At it or not, fans won't forget game
Readers tell where they were, how the game affected them
-- Vincent P., Fairport Harbor, Ohio I had a friend from Iran, Persai. We attended classes together at Cleveland State and had become buddies. He was a cheerleader for the basketball team and was a big soccer fan, but he had never seen a baseball game before. I told him that we should go to an Indians game so he could see what a great sport baseball was. I told him that there are a lot of subtleties to the game, but I would do my best to explain them to him. He picked me up at my parent's home in University Heights, and we were off. The 80,000-seat Municipal Stadium had less than 10,000 in attendance. It looked mostly empty. We sat in the lower deck on the third base side. We had bought general admission tickets and then moved pretty close to the action. Lenny was throwing smoke that night. I don't think he used any pitch but his fastball all night. You could hear the pop in the catcher's glove echo throughout the stadium. As the game was going on, I was trying to explain the rules of baseball to Persai. That night, it was frustrating teaching Persai baseball because there were very few hits the entire game. It seemed like Jorge Orta was the only guy who could get a hit on either team. It was difficult to explain simple things like singles, doubles and triples. To Persai, it looked like each guy would come up to bat, take a few swings and walk back to the dugout. Mike Hargrove was the worst; he would call time and step out of the batters box and adjust his glove after every pitch. It was slow; it was agonizing. About the fifth inning I looked up at the scoreboard. Lenny had a no-hitter going. Then, quickly, I thought back through the previous innings and realized it was a perfect game! From the fifth inning on, there was a tension in the air. As Lenny retired each batter, the excitement would build. I kept hoping for a foul ball, a keepsake to remember the game. Every time Toby Harrah came up, I knew we had a shot because he pulled a lot of foul balls to the third-base side. Sure enough, he hit one that went into my hands but was knocked out by the surrounding fans and ended up a couple of rows back. Persai had no clue what was happening. I was torn. I didn't want to mention to Persai that Lenny had a no-hitter going because I didn't want to jinx it! Then I decided, maybe, if we got a little action in the game, I might be able to explain it a little better. In the seventh inning, I broke my self-imposed silence about the no-hitter, explained (with difficulty) to Persai the concept of a perfect game and that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Can you imagine? The first baseball game (at any level) you ever saw was a perfect game. How incredible is that? Persai agreed, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As far as I know, he never saw another game. I certainly couldn't get him to one.
-- Jim B. I remember Len Barker's perfect game well. I didn't go to the game. I recall the night was kind of cool and a little rain was falling in Stow, Ohio, where I lived. My dad had mentioned maybe going to the game earlier in the day, but with the weather and the fact that the game was on TV, we decided to stay home and watch it. From the start, I was convinced Lenny Barker was going to do it. Of course, I was 15, a rabid Indians fan and was pretty much convinced that the Indians would win EVERY game by a perfect game (until every other game was messed up). I watched the whole game on TV. I think my dad came in from working in the yard or garage around the third inning. I was afraid to talk already, thinking I might jinx Barker. As the game wore on, I knew it was going to happen (again, in my overly optimistic 15-year-old's brain). I couldn't talk. I could barely breathe. It was painful sitting through the bottom half of the inning late in the game, just wanting Lenny to get the last nine, six and then three outs. I don't think I'd spoken a word since maybe the fourth or fifth inning, but when the last out was recorded, I told my dad, "I knew he was going to do it." Instantly, I started to regret the decision to stay home and watch the game on TV. It was a great night for Indians fans.
-- Dave S. I was only 7 years old when that game happened. I'm pretty sure that my grandparents were visiting from Cincinnati at that time. We had the game on at our house, but being 7, I wasn't too focused on it. I do remember my mom telling me that something special was happening and that I should watch. But it was hard for a 7-year-old who was just learning baseball to get into it. We taped the replay of the game, and I watched it a few times after that. I still have images of Toby Harrah diving into the stands for that foul ball on a play that would make even Derek Jeter eat his heart out. And I remember hearing the announcer, Joe Tait, mention that Barker never got more than two balls on any batter. And I have tears welling up in my eyes as I picture Rick Manning with his arms spread wide settling under that lazy can of corn to end the game. I can't tell you how many times I reproduced that in the backyard. Now that I know significantly more about baseball and have some perspective, it's incredible that this guy with wild control and a huge leg kick managed to throw bullets for one game. But it's beautiful that with all the disappointments we've had as Cleveland sports fans, we had one night where the Tribe did everything perfectly. If only they could have gotten three more outs in 1997... Gosh ... 25 years already?
