the book.

M. William Salganik is an editor for The Sun.

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