On May 15, 1981, Len Barker of the Cleveland Indians pitched a perfect game, the first in the majors since Catfish Hunter’s in 1968. The next day, the New York Times said:
It was the 11th perfect game in major-league history and the first no-hitter against the Blue Jays in their six-year history.
”I was thinking about it all the way,” Barker said. ”But you can’t take it all that seriously until the last inning. You’ve still got three guys to go and any one of them can get a hit: a blooper or something.”
He relied on his fastball, and only one batter come close to getting a hit. In the first inning, the leadoff batter, Alfredo Griffin, sent a ground ball up the middle. Tom Veryzer, the shortstop, ranged far to his left, grabbed the ball and barely threw out Griffin at first base.
”I had to come in fast, and I almost ended up at first base,” said Veryzer. There was a mist falling, but Barker said it did not bother him and actually may have been a benefit. ”I’m always wetting the ball and rubbing it up to get a better grip on it,” he said. ”The mist just gave me more moisture to work with.”
Barker allowed only four fly balls and grew stronger as the game progressed, recording all his strikeouts after the third inning. He achieved his third victory in four decisions this year; he was 19-12 last year.
”His curveball was awesome,” said Dave Duncan, the team’s pitching coach. Duncan said 60 of the 103 pitches thrown by Barker were curveballs, 45 of them for strikes. Over all, Duncan said, Barker threw 84 strikes, and he never threw more than five balls in any one inning.
Barker completed the perfect game by retiring Rick Bosetti on a foul pop to Harrah, striking out the pinch-hitter Al Woods swinging on three pitches and getting Ernie Whitt, another pinch-hitter, on a fly ball to the center fielder Rick Manning. As the final out was recorded, the Indians’ players converged on Barker, and the fans swarmed onto the field.
A native of Fort Knox, Ky., Barker signed with the Texas Rangers’ organization in 1973 out of Neshaminy High School in Trevose, Pa. He spent the better part of his first four seasons in the Rangers’ farm system before making the major leagues as a relief pitcher late in 1977.
Barker was traded to Cleveland with Bobby Bonds, an outfielder, for Jim Kern, a pitcher, and Larvell Blanks, an infielder, on Oct. 3, 1978, and last year he became a member of the Indians’ starting rotation.
The next day, Barker said of the Blue Jays, who called his main pitch a slider (not a curveball), which Barker said he didn’t throw once: ”If they’re going to call it a slider, that’s O.K. I call it a curveball. But I throw it hard, about 85 miles per hour, and most people aren’t used to seeing a curveball thrown that hard.”
By the way, Barker now runs a construction company in Ohio, which you can learn about at this site. It also has some more details about his game.