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Indians Indians Archive Top Cleveland Sports Figures, By the Numbers. #39
Written by Greg Popelka

Greg Popelka

len barker staring inThis is one installment in a team effort by The Cleveland Fan, highlighting the top local sports figures by jersey number. Please weigh in with your thoughts, in the Boards. As David Letterman would say, “For entertainment purposes only; please, no wagering.”

Tyson Dailey distinctly remembers. So does Doug Dukes. Paul Miller, as well. Not to mention several denizens of theclevelandfan’s Tribe forum: Peeker, Spin, FUDU, bookelly, leadpipe, Am I Here Again, and Pressrunnr. Perhaps you do, too.

Of course, every Cleveland Indians fan has at least heard of Len Barker’s perfect game.

leadpipe: “What some of the younger (fans) might not understand… that was THE ONLY baseball moment that put Cleveland on the map for our entire lives until the mid-nineties…

25 years of GARBAGE.

Anyway, didn’t go to an elementary school night at the Rollerdrome, and caught the game with my dad and uncle. Etched in my memory because, as mentioned, what the hell else was there to remember.

By the way, Lenny is still in the area and says he never gets sick talking about it. Still signs baseballs with that date upon request.

len barker baseballNote: That is true, of course. I am the proud owner of one such baseball. Barker lives in Chardon, loves northeast Ohio, and is coach of the local DII College of Notre Dame baseball team. He also remains a true ambassador for Indians baseball.

“Large Lenny” was drafted in the third round by the Texas Rangers upon graduating from high school in 1973. He has spoken of his brawling, formative years back in Philadelphia, PA. He would be recruited from his high school (football powerhouse Neshaminy) as a fullback by West Virginia, and he also was the starting center on his basketball team. Baseball was always his best sport, though. Barker reached the big leagues in 1976, at the age of 20.

By 1978, Barker was an established relief pitcher with Texas. One day, Rangers owner Brad Corbett and Indians general manager Gabe “Pope” Paul found themselves standing side by side at some urinals in a men’s room. Small talk (no pun intended) turned to trade talk.


The Indians would deal infielder Larvell Blanks and pitcher Jim Kern to Texas for star outfielder Bobby Bonds – and pitcher Len Barker.

Paul Miller: “I was 8 years old and watching the game in Willowick with my dad on WUAB. For some reason, he was keeping score in a scorebook. The scorebook remains on his bookshelf with VHS tapes of the Cleveland State NCAA run and the ’86 Browns-Jets playoff game.

The TV was one of those big wooden framed sets that sat on the floor. My dad explained to me that you don’t talk about it while it was going on. “You’ll jinx it.” Being an 8 yr old, I thought Manning had to jump to catch that last ball, and that he saved the perfect game with a leaping catch… To this day, any time I see a game get into the 6th or 7th inning, I will pull up the box score to see if a no-no is in progress. I will always pull for it. Makes me think of the Len Barker game.

len barker throwingAs is typical with hard throwers, Barker struggled with his control at times. He began to harness his ‘stuff’ by 1980- finishing that season at 19-12 for the sub-.500 Indians.

Pressrunnr: “It was a wet, rainy, Friday night.  (Nine days) before, (Indians ace) Bert Blyleven took a no-hitter into the ninth and lost it when Larry Littleton, a defensive replacement for Joe Charboneau in left, misplayed a fly ball. I was a senior in high school and played on the tennis team. My doubles partner had left his backpack in my car and came over at some point later in the game to pick it up. We were talking about the game, about whether or not he would get the no-hitter, and naturally that jinxed him.

(So on Barker’s night), he again left his backpack in my car, but this time when he called to say he was coming over to get it, we both studiously avoided any talk- only saying things like, “So, uh, you watching the game?” “Uh, yeah.” “Well, see ya.” “Yeah, see ya.”

Note: I have heard several media types chastise fans for not understanding that it is the announcer’s job to inform the listener. Therefore, he must say the term, ‘no-hitter’. That’s a buncha crap. There are plenty of ways to impart that information without saying that term. And you don’t need to believe in jinxes to have a little fun with it. Anyway, with the electronic media of 2013, word will get around just fine without the announcer making himself part of the story (sorry, no individual media member is that important).

Len Barker needed to pick his brother up from the Cleveland Airport before the game on that cold, rainy spring evening. The plane didn’t arrive until around 6 pm for the 7:00 game, and Barker had to hurry to the ballpark. Nobody said anything to him about being late- he quickly dressed and hit the field to warm up.

