This Month's MagazineDining and SpiritsArts and EntertainmentTravel and LeisureHome and Real EstateHealth and WellnessShopping & FashionEvents and PicsElegant Wedding Magazine

Bookmark and share

Issue Date: May 2011


Life According to Len Barker


Interview By Jeannie Roberts, photography by Jerry Mann

After 30 years, the numbers from Len Barker's perfect game are no less astonishing: 103 pitches and 84 strikes; not a single batter had a three-ball count; all 11 strikeouts came after the third inning, and all were swinging; and a mere 7,290 braved the 40-degree temperatures at Municipal Stadium that night.

Expect a much bigger crowd for the anniversary celebration later this month, when the 55-year-old throws out the ceremonial first pitch. "I might throw it over the backstop," he jokes. "I did that a few times."

Barker, who owned a construction business for 19 years, retired after knee-replacement surgery last November. Now, he serves as assistant coach at Notre Dame College, volunteers for his three young sons' baseball teams in Chardon (he also has three grown children from a former marriage), and works part time for the Tribe doing public relations bits.

I never get tired of being asked about it. I hope somebody else will do it here. It would be really great for the city.

What I remember about May 15, 1981, is that the last out took a 1,000-pound load off my shoulders.

We were in first place, ... and Bert Blyleven had almost thrown a no-hitter against Toronto [on May 6]. In Bert's game, [manager] Dave Garcia had subbed in Larry Littleton as a defensive replacement in the ninth, and he missed the first ball that came to him. In my game, Garcia said, "I'm going to put Littleton in left field for [Joe] Charboneau," and I said, "If you put him in, you've got to take me out." So he left Charboneau in.

In the days after the game, some of the media caught up with my 96-year-old grandmother, who was living in West Virginia. Someone said, "Your grandson just pitched the 10th perfect game in major league history. What do you think of that?" And she said, "Well, I hope he does better next time!"

As a T-ball coach, my job is to teach them to do something other than run to the same spot and pile up on each other.

Sometimes they say, "Are we done yet?" They just want a snack. And that's OK; they're 6 years old. Snacks are important.

Coaching at Notre Dame College is great because they have to listen to me, and if they don't, we can kick them off the team.

I like to talk about the old days. They ask me all the time how it was to play against Babe Ruth.

Last year, the guys asked me to bring the tape of the perfect game, and we watched it on a bus trip. It was the first time I'd watched it in about five years. They all stood up and cheered at the end. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get emotional about that.

I have my cellphone, but don't try to do anything but talk to me on it. I don't do any of that texting or Twitter stuff, no Facebook. You can leave me a message, and I'll call you back. I don't need a fancy phone. This one talks just fine.

My wife has a huge purse, so when we go to the movies, sometimes we sneak in a little candy — Twizzlers, candy bars, licorice — or maybe even a little soda. ... But we always buy the popcorn there; we don't have a popper small enough to sneak in there.

That's a perfect day, spending time with my family. I missed a lot of that with my older kids when I was playing professional baseball, so I'm making sure that with these kids, I'm around a lot more.

On special occasions, on all the major holidays, I buy my wife candy, flowers and a nice card. I appreciate what my wife does; she is surrounded by all us guys.

I'm a softy, but I don't really want that to get out.

It doesn't make you less of a man because you've got feelings. I've been around a lot of men who don't have any feelings.

My favorite ballpark was all of them because I was in the big leagues. Nothing better than that.

I don't blame these young major leaguers nowadays for getting the money they do, but they don't know why they got it. They have no appreciation for the history of the game. Mention Curt Flood to them, and maybe 10 percent might know who he is. Curt Flood gave up his career so they can have theirs.

That is why it really, really upsets me when they don't give autographs. ... They should be honored they can wear that uniform and that somebody wants their autograph.

I was a power pitcher, but sometimes my control was off a little bit. Once I hit the press box at Fenway Park with the bases loaded. Ball slipped out of my hand; you know, it happened sometimes.

That was the only time I heard Fenway Park completely silent; nobody knew where the ball went. All I could do was smile, and the scoreboard camera caught me laughing. I was like Nuke LaLoosh from Bull Durham hitting the mascot.

That rainout scene in Bull Durham? I didn't personally do it, but that happened a few times in my day.


Comments. All comments must be approved by our editorial staff.
 
Choose an identity
Other Anonymous
 
Name 
Website 
All of these fields are optional.
CAPTCHA Validation
Retype the code from the picture
CAPTCHA Code Image
Speak the code Change the code
 


Home | Subscribe | Archives | Advertise | Newsstands | Contact Us | Jobs | Legal
© Cleveland Magazine 2014 | P: (216) 771-2833 | F: (216) 781-6318 | 1422 Euclid Ave. Suite 730 Cleveland, Ohio 44115
This site is a member of the City & Regional Magazine Association