-- Jason C., Raleigh, N.C. I decided against braving the elements on that cold, rainy night and chose to watch the game in the comfort of my living room. In fact, I expected to turn on the TV and see the tarp covering the infield. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. As the game progressed, I naturally became more and more anxious. A couple of beers helped to calm me down somewhat, but not enough -- I was literally on the edge of my seat. As the "Large One" pitched in the ninth, I took a sip of my beer and Lenny threw a strike; the cause and effect was obvious to me -- I now had to quaff some brew before every pitch so as not to jinx the effort. The rest is history: Lenny got his perfect game, and I got a pretty good beer buzz. I then had to start calling all my friends and relatives who had moved away so that I could relate what I had just witnessed. That's not the end of my personal experience, however. When I attended Indians Fantasy Camp a few years ago, I approached fellow camper Len Barker and accused him of not giving me the credit I deserved for not jinxing him and allowing the "el-perfecto" to happen. He apologized profusely and said that he'd had no idea of my influence. Finally, he thanked me ...over 20 years late! Nevertheless, I appreciated his gratitude and found him to be a heckuva nice guy. Thanks for the thrills, Lenny!
-- Howard K., Beachwood, Ohio Although we lived in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., more than 300 miles from Municipal Stadium, my Dad and I listened together to thousands of Indians games. On May 15, 1981, my Dad was as faithful as ever, and the clear broadcast echoed through our small neighborhood as he sat on our front porch. But I, a college sophomore fresh home from Dickinson for the summer, was out on a date. When I finally came home, after 12, I was shocked that Dad was still awake. He told me, in a somewhat shaming tone, that I had missed baseball history -- and I knew he had to be talking about the Tribe. "A no-hitter?" I quickly inquired. Better, he said. Len Barker had pitched a perfect game. Dumbfounded and immediately upset that I'd missed it, my Dad rescued me with his inspired ingenuity -- he had used the cassette function on the radio to tape the final inning -- and Joe Tait and Herb Score had delivered a masterpiece -- enthralling listeners with the excitement of Barker's magic, but never, not once, mentioning "no-hitter" or "perfect game." We listened again, without word, to the final inning and I had the chance to savor the final three outs of the greatest Indians' highlight between '54 and '95. For one ephemeral evening, the stars had aligned and our beloved Tribe and its surprising, suddenly dominant starter gave us a joy we would not feel again until the bashers of the late '90's delivered great seasons and nail-biting postseasons. I wish I could say I have the tape at my fingertips, but it is gone or concealed in the jumble of a lifetime of sports and life mementos that still cover much of my parent's humble abode where five children very close in age grew to adulthood. But one thing has not changed. My Dad and I, on the infrequent summer occasions when we can reunite, still listen to the Indians at 1100 on the AM dial. And our fervor for the Tribe burns as bright today as it did back in '66 when my Dad first introduced me to the beautiful Red and White uniforms of the greatest baseball team (to us) that ever existed.
-- Bill T. Jr., Wyomissing, Pa. I was at the perfect game. I'm guessing but there had to be less than 10,000 people there. I was 11 years old and two things stand out: There was with odd but sure feeling by the sixth inning that Lenny had the team fully focused to play defense as there were a couple of really nice defensive stops to keep the perfection going. After the game had ended, to celebrate such a feat, the stadium/Indians (not sure which) gave away a car (a Buick, I think) and the lady sitting next to us won the car. Being 11, having no idea what that ticket would be worth today, I didn't even bother to keep it.
-- Toby, Cleveland Honest to God truth ... My buddy's birthday and my little brother's birthday (was May 17). We were all going to the game as part of the "celebration." Unfortunately, it was rainy (and we lived in Sandusky at the time -- a one-hour drive). Therefore, I stayed home in my apartment. Needless to say, my brother called in the seventh inning --"Can you believe this?" ... My buddy calls in the eighth inning -- "Can you believe this?" ... I called them both afterward. ... "I can't believe we didn't go!" Yes, the honest to God truth: We were going to be there and didn't go at the last minute because of the weather. What I remember most. CNN sports that night (back when they had CNN sports show). They complained about only 6,000 or 7,000 people being at that game that night. ...Yeah, even then the media didn't have a clue! The weather was so bad that even us die-hards didn't go -- yet the national media blamed the Cleveland fans. If you ask Cleveland fans, I'm sure 100,000 would tell you they were there that night. In our case, there were three of us that really did plan to go -- but didn't. It kills me to this day!
