The Cleveland Indians entered the 1981 season with hopes of building on the progress they believed they had made in their prior two seasons. Their lineup would boast a bona fide leadoff hitter in Miguel Dilone, 1980 Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau and Mike Hargrove, better known as “the human rain delay.” Hargrove regularly drew 100 walks per season and seemingly always hit .300. Their pitching rotation was led by “Large Lenny” Barker and John Denny, but Bert Blyleven, acquired in a trade, gave the Tribe staff a legitimacy it had not known for years. Blyleven’s curve was more daunting than Barker’s fastball on most nights.
May 15th was an unforgettable night for one Len Barker and for the Cleveland Indians. On a frigid evening with a misty rain falling, Len Barker pitched the tenth perfect game in baseball history. After a bang bang play at first on a ground out to start the game, no Toronto player truly challenged Barker. He never even got to a three ball count on a batter. Barker would say after the game that the rain was like “a God-given spitter.” My brother was so mad the following week when Lenny wasn’t on the cover of Sports Illustrated, that he wrote a letter to the magazine in protest.
You will all remember 1981 as a strike shortened season. The strike occurred in the middle of the season and baseball started its second half with the All-Star game played at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Len Barker was the only Indian on the roster and he pitched two scoreless innings for the AL. The NL went on to win the game 5-4.
The Indians went 52 – 51 between the two halves of the season. They got some great pitching performances, but could not overcome the loss of Charboneau for most of the season due to injury.
1981 will always be remembered for the disappointing season that the Browns turned in. It will also be remembered for that May night that belonged to Lenny Barker, when he gave all of Cleveland the touch of perfection that we have so yearned for from our teams.