Countdown To Pitchers And Catchers: #39 Len Barker
Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Len Barker.
By Vince Guerrieri
The adjective most used to describe old Cleveland Stadium was cavernous. The venerable “mistake by the lake” could hold more than 90,000 spectators at its peak, for Browns games, rock concerts, a college football bowl game (The Great Lakes Bowl) or Indians games.
And there are two Indians games where the number of people who said they were there total into the millions. One was the infamous 10-cent beer night, June 4, 1974, which actually had an attendance of around 25,000. The other was May 15, 1981, when 7,290 fans braved showers and frigid temperatures to watch Len Barker throw a perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
It was the first perfect game in the major leagues since Catfish Hunter threw one for the Kansas City Athletics in 1968. Barker, an imposing hurler with the nickname “Large Lenny,” was in complete control that night, never even going to a three-ball count and striking out 11 batters.
It was the career highlight for Barker, who went 74-76 as a starter and retired with a career ERA of 4.35. He only played in one All-Star game, but it was in front of the hometown crowd at Municipal Stadium in 1981 – the first game after a players’ strike. Barker threw two shutout innings in what turned into an American League loss.
Of the 17 pitchers who’ve thrown a perfect game, only six are enshrined at Cooperstown – including Hunter. Barker will only get into the hall of fame if he buys a ticket, but for one miserable night, he was the best in baseball – and he has no problems admitting it.
“I run into people almost every day who want to talk about it,” he told Sports Illustrated for their “Where are They Now” issue. “Everyone says, ‘You’re probably tired of talking about it.’ I say, ‘No, it’s something to be proud of.’ It’s a special thing.”
Photo: Fox Sports Ohio