McMurray: A retrospective on Len Barker’s perfect game

From SABR member John McMurray at on May 8, 2018:

Five days after Charlie Lea, an unheralded Montreal right hander, pitched a no-hitter, Cleveland’s Len Barker topped it with a dominating performance in a perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 15, 1981.  It was the most memorable moment of the strike-shortened 1981 baseball season and a remarkable crowing achievement for a pitcher, who, according to one contemporary press report, “was perhaps most famous for heaving a fast ball out of a minor league stadium.”

Barker’s control problems were well-documented.  In the minors, a wayward pitch from Barker reportedly sailed over the press box.  While pitching for the Texas Rangers in 1978, one of Barker’s pitches was similarly errant, landing on the screen below the press box in Boston’s Fenway Park.  Barker’s wildness led to high strikeout totals (he led the American League with 187 strikeouts in 1980 but also with 14 wild pitches) as well as ERAs above 4.00 in each of the three prior seasons.  He seemed far more likely to throw a no-hitter than he was to pitch a perfect game with great control.

On that cold Friday night at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Barker faced the Toronto Blue Jays, managed by Bobby Mattick.  The Blue Jays were not a strong hitting club, with only outfielder Rick Bosetti batting above .300 in Toronto’s starting lineup.  First baseman Willie Upshaw, catcher Buck Martinez, and third baseman (as well as future NBA star) Danny Ainge were struggling greatly, all with batting averages below .200.  Yet there were still some dangerous hitters in Toronto’s lineup, including Lloyd Moseby, George Bell, and John Mayberry.

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Originally published: May 8, 2018. Last Updated: May 8, 2018.