With the possible exception of Sandy Koufax, no Dodgers pitcher ever threw harder than Rex Barney. Throughout the late 1940s, Barney’s fastball was the talk of baseball. In 1947, at the age of twenty-two, he struck out Joe DiMaggio with the bases loaded in a World Series game. On a rainy night at the Polo Grounds in 1948, Barney pitched a no-hitter against the New York Giants and appeared on the verge of realizing his greatness. Alas, it was not to be. “Barney pitched as though the plate was high and outside,” Bob Cooke wrote famously in the New York Herald Tribune.
Born on December 19, 1924, Rex Edward Barney was the youngest of four children of Eugene Spencer and Marie Barney. It was a typical winter night in Omaha, Nebraska—twenty degrees below zero. “My father could not get the old Model T Ford started, so he called somebody to help him rush my mother to the hospital,” Barney wrote in his 1993 autobiography. “She told me I was born in the elevator on the way up to the delivery room.”
Rex’s father worked on the Union Pacific Railroad for forty-five years and eventually became a general foreman. He left home on Sunday night and rode the rails throughout the week before returning on Friday evening. When Rex was born, his sisters, Beatrice and Bernice, were thirteen and eleven, respectively, and his brother, Ted, was nine.
Rex Barney’s inability to control his outstanding fastball
limited his success.
Barney was a star basketball and baseball player at Creighton Prep, a Catholic school for boys in Omaha. He excelled most on the basketball court, leading the team to a pair of state titles and earning all-state recognition. As a high school pitcher, Barney was an angular six-foot-three, 185-pound right-hander who struck out batters by the bushel. He was wild, but that is not unusual at that level. Creighton Prep won the state baseball tournament in two of Rex’s four years.
Barney credited much of his early success to a man he called “one of Nebraska’s greatest high school coaches,” Skip Palrang, who coached every sport at Creighton Prep, managed the city’s American Legion team, and later became athletic director at Boys Town. Palrang’s formidable presence prepared Rex for his years with the volatile Leo