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Don Larsen

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Donald James "Don" Larsen (born August 7, 1929 in Michigan City, Indiana) was a Major League Baseball pitcher for 14 seasons. Larsen is best known for pitching a perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

Career statisticsEdit

Don Larsen's career won-loss record was 81-91, as a journeyman pitcher for seven different franchises from 1953-1967. He had only two 10-win seasons, in 1956 and 1957. In 1954, Larsen went 3-21 with the Baltimore Orioles, which by itself accounts for his career losing record.

Larsen was part of an enormous two-part, 17-player trade following the 1954 season. As a member of the New York Yankees from 1955-1959, Larsen was used by manager Casey Stengel as a backup starter and occasional reliever. He went 45-24 during his five seasons in New York, making 90 starts in 128 appearances. His 1956 season was the best of Larsen's career; adopting a no-windup delivery late in the season, he posted an 11-5 record, with a career best 107 strikeouts and a 3.26 ERA.

Larsen also had a reputation as a partier. Stengel once said of Larsen, "The only thing he fears is sleep." When Larsen crashed his car into a lightpole in the middle of the night during spring training, after curfew, Stengel quipped, "He must have went out to mail a letter." Larsen's teammates gave the gangly right-hander the nickname "Gooney Bird."

The perfect gameEdit

Template:Essay-like Larsen's most notable accomplishment was pitching the only perfect game in the history of the World Series, and one of only 17 perfect games overall. He was pitching for the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, on October 8, 1956. His perfect game remained the only no-hitter of any type ever pitched in postseason play until Roy Halladay of the Phillies threw one in 2010.

Larsen's opponent in the game was Brooklyn's Sal Maglie. The Larsen start was a slight surprise considering his performance in Game 2 of the Series. Despite being given a 6-0 lead by the Yankee batters, Larsen had lasted less than two innings, allowing four runs on four walks (and a crucial error by first-baseman Joe Collins). Larsen maintains that he did not even know he was going to start the fifth game of the World Series until he arrived in Yankee Stadium that morning and discovered a baseball tucked inside his baseball spikes, although newspapers across the country had him listed as the starter that day. Fifty years later, teammate Moose Skowron recalled, "I couldn't believe he was pitching that day. I still can't believe the look he had on his face when he saw the ball... shock or something." Backup catcher Charlie Silvera, who warmed up Larsen in the bullpen "very casually," remembered, "It wasn't like I went to anybody and said, 'He really has it, we're in'."

Unlike his previous start, Larsen's control did not desert him. He needed just 97 pitches to complete the game, and only one Dodger batter (Pee Wee Reese, in the first inning) was able to get a three-ball count. In 1998, Larsen recalled, "I had great control. I never had that kind of control in my life." Larsen's catcher Yogi Berra said, "His stuff was good, good, good. Anything I put down, he put over."

There were two close calls. The first was a "bang-bang" play in the second inning, when Dodger second baseman Jackie Robinson hit a line drive that caromed off Yankee third baseman Andy Carey's glove. Fortunately for Larsen, it bounced straight to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw out Robinson in a close play. In the fifth inning, center fielder Mickey Mantle made a one-handed catch in left center, running down a deep drive by Gil Hodges. The next batter, Sandy Amoros, hit a long drive to right field that went just foul; asked about the play later, umpire Ed Runge held his thumb and index finger an inch apart and said, "That much."

Brooklyn's Maglie also pitched an outstanding game, giving up only two runs on five hits. Mickey Mantle's fourth-inning home run broke the scoreless tie. The Yankees added what would prove to be an insurance run in the sixth.

The later innings were tense for players and fans alike. Larsen's teammates remained silent. Baseball custom dictates that players never discuss the possibility of a no-hitter as it unfolds. Announcer Red Barber was criticized for mentioning the no-hitter during his broadcast of the game. This particular tradition meant little to Larsen, who playfully asked his teammates if they thought he could complete the no-hitter, earning a gruff dismissal from Mantle. Larsen says that Mantle stalked away in silence; some teammates remember Mantle saying, "Shut the fuck up." The unconcerned Larsen even took a cigarette break in the clubhouse during the seventh inning stretch. "I had no tension on the mound," remembered Larsen, "but the dugout was a morgue. No one would talk to me. I was more comfortable on the mound than there."

With the score 2-0, manager Casey Stengel had Whitey Ford warming up in the bullpen during the eighth and ninth innings, in case Larsen got into trouble. After Larsen got Carl Furillo to line out for the first out of the ninth, Ford and Silvera stopped warming up and watched the conclusion of the game.

With two outs in the ninth inning, Larsen faced pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, a .311 career hitter. Throwing fastballs, Larsen got ahead in the count at 1-2 On his 97th pitch, a called strike, Larsen caught Mitchell looking for the 27th and last out. Mitchell complained that the pitch was high and outside to home plate umpire Babe Pinelli (who was working his final game behind the plate, retiring after the season). Mickey Mantle later admitted that the pitch looked high from his center-field angle. Dodgers outfielder Duke Snider said, "I think he (Pinelli) wanted to go out with a no-hitter," adding, "But there were 26 outs before that and he got them all. You can't take anything away from him."

But all eyes were on Larsen. As he walked off the mound, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra leaped into his arms, creating an indelible, iconic image in American sports. After it was over, Berra reportedly quipped to Larsen that he had performed the baseball equivalent of walking on water. Years later, Larsen said, "He jumped on me, my mind went blank. Probably still is."

