Don Larsen’s Perfect Game in 1956 World Series
No one saw it coming. It was the fifth game of the 1956 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Yankees trotted out a mediocre, part-time starting pitcher, 27-year-old Don Larsen. This journeyman hurler played for seven different teams in his 14-year career, compiling an unimpressive 81-91 record. In 1954, pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, he was a horrible 3-21. Known as a wild partier, his teammates called him “Gooney Bird.” All he did on Oct. 8, 1956, in that World Series contest, was pitch a perfect game—27 Dodgers up, 27 Dodgers down, no one reaching base. There have only been 20 perfect games in the history of major league baseball, and only one in the World Series: Don Larsen’s crowning achievement.
The following two newspaper articles provide some interesting details about Larsen’s World Series gem. The first was written by Larsen’s Hall of Fame teammate, Mickey Mantle, who recounts how all the Yankees were increasingly nervous as the game went on—except for Larsen himself, who broke baseball’s longstanding taboo by mentioning his possible no-hitter during the seventh inning. The other article is by a sports columnist pointing out that Larsen’s gem might actually give the mediocre pitcher some leverage in his upcoming salary negotiations.
These two copyrighted articles were published by the Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington) on Oct. 9, 1956:
Mickey Mantle: Larsen Was Coolest of All in Tight 7th
By Mickey Mantle
New York Yankee Star
(United Feature Syndicate)
New York, Oct. 9.—I was standing beside Don Larsen in the Yankee dugout when we were at bat in the seventh inning. He said to me: “Wouldn’t it be something if I pitched two more innings with a no-hitter?”
I walked away from him. We all got the same idea about that time and cleared away from Don.
The story shows how cool Larsen was. He didn’t mind bringing up the no-hitter. It didn’t disturb him in the least. He never does show nerves, and if there was any bigger spot for nerves to pop than in the seventh inning yesterday, I couldn’t think of it.
Larsen always is that way around the team. He is a dry sort of humorist at times, and can make the rest of us Yankees forget about nerves.
Larsen wasn’t nervous, but all the rest of us were. Did you notice the way we outfielders walked around in the ninth, when Dale Mitchell came up as a pinch-hitter?
Casey Stengel was waving to us from the bench, but I wasn’t sure exactly how he wanted me to play. He was waving a couple of ways. I was nervous from the eighth inning on, but Mitchell was an extra strain. He sprays hits all over, and it is not easy to play him.
Carey Was Tight
Larsen gave all of us butterflies. Andy Carey dresses next to me in the clubhouse. He sat there for a long time after the game just thinking about it. So did I. Andy told me: “It was certainly nice to be there and try to help him win. I think this is something we can talk about for years, but if you want to know how I felt, I felt tight, tight, tight in those last few innings.”
Carey saved the no-hitter by nabbing that shot by Gil Hodges in the eighth inning. He still was thinking about it an hour after the game. He caught that ball just off the ground and juggled it once in his glove before holding it. He told me he was ready to dig himself a hole in the ground out there when he thought he muffed the ball.
Andy had another hard time in the second inning, when the first time, Jackie Robinson’s line drive off Carey’s glove was fielded by Gil McDougald.
There wasn’t any tension then, but Andy said he had the shock of his life when he saw that ball winging over to first base for the out. It had to be a hit, the way he felt, when the ball shot off his glove.
Lucky Catch on Hodges
I don’t mind admitting it was just lucky that I got up to that line drive to left center by Hodges in the fifth. It was my fault I didn’t make the catch easier than I did. I thought it would be easy, then the ball just kept on going.
Billy Martin dresses on the other side of my locker. He had a good line: “Next year everybody in the minors will be pitching with no windup.”
Coaches Stole Pitch
Maybe you don’t know why Larsen pitches without a windup. He started that in Boston last month. The reason was we knew the coaches on other teams were able to tell what pitch Don was going to throw. They could spot his grip when he raised his hands to wind up. The [Yankee] coaches were trying to get Don to hide the ball, and he solved that in his own direct way. He just decided not to wind up.
Tommy Henrich visited the clubhouse and sat with a group of us in our lounge. Tommy said he never saw anybody make it look so easy to get the ball over the plate. “No windup, no nothing,” was the way Henrich put it. “Just a strike. If Feller had learned how to do without that windup of his, he probably would have saved enough energy to pitch six more years.”
Umpire Praises Sal
Our clubhouse after the game was so jammed with people you would think we had won the series. [Dodger owner] Walter O’Malley came in to shake Larsen’s hand. So did [Dodger pitcher] Sal Maglie.
Remember Sal? He is also a no-hit pitcher and was something to see, too. [Umpire] Babe Pinelli came in and said Maglie pitched a better game yesterday than he had in winning Wednesday. Babe umpired behind the plate both times. When Stengel heard Pinelli say that, Casey shouted loudly enough to be heard over all the noise: “And don’t you think he would have won if they gave him a couple of runs first.”
In the Wake of the No-No-No
By Lenny Anderson
A few minutes after Don Larsen’s effort against Brooklyn yesterday, an anonymous telephone voice asked a member of the sports department for some detail.
“A perfect game,” the informant told the caller. “Larsen retired 27 batters in order.”
“Did he strike out 27?” the voice asked.
Some people are hard to please. It must be admitted Don Larsen did his best.
Those who watched the game on television are familiar with the young right-hander’s pitching form, simplicity itself. He just takes the ball out of his glove and throws. Think how effective he might be if he used a windup.
The one-time Yankee problem pitcher had a fairly good season—11 and 5 and 3.38 earned-run average—but yesterday’s performance should give him extra leverage in his salary negotiations for 1957. If Larsen had been a real opportunist, though, he would have called George Weiss, Yankee general manager, to the mound with two out in the ninth inning and settled the financial matter then and there.
The Natural Question
It is at times like this that a baseball reporter really feels a yen to be on hand in person. What we wouldn’t give to be the first scribe to ask Larsen after the game: “Did you have good stuff out there today?”
Everything has to go just right, naturally, to bring about such a performance as Larsen’s. Drives into the seats by Duke Snider and Sandy Amoros were pulled a shade too much and landed foul. Mickey Mantle dug in and literally outran Gil Hodges’ smash to center field in the fifth inning.
As every baseball filbert is now aware, this was the first no-no-no game since 1922. On April 30 of that year, Charlie Robertson of the Chicago White Sox achieved perfection in a game against Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers. Thereafter some 43,200 major-league games were played before the brass ring came around for Larsen.
The late Earl Sheely, general manager of the Seattle Rainiers until his death in 1952, played first base for the White Sox in that game. Sheely used to recall that Robertson, too, got some help.
As we recall Sheely’s account, the final Detroit batter of the game laced a line drive to left field that seemed certain to break up the no-hitter, but the Chicago left fielder, John Mostil, gloved the ball with a spectacular diving one-handed grab.
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