Doug Dukes: “I was a Freshman at Baldwin Wallace College, in Berea.  I was pledging a fraternity at the time and we had a party going on in our section.  The party started around 8:00.  I had this little black & white TV in my room and had the game on with the volume turned down.  People were milling in and out and the beer was flowing.  Yours truly was feeling no pain… The Tribe was playing the Blue Jays and back then the Blue Jays franchise was only about 5 years old.  Therefore, that coupled with the fact it was a cold, rainy night in Cleveland, there was only about 5,000 people at the game.  I was catching glimpses of the game as I was milling in and out of my room getting re-fills of that high potent 3.2 beer which was legal for all 18+ year old people back then…

Tyson Dailey: “…Alliance, Ohio at home sick with a cold. I was only 12, so I didn’t have a lot of other options at the time.

…back in the day you only saw 70 to 80 games or so on TV if my memory is correct.  I would get the TV guide, (remember that?), and check the schedule for my Tribe games for the week.  I had to plan my schedule around the Indians, including the day games on the weekends.   The teams were bad and besides Andy (Thornton) and Toby (Harrah) nobody could hit.

I know now with cable and the MLB package you could catch it as its going on.  It’s not the same feeling as it is when it’s one of “your guys” doing it before your eyes. 

All I kept saying to myself is am I really watching this?  Is this really going to happen?  Could something amazing like this happen for the Indians.  It’s the only perfect game that I have ever watched from start to finish.   You know when you think about it, how many of those types of things do you really watch as it’s happening?

len barker releaseIn the face of on-again, off-again shower activity, the Indians took the field to begin the game with Toronto. The Jays were one of the weakest hitting teams in the league. They also were the opponent several days earlier, when Bert Blyleven nearly no-hit them in Toronto in the “Littleton” game.

Len Barker induced three groundouts to begin the Perfecto. The first was a slow roller from speedy SS Alfredo Griffin that Tribe SS Tom Veryzer picked up and gunned to first for the out. In the bottom of the first, CF Rick Manning singled against Blue Jay pitcher Luis Leal. With one out, 1B Mike Hargrove reached on an error by the first baseman- Manning cruised into third base. DH Andre Thornton proceeded to do what Andre Thornton did- he scored the runner. His fly ball to center field plated Manning. C Ron Hassey then singled home Hargrove. 2-0 Tribe.

After that first inning, both pitchers settled in- neither yielding a base hit until RF Jorge Orta’s third inning single to right field. Toronto DH Willie Upshaw did lace a second inning shot toward 2B Duane Kuiper, who made a diving play. Barker later related that Upshaw had hit a change up. He decided that would be the last one he would throw.

Len Barker was throwing mostly fastballs. By the fourth inning, he and Hassey discovered the incredibly tight break his curve ball had that night. The Lake Erie mist seemed to be just right for that pitch; nobody could hit it. Barker and Hassey decided to just stick with his once-in-a-lifetime curve, and that became the story of the game.

In the top of the fifth, another fine play was turned in at Upshaw’s expense. The DH lofted a foul ball toward the left field seats, and 3B Toby Harrah leaned far over the fence to catch it for the putout. The next hit of the game was by Orta, in the bottom of the fifth. C Buck Martinez then gunned him down in a steal attempt. The Indians threatened in the sixth, with singles by Hargrove and Harrah, but the score remained 2-0 Tribe.

Tyson Dailey: He was so dominant that I remember some Blue Jay players were trying to bunt their way on base in the 7th and 8th inning…

By the seventh inning, the entire team- including the staff- sat at the opposite end of the bench from Barker. They were employing the time- honored superstition of not talking to the pitcher while a no-no is in progress. Barker later laughed about that and said he told them they could sit next to him: “Hey, I don’t have the plague.” On the way out to the field, Harrah and Manning did come over to Barker and said they were behind him. “We know you can do it. Go get it.”

An Orta home run in the eighth extended the score to 3-0, before Barker walked to the mound for the ninth inning. He later admitted that he was extremely nervous- he bent down to pick up the ball and lost his balance and almost fell. He dropped the ball. Incredibly, the scoreboard trivia question (which had been selected well before game time) was flashing: Which two teams have never been involved in a no-hitter? The answer was the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners. Upon seeing this breach of baseball tradition- mentioning the no-hitter- the Toronto dugout was buoyed with hope.

len barker larry littletonRemember Larry Littleton, from the Blyleven no-hit bid? Photo, right. Manager Dave Garcia told Barker that he was going to substitute Littleton for LF Joe Charboneau, midway through ‘his’ game. Barker replied to his manager that if he made that move, he’d also need to remove Barker. Garcia left Charboneau in the game!

