Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gilligan preempted perfection

I wasn’t there. In fact until yesterday, the only highlight I remember seeing was the final out.

My memories of May 15, 1981, however, are still pretty clear to me.
I was eight years old and already a pretty big Tribe fan. I was a wide-eyed innocent sports fan.

A few months earlier, my heart was broken by a Browns home playoff loss, but I thought a Super Bowl trip was only a matter of time.

The 1981 Indians team is one of my favorites. The team of your childhood always invokes happy memories. My favorite player was Toby Harrah. My brother’s was Mike Hargrove. My mom had a Frito Lay t-shirt with Rick Manning’s face on it. I owned a 45 record of “Go Joe Charboneau.” I loved Thundering Andre Thornton, Miguel Dilone, Duane Kuiper, Cleveland native Jerry Dybzinski and the rest.

And on the morning of May 15, 1981, my Cleveland Indians were in first place.
Yet on that famous Friday, I did not watch the game. My dad worked third shift and my mother and sister had control of the sole television. The only channels available were 3, 5, 8, 43 and the brand new 61, which became pay per view at night. They decided to watch the world premiere of “Harlem Globetrotters visit Gilligan’s Island.”

You can imagine my horror during the climatic basketball game between the Globetrotters and the Robots when the following scroll ran along the bottom of the screen: “The Cleveland Indians’ Len Barker has just thrown a perfect game.”
A piece of history missed and the real Ginger wasn’t even in the movie.
After my anger subsided, I thought for sure the Indians would win the World Series later that year. A few days later the Indians fell out of first place and the players would go on strike less than a month later. The NFL players would go on strike the year after that.

My sporting innocence would evolve into disappointing cynicism.

So yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Large Lenny’s masterpiece. I turned on my television which now features several hundred channels to watch the Indians play the Mariners. Because of the rain, STO instead showed the perfect game. It was a lot of fun to watch.

The Indians haven’t had a no-hitter since that day. Those that are superstitious often blame Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton. While Joe Tait never uttered the words, “Perfect game” until Manning catches the ball, Hamilton starts saying perfect game as many times as he can if a pitchers gets through the lineup unscathed the first time. Regardless, like most Indians fans, I still adore Hamilton.

On Friday I was out with friends. Since there was a break in the 40 days and nights of rain, we ate outside where there was no television to watch the Tribe game.
After we left, I checked the score on my phone. I saw the Indians were down 4-3 with a runner on third. We put the game on and arrived at our destination with the game still going on. We stayed in the car to listen to the end. His call of Hafner’s hit was more subtle than normal – “A swing and a high fly ball, deep center, Saunders back …”

I said to my friend, “It’s going to be short. Hamilton isn’t going nuts.”

But Hammy finished, “At the track, at the wall, it’s gooooooone”

Hamilton, bless his heart, had the presence of mind to stay silent for the next 32 seconds. He let the faithful fill the air. The roar of the crowd brought me right back to the 90s and Hamilton let listeners revel in it until he screamed, “The magic is back at Progressive Field.”

It is why he is the best in the business.