Indians celebrate anniversary Len Barker's perfect game
CLEVELAND - Len Barker can still throw a strike - 25 years after pitching one of the greatest games in baseball history.
Barker tossed one right down the middle of the plate to former Indians center fielder Rick Manning on Saturday night as part of ceremonies honoring the 25-year anniversary of the right-hander's perfect game.
"It was a curveball," the 50-year-old Barker joked.
On May 15, 1981, Barker - known as one of the hardest throwers in the game at the time, had a sharp-breaking curve going in a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Manning caught a fly ball off the bat of Ernie Whitt for the final out in front of 7,290 fans at old Cleveland Stadium.
"It was an awesome feeling," Barker recalled, adding that he never before or after had such command.
He didn't get to a three-ball count on any batter that night, throwing 74 of 103 pitches for strikes and fanning 11 of the last 17 he faced, all swinging.
Barker didn't cash in on his fame, other than getting a $5,000 bonus from the club. He turned down offers to go on the "Today Show" and tape commercials.
"I just didn't want to do it," he said. "I was more interested in trying to help my team at the time."
After that game, Manning presented the ball from the final out to Barker, who gave it right back.
"I told him to keep it," Barker said. "I signed it 'To the best center fielder in baseball.' "
Manning said it is among his most cherished possessions.
"I wanted that ball hit to me," the 51-year-old former gold glover said. "Anything hit to the outfield, I was going after it."
Barker even vetoed a defensive change in the last inning.
"Before the ninth inning, manager Dave Garcia said he was going to put Larry Littleton in left in place of Joe Charboneau," he said. "I told him, 'If you take Joe out, you take me out."
A week earlier, Littleton entered a game in Toronto in the eighth inning for defense with Bert Blyleven and lost a ball in the lights that was ruled the first hit of the game.
"Joe was OK out there, and Manning caught everything in center, left-center and right-center anyway," said Barker, who never tires of talking about his achievement.
"It's history and I'm grateful to have had it happen," he said.
Only nine other men still alive know what Barker experienced. One of them, Tigers left-hander Kenny Rogers, 41, was in the visitor's dugout Saturday night.
Rogers threw his masterpiece on July 28, 1994, for the Texas Rangers, beating the California Angels 4-0.
"I knew it was a no-hitter, but had no idea it was a perfect game until somebody told me after the game," said Rogers.
Unlike Barker, Rogers went to a three-ball count several times, including all three batters he faced in the seventh inning.
"I was in such a zone that I never even noticed that, either," he said. "That's the only time I can honestly say that I never had one negative thought while on the mound. I was in complete focus on making my pitch.
"It was a special feeling that night. And it's special to see the Indians honoring Len, too."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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