In 1981, Cleveland hosted both the MLB All-Star Game, and the NBA All-Star Game. One of those All-Stars made history in May of 1981 by pitching a perfect game. Lenny Barker's gem is the most recent no-hitter for Cleveland. The team finished a game above .500 with a respectable 52-51 record. In the competitive AL East however, that still meant a 6th place finish. The starting pitching was a strength, but the team was let down by some especially bad offensive numbers.
1982 started and everyone had cold bats - literally! The home opener required the removal of 500 tons of snow from the field and the game time temp was 38 degrees with a windchill of just 17! The rest of the year was marred by injuries to key members of the team, and the result was a 78-84 record, placing Cleveland squarely back in 6th place in the AL East. While they finished at the same place in the standings, they were 17 games back of the lead instead of just 5 games back in 1981. Manager Dave Garcia resigned at the end of this year, ending a tenure that began in 1977. One bright spot - the broadcast team was joined by Cleveland legend Bob Feller. The team at one point won 11 straight games that season, the longest winning streak for the team in the 1980s.
Donruss #263 Bo Diaz - Diaz was the backup to Ron Hassey in 1981, but it was Bo that made the 1981 All-Star Roster along with Starting Pitcher Len Barker instead of Hassey. Diaz was the team leader in homers that season... with 7. He did actually have decent power, hitting 18 the following season along with 85 RBI for the Phillies in 1982. He would make another All-Star squad in 1987 as a member of the other Ohio team, the Cincinnati Reds. While he allowed the most stolen bases of any catcher in the NL in 1982, he also had the highlight of throwing out the Giants' Robby Thompson 4 times in the same game. He was from Venezuela, and playing in the VZ Winter League, set a record with 30 homers in the short season that lasted for several decades. Diaz was tragically killed in an accident on his roof in 1990, still just 38 years old.
Fleer #374 Rick Manning - I know they tend to play Fenway's left field shallow, but this seems a bit extreme for Rick Manning, who is obviously shown taking grounders. Throughout his MLB career, he was found all over the outfield, but was the everyday Center Fielder for Cleveland in 1981 and 82. Manning was known to be both speedy (25 stolen bases in 1981), and lackadaisical on the basepaths, being admonished frequently by manager Dave Garcia for not beating out more infield hits. His defense was well regarded, having won a Gold Glove in 1976, but he was not a particularly fearsome hitter, having a career OPS+ of just 85, well below league average. Manning found himself embroiled in scandal early in his career, involving Dennis Eckersley and the Hall of Famer's first wife. Following his playing career, Manning joined the Cleveland broadcast team, starting in 1990, where he still works today.
Donruss #198 Duane Kuiper - Cleveland seems to be a baseball announcer factory - Kuiper is a long-time Giants' commentator, beginning in 1986. Kuiper was Cleveland's second baseman and, similar to Manning, was more adept in the field than at the plate. His 14 RBI in 1981 is somewhat explained by the strike shortened season, but Nelson Cruz is already more than half way there following this weekend's series in Chicago. Kuiper was not expected to drive in runs, however, he was there to prevent them. Particularly in his heyday from 1977-1979, Kuiper was an outstanding defender, twice leading the league in Fielding pct. Kuiper's lone MLB home run came against future White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone.
Topps #360 Len Barker - On May 15th, 1981, Len Barker threw a perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He was just 25 years old, but already in his 6th MLB season. The prior year, he finished with a 19-12 record for Cleveland, leading the AL in strikeouts. He'd repeat that feat again in 1981 and make his only All-Star Appearance, with the team hosting the festivities. The perfect game was somewhat surprising given Barker's penchant for wildness. While he sported a blazing fastball, it was at times erratic. His 1980 strikeout crown also came with a league leading 16 wild pitches and 92 walks. Standing 6'5", Len's nickname was "Large Lenny," and his big night in 1981 ended up as one of the team's highlights of the season. He would be traded to Atlanta mid-way through 1983, returning the speedy Brett Butler and third base prospect Brook Jacoby. Barker's career after his Cleveland tenure was rocky - bone spurs in his elbow suffered early in 1983 were never fully addressed medically, and he was not able to regain the success he had in the early 80s.
