Written by Greg Walker
An outstanding three-sport star from 1934-37, the late Herbert "Babe" Barna personified the competitiveness of Mountaineer athletics during the first half of this century. He earned recognition as a member of the WVU all-time football team (1930-39).
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Barna was a starting end on the football team for three years and, as a senior, captained the 1936 team. Barna was the primary target of Mountaineer quarterback Kelly Moan. The two led WVU to a 6-4 mark in 1936, the school's first winning season in six years. In a 40-6 rout of Cincinnati, Barna caught a school-record three touchdown passes from Moan. After finishing his WVU football career, he was selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
During the 1934 Mountaineer season, Barna suffered a broken leg in the final game of the year, a 7-2 loss to Washington & Jefferson, but recovered in time to play baseball for the Mountaineers that spring. On the diamond, Barna became a star. Perhaps the most-feared hitter on the Mountaineer squad, Barna battled a lofty .440 in 1935 (eighth best in WVU history), followed by an even more impressive .452 clip in 1936 (sixth best in WVU history). His WVU career average was .408. The first baseman and outfielder once stole five bases versus St. Vincent, still a WVU single-game record.
Barna signed a professional contract with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1937, and played with the A's in '37 and '38. He also had major league stints with the New York Giants (1941-43) and the Boston Red Sox (1943). His best season came in 1942 with the Giants, when he batted .257 with 58 RBI and six home runs. Barna, who batted left-handed and threw with his right, hit .232 during his major league career and smacked 12 home runs in 207 games.
He also played in the minor leagues, where, as a member of the Nashville Vols, he hit 52 home runs with 130 RBI as Nashville won the Southwestern Conference. The 6-3, 210-pound Barna was also known for his swiftness on the base paths, a trait unheard of among power hitters of the time.
Playing for Charleston during his last season in the minor leagues, Barna once won a game with a grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth that easily cleared the humbling distance of Watt Powell Park's straightaway center field fence. Watt Powell Park old-timers still talk about Barna's shot, which, according to legend, has yet to be matched.
"Babe" also played three seasons of basketball for the Mountaineers (1935-37), earning two letters and averaging 4.9 points per game at center. WVU posted basketball records of 14-5, 16-6 and 16-8 (46-19 overall) during his career. He was inducted into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1971.
Barna hailed from Anmoore, W.Va., where he was born March 2, 1915. He starred at Bridgeport High School and graduated from there in 1934. He and his wife, Lillian Barna Henry, married June 13, 1937.
After he retired from baseball, Barna teamed with former major leaguer Rollie Hemsley to open the B&H Sportsmen's Club in Charleston, W.Va. Barna operated the club, located at the corner of Quarrier and Dickinson streets, for nearly 20 years until he died May 18, 1972. Barna is survived by his wife, their children Paul and Nancy, and five grandchildren. Barna will be joining WVU teammates Dr. Jack Gocke, Harry Clarke and the late Joe Stydahar in the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. Also already inducted are his coaches -- the late Ira Errett Rodgers and the late Marshall "Little Sleepy" Glenn.