By Susan Schindehette
August 13, 1990 12:00 PM

Fans at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium couldn’t remember anything so tasteless since a horse carrying their fabled chicken-suited mascot as a promotional stunt many years back unceremoniously relieved itself on the baseline between second and third. But that was an easy mess to clean up compared to the latest backfiring publicity gimmick—a caterwauling version of the national anthem sung by TV star Roseanne Barr before a crowd of nearly 30,000, as part of the Padres’ Working Women’s Night. This time, no matter what she did to make amends, the fans kept crying “Foul!”

Within 48 hours of Barr’s fingernails-on-the-blackboard performance—after which she hitched up an imaginary athletic supporter and p’tooied on the field—the comedian had drawn salvos from the national press, from President Bush (“a disgrace”), from Secretary of State Jim Baker (“disgusting”), and from more than 2,000 irate fans who called the stadium to complain.

At a Beverly Hills press conference with her husband, Tom Arnold, two days later, an apologetic but unbowed Barr called the flap a misunderstanding. “I figured everybody knew I wasn’t the world’s greatest singer,” she said. “I thought it was going to be very well received.” Barr, who sang as an invited guest of Padres co-owner Tom Werner, who also produces the Roseanne show, said that when the booing started, “I went into this panic thing, and I thought, ‘Can I get out of here? Can I quit?’ But I couldn’t. It took all the guts in my life to finish that song.” The crotch-grabbing gesture, she reported, resulted from some good-natured pregame goading in the players’ dugout. “A lot of [the players] said, ‘You ought to scratch yourself and spit, like all of us do.’ I thought it would be really funny.”

Barr’s anthem brouhaha came as the latest in a series of bizarre antics that have puzzled fans and perplexed the press—including the news conference itself, delayed for nearly a half hour while Arnold called police to eject free-lance photographer Kip Rano, whose work has appeared in the tabloids. Just days before, two reporters for the National Enquirer had revealed that Arnold, who has done rehab time for drug use, sold quotes to the paper last winter, a charge that Barr acknowledged. “He felt really [awful] about it,” she said. “All’s he did was buy drugs with it and try to kill himself…. It was a huge mistake we wish we hadn’t made.”

At least some of Barr’s wrath against the media seems justified. Last year, for example, despite her entreaties, the Enquirer reported the existence of an illegitimate daughter whom the then teenage Barr had given up for adoption 18 years before. Now, says Barr, the couple will be suing the Enquirer for libel, slander and possible copyright infringement, all stemming from what they charge are other incidents of harassment. “It’s going to cost a lot of money,” says Arnold. “But we’ve got a lot of money.”

Other examples of the couple’s unbridled conduct seem harder to fathom. Last October, displeased at the score in the first game of the World Series, Barr and Arnold “mooned” the crowd at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, revealing his ‘n’ hers tattoos on their backsides.

Though its ratings—even in reruns—continue to soar, Barr’s Roseanne show has suffered behind-the-scenes turmoil. Within a four-month period earlier this year, Barr’s executive producer left her show, and she fired its writer-producer, as well as her personal manager and publicity firm.

Barr has promised to tone down her behavior, but it’s doubtful that gossip sheets have seen the last of her. Next month, writer Bill Pentland, whom Barr divorced in January after a 16-year marriage, will face her in court to hammer out a financial settlement and custody questions regarding their three children, ages 12 to 15. In addition, Pentland, who has hired attorney Marvin Mitchelson to bolster his case, expects to file a $15 million palimony suit against Barr for the three years they lived together before marrying.

Despite some appearances to the contrary, Barr insists that bad press is something she doesn’t seek. “I don’t choose the negative attention over and over, despite what people think,” she said. “I sometimes get what I think is a good idea, but my judgment is wrong.”

The Padres, for one, seem to agree. For the time being, at least, San Diego home games will be preceded by a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as performed by the U.S. Marine Corps Band—in a prerecorded version.

—Susan Schindehette, Craig Tomashoff and Vicki Sheff in Los Angeles, Arky Gonzalez in San Diego