Fleer #628 1981 All-Star Game - Less than 10,000 fans witnessed Len Barker's perfecto in May. Things were much different in August, with baseball returning from a strike that had lasted for months. The game set a record for the highest attendance ever at an All-Star Game, exceeding 72,000 attendees. Cleveland's Bo Diaz and Len Barker represented the host city. Fernando Valenzuela started for the NL, and they staged a come from behind victory behind 5 home runs. Montreal's Gary Carter won the MVP thanks to his 2 home runs, though the winning runs were driven in by Mike Schmidt in the 8th inning. Tigers Ace Jack Morris got the start for the AL, much to the chagrin of the Cleveland fans, who wanted their ace Barker to get the honor. Pete Rose set a record by starting at the 5th different position of his career.
Topps #685 Bert Blyleven - To acquire Blyleven, Cleveland sent a small army to Pittsburgh after the 1980 season. The trade was somewhat bittersweet, as injuries in 1982 limited him to just 4 starts. He was hitting his groove again in 1985, making the All-Star team for just the second time in his career. He led the AL in complete games (24!), shutouts, innings, and strikeouts, departing for Minnesota in the middle of the season. He would finish his career with 60 career shutouts, by far the most of his era, and 3,701 strikeouts, thanks to a fastball that was paired with two different but equally devastating curve balls. Bert continues this team's announcing tradition, having been paired with Dick Bremer on Twins' telecasts since 1996.
Topps #573 Rick Waits - Waits was known during his Cleveland tenure as a "Yankee killer," though his career splits show a 9-12 record against New York, he did have a 3.35 ERA in 28 starts, including 3 shutouts. He also was an accomplished singer, singing the National Anthem for Cleveland on several occasions. In 1982, Waits had terrible luck, pitching to a 2-13 record, and was done in by a high walk rate, and uncharacteristically shoddy defense behind him. His ERA was more than a full run higher than his FIP that season, which measures his pitching independent of fielding. Following that tough season, Waits was included in the trade that exchanged Rick Manning for Gorman Thomas. In Milwaukee, Waits was converted to the bullpen, and had decent success in the 1984 season, with a 109 ERA+ over 74 appearances. Waits has been a coach in Italy and China, as well as serving as a pitching coach for the Mets and Mariners in the minor leagues.
Topps #54 Ron Hassey - Bo Diaz and Ron Hassey were probably better described as a pure platoon rather than a starter and backup in 1981. Diaz caught 63 games, Hassey 61. Ron actually had more plate appearances, but Diaz was much more successful, hitting .313 to Hassey's .244. The low average was a surprise, as he hit .310 the year before, the highest average for any catcher in the AL in 1980. Hassey had a 14 year MLB career, usually serving as a platoon partner or backup. His best season came with the Yankees in 1985. He hit a robust .296 with 13 homers. He also led the AL in passed balls that year, in no small part to catching knuckleball artist Phil Niekro. He was known for his strong arm, and in 1981 led the AL in caught stealing pct. His career .993 fielding pct is top 50 all-time in MLB history. He caught 2 perfect games in his career, having been behind the plate for Len Barker's gem, later catching the perfect game thrown 10 years later by Dennis Martinez in 1991. Hassey was a member of the 1989 Oakland A's World Series Championship team, though he didn't play in the series.
Topps #630 Joe Charbonneau - One of the more extreme "Sophomore Slumps" was suffered by Joe Charbonneau in 1981. Following a pleasantly surprising 1980 Rookie campaign, Charbonneau had back issues that sapped his power and speed. He hit just 4 homers and played in just 48 games for Cleveland in 1981, followed by 2 homers in 22 games in 1982. By 1983, Charbonneau was out of big league ball. He missed nearly all of 1983, playing in just 11 games for Cleveland's AAA affiliate, then tried to latch on in 1984 with Pittsburgh, but did not get a call up after 123 minor league games. In 1980 he finished 10th in the AL in OPS and was the AL Rookie of the Year, but the combo of high expectations and injuries made his return next to impossible. He appeared in the film "The Natural" as one of Roy Hobbs' teammates.