THE NUMBERS paint
Len Barker as a serviceable major league pitcher. He was 74--76 lifetime, with
an unspectacular 4.35 ERA, and in 11 seasons with the Rangers, Indians, Braves
and Brewers, he won at least 10 games just twice.
But there were
nights when Barker, with his trademark 96-mph fastball, was unhittable. On a
cold and rainy evening, on May 15, 1981, having shown up at Cleveland Stadium
less than an hour before the scheduled first pitch against the Blue Jays, the
Indians righty threw the 10th perfect game in baseball history.
For Barker it was
pretty much downhill from there. Though he made one All-Star squad, in 1981, he
never pitched for a playoff team, and his career was shortened by ulnar nerve
damage and bone spurs in his right arm. "The perfect game," Barker
says, "is at the top of my career for sure."
Many of the
pitchers who threw perfect games (below) had careers like Barker's. Of
baseball's 17 perfectos, just six were tossed by eventual or likely Hall of
Famers, suggesting that the achievement is less a measure of greatness and more
a combination of stuff, defense, luck and Jupiter's aligning with Mars. "A
perfect game is just something that happens," Barker says. "It is a
That night is
forever a part of Barker's life. He co-owns a residential construction company
in suburban Cleveland named Perfect Pitch Construction. It's a family business:
His partner is his father-in-law, Mike Ferrante, who met Barker while
participating in an Indians fantasy camp and introduced the pitcher to his
daughter Eva, who manages the office with her mother, Anna. In his off-hours
Barker coaches his six-year-old son Jared's baseball team in a coach-pitch
league. "Now I'm trying not to strike any one of them out," says
Barker, who turns 51 on July 7. "I'm trying to give up as many hits as I
can." (He has six children, including three from a previous marriage, ages
1 to 26.)
to make appearances for the Indians, and the perfect game is a popular topic.
"I run into people almost every day who want to talk about it," he
says. "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."