THE NUMBERS paintLen Barker as a serviceable major league pitcher. He was 74--76 lifetime, withan unspectacular 4.35 ERA, and in 11 seasons with the Rangers, Indians, Bravesand Brewers, he won at least 10 games just twice.
But there werenights when Barker, with his trademark 96-mph fastball, was unhittable. On acold and rainy evening, on May 15, 1981, having shown up at Cleveland Stadiumless than an hour before the scheduled first pitch against the Blue Jays, theIndians righty threw the 10th perfect game in baseball history.
For Barker it waspretty much downhill from there. Though he made one All-Star squad, in 1981, henever pitched for a playoff team, and his career was shortened by ulnar nervedamage and bone spurs in his right arm. "The perfect game," Barkersays, "is at the top of my career for sure."
Many of thepitchers who threw perfect games (below) had careers like Barker's. Ofbaseball's 17 perfectos, just six were tossed by eventual or likely Hall ofFamers, suggesting that the achievement is less a measure of greatness and morea combination of stuff, defense, luck and Jupiter's aligning with Mars. "Aperfect game is just something that happens," Barker says. "It is ararity."
That night isforever a part of Barker's life. He co-owns a residential construction companyin suburban Cleveland named Perfect Pitch Construction. It's a family business:His partner is his father-in-law, Mike Ferrante, who met Barker whileparticipating in an Indians fantasy camp and introduced the pitcher to hisdaughter Eva, who manages the office with her mother, Anna. In his off-hoursBarker coaches his six-year-old son Jared's baseball team in a coach-pitchleague. "Now I'm trying not to strike any one of them out," saysBarker, who turns 51 on July 7. "I'm trying to give up as many hits as Ican." (He has six children, including three from a previous marriage, ages1 to 26.)
Barker continuesto 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," hesays. "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."
TRACKING DOWN A PERFECT 10
Besides Barker, these are the other pitchers to throw perfect games sinceLarsen's gem
JUNE 21, 1964
VS. METS, 6--0
U.S. senator (R., Kentucky) who has been vocal in calling for tougher steroidpolicies
SEPT. 9, 1965
VS. CUBS, 1--0
Famously reclusive but has made visits to Mets and Dodgers camps in recentyears
MAY 8, 1968
VS. TWINS, 4--0
One of the dominant pitchers of the 1970s; died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 1999at age 53
SEPT. 30, 1984
VS. RANGERS, 1--0
Plays in National Golf League and coaches his sons' youth baseball teams
SEPT. 16, 1988
VS. DODGERS, 1--0
Roving instructor with Reds and author (Tales from the Reds Dugout)
JULY 28, 1991
VS. DODGERS, 2--0
Special-assignment scout and roving instructor for Orioles
JULY 28, 1994
VS. ANGELS, 4--0
Staff ace in first year in Detroit (10--3 record); won 200th game lastmonth
MAY 17, 1998
VS. TWINS, 4--0
Winner of 227 games; is 0--1 in two starts this year for Boston, his eighthteam in 21 seasons
JULY 18, 1999
VS. EXPOS, 6--0
Helps raise funds for the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital and the ALSAssociation
MAY 18, 2004
VS. BRAVES, 2--0
Five-time Cy Young winner has struggled since joining Yankees (8--6, 5.21 ERAthis season)