-- Mike S., Milan, Ohio I was in eighth grade at Roehm Junior High in Berea, Ohio, and heading out on a youth church retreat that weekend. During lunch at school, I was telling my friend Johnathan about the other trips that had significant sports stories occur when my group went on retreat (Tai and Randy dropping out of Olympics/US hockey team) and I jokingly told him, "Barker will throw a perfect game tonight and I won't know until Sunday when I get home." My father drove us out and I told him that story and I heard the first inning and I said, "Well, that's three down, 24 to go." When he picked me up on Sunday evening, he had Saturday's sports page and just laughed when I saw the headline.
-- Brian R., Boynton Beach, Fla. I remember it like it was 25 years ago. I was 9-years-old, and my mom, dad, two brothers and I were at a local golf course eating dinner along with several other families from the area, and we were shooting pool, playing tag outside and listening to the ballgame on the radio. There was something going on that night at the golf course, because there were a lot of people there and we NEVER went out to eat. Anyhow, almost everybody there was an Indians fan, and I remember as the game went on most of us kids stopped playing outside and came in to listen to the game. When the last out was made, the place went crazy and we all got free drinks. I asked for and received a "suicide," which was every kind of pop they had all mixed up. It was a great memory and something that I hope to see or listen to again from a Tribe pitcher.
-- Brian S., Defiance, Ohio I had been watching the game. I was lying on the couch and had drifted off in a nap only to wake up and see Manning catch the last out and he was jumping up and down so excitedly. I was wondering what had happened. Then I heard what the announcers had to say. It was so exciting. I just wish I hadn't missed most of the game. I know it is something I will probably never get to see again.
-- Sue in Cambridge My brother-in-law and I had 40-game packages (all weekend games). We both had to go into work at 11 p.m. that night, so with the weather conditions, we decided to watch it on TV. Needless to say, as Lenny kept putting the Toronto players down, we were kicking ourselves. When Harrah made that play along the third-base stands, we were ready to jump in the car and head to Cleveland. We didn't. We went to Saturday's game and enjoyed the five-minute ovation for Lenny. It was fantastic; I can only imagine how it must have felt the night before. I ended up with two unused tickets for Barker's perfect game. I kept those tickets, hoping someday to get Len Barker to sign them. Finally, he was signing at the IX Center about four years ago. As he was signing them, he noticed the cost of the tickets ($5.25) and said, "You can't get a beer for that at a game today." Needless to say, I have not missed another game that I had a ticket for.
-- Jim, Lorain, Ohio I was attending Cleveland State University in 1981. The night Barker was to pitch his perfect game, a friend asked me, while on campus, if I wanted to go to the game. I told her that I was going to go to my folks and watch the game with my dad. She didn't know the game was televised and stated that she too would go watch it on TV. She has never forgiven me.
-- Ted L., Albemarle, N.C. I was not one of the original 500,000 fans who was at "The Perfect Game." I watched the game on TV. My story begins when I met Barker six years ago at a promotion in Canton, Ohio. It was a Canton Crocodiles game, and Len was there striking out the average Joe between innings and signing autographs. It was my son's first baseball game. He was 2 years old. With son in arms, I presented $3 to buy a B&W print of Len throwing from the mound (pretty cheap price, I thought), and he asked to whom to address the autograph. I pointed to my boy and told him Jimmy. With a questioning look on his face, he looked at me and said, "He doesn't even know who I am." My reply was, "He will when he's older!" Upon hearing this, Barker smiled broadly, signing the photo with the words "Perfect Game" and for him the famous date in May above his signature. He then spied the souvenir ball I was holding, which I had bought for my son's first ballgame. He asked for the ball, signed it and said here's something for a fan. Brief encounter, yes. Memorable, absolutely. Does my son know about Barker? Sure, along with every Indian who could play in their day and even some who couldn't. His room is full of signed balls and pictures of Indians. He's a lefty. Who knows, maybe some day he'll wear the blue and red colors, too. One thing I know for sure: Barker's a good guy who is due a little recognition for something he did 25 years ago.
-- John F., Florence, S.C.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.