The curveball was still doing its thing for the Tribe pitcher. He used it to strike out 11 of the final 17 batters. The final strikeout was the second out of the ninth inning, to Al Woods (pinch hitting for 3B Danny Ainge- future Boston Celtic).

(The Sporting News credits Barker with coining the phrase, “break off a curve ball.”)

In a 2 hour, 9 minute game, Barker threw 103 pitches. 84 were strikes, and he never reached ball three to any hitter. Announcer Herb Score raved about his control throughout the ballgame. Remember, in Barker, we're talking about a historically wild thrower.

Doug Dukes: All of a sudden, my little black & white TV became the center of attention.  People were crowded around that by the top of the 9th, even the most casual Baseball Fan was locked in to the game.  When Rick Manning caught the 3rd out, a large uproar went around this party.  People were literally high fiving and hugging each other.  It was a pretty incredible sight to see since the Indians stunk to high heaven in those days… 

See the linked videos. In this one, we hear Herb Score's partner Nev Chandler describing the stadium crowd with the word, 'pandemonium'. (Reminiscent of some of his descriptions of Browns crowds.) After the game, Barker was escorted by police to the dugout (who brushed aside local media who converged on them). The fans were delirious. He gave broadcaster Bruce Drennan a brief postgame interview, and returned to the field for a curtain call. Upon retiring to the clubhouse, he walked on towels strewn in his path by his teammates, along with cans of beer along the way. They celebrated long into the night.

Peeker: “It was a Friday… I was home from school sick with mono (8th or 9th grade). Miserably sick. My parents went out to dinner and a friend came over to watch the game. Probably on channel 43?? Game went as the game went and I remember my parents coming to me screaming and jumping around when Manning caught the Ernie Whitt fly ball.

Spin: It was about 9:30 and I was in the living room watching TV with my mom (I was 15) when it came across the bottom of the screen. So Mom switched over to channel 43 and we watched the rest of the game.

I remember celebrating, much in the same way we did the Olympic hockey team (Miracle on Ice was in the prior year). I knew at the time it was something big, but it wasn’t until later I understood just how big.

FUDU: My memory is mostly the fact that there were so few people there and from that moment on so many people claim they were there.

bookelly: “I actually WAS at the game, and have the ticket framed in glass to prove it…Len barker ticket boo kelly (right)

I was 8 years old and my best friend and neighbor’s dad had 4 season tickets. It was a cold and miserable rainy night but my old man and his took us to the game anyway. …as the game got into the 7th inning, the few fans in the old stadium spread out and started banging the seats in unison. “LEN-NEY *bang *bang” “LEN-NEY *bang *bang”. It was quite electric and cool…

That game really started my whole love of baseball.

Am I Here Again?: I’d love to be able to say I heard the game, but all I can say is it was on in the background, mere noise to the screaming and crying of 4 ½-month twins. Dredging a few memories up I can say every once in a while my hubby or I would remark that Herb Score was saying something about len barker postgameLenny and no hits and stuff but we were a little busy- did I say we had 4 ½-month old twins? …I said “crap, we missed a perfect game? Crap.”

(Don’t worry AIHA: personally speaking, I completely abandoned sports from around Brian Sipe to Bernie Kosar. I am talking a true dead spot in my memory. Barker’s perfect game included. Even your story has some vicarious intrigue. Greg)

Peeker: It wasn’t like today. It happened and you listened to post game or Pete Franklin or local news for highlights but that was it til This Week in Baseball the next week…

I remember going to Barker’s next start… Big Boy had pledged free sandwiches to all who attended if he did it again. Don’t know how they would have stood the losses of 3500 Big Boys.

Yeah… the guys thinking the attendance issues are new should have seen it back then.

Thank you for reading. And thanks to all of the contributors to this piece.

Sources also included The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Scene Magazine, Cleveland Magazine, Wikipedia, and

len barker jays scorecard




















There is no real competition for Barker at #39. The Cavaliers have never used the number, and the most notable Browns are Michael Lehan and Daven Holly.

(Actually, the crack staff at The Cleveland Fan can find no proof that Lehan is just Holly with hair. Research continues.)

Other Indians worth mentioning include Justin Germano, Milton Bradley, and Scott Elarton.

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