Barney, other fans say 'thank you' Ex-Dodger, Lacy join O's in saluting Robinson


By the time Rex Barney signed off with his trademark "thank you" before last night's game at Camden Yards, he had spoken volumes about the man the Orioles, and all of baseball, were honoring.

Barney, the Orioles' public-address announcer, was on the field as part of the ceremonies that commemorated the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking major-league baseball's color barrier. Also present were Vincent Lee, the last surviving member of the 1931 Baltimore Black Sox, and Ernest Burke and Bert Simmons of the 1949 Baltimore Elite Giants.

Sam Lacy, 93-year-old columnist of the Baltimore Afro-American who covered Robinson's first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers and once roomed with him, threw out the first pitch.

During the proceedings, which lasted 15 minutes, Barney referred to his former teammate as "one of the greatest, nicest, friendliest men I've ever known." Behind him, a quote from Robinson was displayed on the scoreboard: "A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives."

Barney began to choke up as he said, "Jackie was a very special person, and so was [Brooklyn Dodgers president] Branch Rickey for selecting him."

The Orioles had their own way of honoring Robinson, rolling up their pant legs above their calves in the style of that era, something catcher Lenny Webster had suggested. Pitcher Alan Mills also presented books about Robinson before the game to members of the club's RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner City) program.

Outfielder Jerome Walton said: "He's got a lot of impact on me and a lot of the black players. For him to pave the way for us if it wasn't for him, we might not even be playing this game.

"I don't know what his background was and how he grew up, but evidently he had some special parents who taught him right from wrong and to be able to put the racist stuff behind."

Perhaps no one in the Orioles clubhouse feels more strongly about Robinson than Webster, who changed his uniform number to 42 before the season. He caught Lacy's throw last night, which bounced about halfway between the mound and home.

"Had he not been allowed to play, a lot of us wouldn't be here," said Webster, who scored a run in the fifth inning that broke a 1-1 tie. "As a baseball fan, you may not have ever gotten the opportunity to see a Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey or Frank Thomas or Julio Franco or Dennis Martinez. Not only blacks, but %o minorities in general.

"A lot of people tend to forget, too, that it's not all about Jackie. It's also about a man like Branch Rickey who went out on a limb, took a chance when nobody else would. I really thought he was genuine in what he tried to do, not only get this guy to help him win the pennant, but to get this thing integrated because it was time."

The Orioles, like every team in the majors, are wearing a patch on their sleeves recognizing the 50th anniversary. Webster hopes it stays on the uniform beyond this season. "I'd hate to see it all be forgotten," he said. "This is a big part of baseball history."

So, in a sense, is Lacy, whom Robinson often credited with helping him reach the majors by championing the cause in print for many years. Wearing a dark pin-stripe suit, he walked to the mound last night with the stride of a much younger man, holding a baseball in one hand and warm thoughts of Robinson in his heart.

Earlier, he sat in a chair in front of the dugout, granting one interview after another, surprised each time to see someone approaching with a microphone or note pad.

"It makes me feel extremely proud and rewarded to be here," he said. "Although I don't like all this fandango, or whatever you want to call it, just to be involved in something celebrating Jackie is very important to me.

"I love Jackie Robinson. He was a great man, a wonderful father and a cherished friend."

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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