After the game, a reporter asked Stengel perhaps one of the most obvious questions a sports reporter has ever posed: Was this the best game Larsen had ever pitched? Stengel diplomatically answered, "So far!"

Don Larsen's unparalleled game earned him the award for World Series MVP. Alluding to Larsen's carousing habits and lackluster record, the following day's New York Daily News included the well-remembered lead suggested by columnist Dick Young, "The imperfect man pitched the perfect game."

Fifty years later, color home movie footage of Don Larsen's Perfect Game shot by Saul Terry, of Jupiter Fla., while on his honeymoon was found, according to both The Palm Beach Post and USA Today. The Zapruder-like 8mm film footage contains shots from the right field stands of the historic last out, Mickey Mantle's famous catch, Duke Snider's catch, Billy Martin's backpedaling catch, two Yankee pitchers warming up in the bullpen at the Top of the 9th inning, fans running on to the field after the last out and scenes before and after the game outside of Yankee Stadium.

In 2007, Don, Yogi Berra, and about 100 others watched an unearthed copy of the original broadcast courtesy of Illinois collector Doak Ewing according to ESPN. Don was heard to remark "It ended the way I hoped it would" after the game ended.

On July 10th, 2008, B.B. King Blues Club in New York City will be hosting a screening of the perfect game for the first time in 52 years. It will be shown in full including commercials and a discussion with Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff who called the play-by-play for the game.

Further careerEdit

Larsen would win additional World Series games, one each in the two classic tilts with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and 1958. Both of those Series went to a seventh game, and Larsen was New York's starting pitcher in both of them. However, he lasted just 2.1 innings in each of the starts, losing the 1957 finale and taking a no-decision in 1958.

Both the Yankees' and Don Larsen's fortunes would dip in 1959. New York slipped to third place and Don Larsen dropped below .500 for the first time in his Yankee career, going 6-7. He was part of the trade to the Kansas City Athletics that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees.

He made a comeback of sorts in 1961, going 8-2 while playing for both the Kansas City (now Oakland) A's and the Chicago White Sox. Joining San Francisco in 1962, Larsen became a full-time relief pitcher, anchoring a strong bullpen that included Bob Bolin and Stu Miller. He had five wins with 11 saves for the pennant-winning Giants. In fact, Larsen won the deciding game of the three-game playoff series against the L.A. Dodgers, relieving Juan Marichal in the eighth inning. In the 1962 World Series, Larsen won Game 4 in relief (after Marichal was injured in the game), giving him a career World Series record of 4-2 with an ERA of 2.75.

In 1964, the pitching-poor Houston Colt .45s pressed Larsen back into a starting role. He responded well at age 35, going 4-8 with a fine 2.27 ERA. Larsen was also a good-hitting pitcher, finishing his career with a .242 average and 14 home runs. He was regarded well enough by his managers that he was used as a pinch hitter 66 times.

Post careerEdit

File:DonLarsen.jpg

Larsen was in Yankee Stadium for two of baseball's 15 modern perfect games: his own in 1956, and David Cone's in 1999. Cone's game occurred on Yogi Berra Day; Larsen threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Berra before the game.

When David Wells threw a perfect game in 1998, it was noted that, coincidentally, Larsen and Wells had both attended San Diego's Point Loma High School. Larsen phoned Wells to congratulate him, and later told a reporter, "He won't forget it. He'll think about it every day, like I do."

Over the years, Larsen has often been asked whether he ever gets tired of talking about the same one game. "No," he says, "why should I?"

TriviaEdit

  • Don Larsen's license plate number is DL000, representing his initials and the no-hit, no-run, no-error line score from his perfect game.
  • The headline in the New York Daily News for Larsen's game read, "ZERO HERO."
  • Joe Torre was a 16-year-old spectator at the game. He sat in the left field upper deck. Torre is a former manager of the New York Yankees and is the current manager of the Dodgers, who left Brooklyn and relocated to Los Angeles, California before the 1958 season.
  • When pitcher Bob Trice made his major league debut for the Philadelphia Athletics, he became the first black player in Athletics history. He lost to the St. Louis Browns 5-2...Don Larsen was the winning pitcher. {Connie Mack Stadium -- September 13, 1953 (1)}
  • Umpire Pinelli later commented, "What a spot to be in...if I were to call a base on balls, it would go down as the Crime of the Century."
  • On the day of the perfect game, Larsen's wife Vivian filed for divorce.
  • Larsen's Game 4 victory in the 1962 World Series occurred on October 8, six years to the day and in the same stadium where he pitched his perfecto.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • "Don Larsen: The Game I'll Never Forget." Baseball Digest Oct. 2003
  • The Perfect Yankee, Don Larsen, with Mark Shaw, Sagamore Publishing, 2001
  • Perfect, Once Removed: When Baseball Was All the World to Me, Phillip Hoose, Walker, 2006
  • Perfect Game, Imperfect Lives: A Memoir Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Don Larsen's Perfect Game, Albert A. Bell, Jr., Ingalls Publishing, 2006

External linksEdit

Preceded by:
Charlie Robertson
Perfect game pitcher
October 8, 1956
Succeeded by:
Jim Bunning
Preceded by:
Johnny Podres
World Series MVP
1956
Succeeded by:
Lew Burdette
Preceded by:
Johnny Podres
Babe Ruth Award
1956
Succeeded by:
Lew Burdette


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