I have been asked a million times about the perfect game." Don Larsen said. " I never dreamed about something like that happening and everybody is entitled to a good day and mine came at the right time.
"I still find it hard to believe I really pitched the perfect game," Don Larsen said. "It's almost like a dream, like something that happened to somebody else."
The image of the Yankee right-hander casually tossing the ball from a no-stretch windup to Yogi Berra remains as part of baseball lore. Larsen struck out Junior Gilliam on a breaking ball to start the game. Then the 3-2 count on Pee Wee Reese and the strikeout.
It all blended together - the autumn shadows and the smoke and the haze at the stadium, the World Series buntings on railings along the first and third base lines, the scoreboard and the zeroes for the Dodgers of Brooklyn mounting inning after inning.
The 6'4," 240 pound hurler threw no more than l5 pitches in any one inning against the mighty Dodgers of Campanella, Reese, Hodges, Gilliam, Robinson, Snider and Furillo.
A second inning Jackie Robinson line drive off the glove of Andy Carey at third was picked up by Gil McDougald. Out at first. Mantle's great jump on a fifth inning line drive by Gil Hodges positioned him for a backhand grab of the ball. Hodges eighth inning hot shot down the third base line was converted into an out by Andy Carey. Sandy Amoros and Duke Snider of the Dodgers hit balls into the right field seats - foul but barely so.
Just two seasons before Don Larsen pitching for Baltimore had one of the worst records ever (3-21). He became a Yankee in the fall of 1954 in a 17-player trade. " Nobody lost more games than me in the American League that year," Larsen said. " But two of my wins came against the Yankees. That's probably why I came to them.
In 1956, "Gooneybird," his teammates called him that for his late-night behavior, posted an 11-5 record. In his next-to-last start of '56, Larsen unveiled his no-windup delivery. "The ghouls sent me a message," he joked explaining why.
Larsen started Game 2 in the World Series against Brooklyn. He was atrocious walking four, allowing four runs in 1 2/3 innings. There was no one more shocked than the big right-hander when he learned when he arrived at Yankee Stadium that he be the starter in Game 5.
Now he was finishing it. "Everybody suddenly got scared we weren't playing the outfield right," Stengel said. "I never seen so many managers." The Yankee infield of first baseman Joe Collins, second baseman Billy Martin, shortstop Gil McDougald and third baseman Andy Carey were ready for any kind of play.
The Yankees were clinging to a 2-0 lead scratched out against veteran Sal Maglie, age 39. Gilliam hit a hard one-hopper to short to open the seventh inning,and was thrown out by Gil McDougald. Reese and Duke Snider flied out. In the eighth, Jackie Robinson grounded back to Larsen.Andy Carey caught Hodges' low liner at third base. Amoros struck out.
The huge crowd of 64,519.at the stadium cheered each out. The game moved to the bottom of the ninth inning. "If it was 9-0, Larsen would've been paying little attention," Berra remembered. "It was close and he had to be extremely disciplined. He was. At the start of the ninth I didn't say a thing about how well he was throwing. I went to the mound and reminded him that if he walked one guy and the next guy hit one out, the game was tied."
"The last three outs were the toughest," the Indiana native. recalled. "I was so weak in the knees that I thought I was going to faint. I was so nervous I almost fell down. My legs were rubbery. My fingers didn't feel like they belonged to me. I said to myself, 'Please help me somebody.'"
The 64,5l9 in the stands were quiet. Four pitches were fouled off by Furillo and then he hit a fly ball out to Bauer in right field. Campanella grounded out weakly to Billy Martin at second base. Left-handed batter Dale Mitchell pinch hit for Sal Maglie. It would be the final major league at bat for the 35-year-old lifetime .3l2 hitter. Announcer Bob Wolff called it this way:
"Count is one and one. And this crowd just straining forward on every pitch. Here it comes....a swing and a miss! Two strikes, ball one to Dale Mitchell. Listen to this crowd! I'll guarantee that nobody - but nobody - has left this ball park. And if somebody did manage to leave early man he's missing the greatest! Two strikes and a ball. . . Mitchell waiting, stands deep, feet close together. Larsen is ready, gets the sign. Two strikes, ball one, here comes the pitch. Strike three! A no-hitter! A perfect game for Don Larsen!"
That final pitch - Larsen's 97th of the game that took just 2 hours and six minutes - was the only one that elicited controversy.
"The third strike on Mitchell was absolutely positively a strike on the outside corner," Berra maintains to this day. "No question about it. People say it was a ball and that I rushed the mound to hug Larsen to make the umpire think it was a strike. Nonsense. It was a perfect strike."
Casey Stengel was asked "Was that the best game he had ever seen Larsen pitch?"
"'So far,'" was the Yankee manager's response.
The rest of Larsen's 14-year career - with eight teams - consisted of unbroken mediocrity punctuated with flashes of competence. He finished with an 81-91 record and 3.78 ERA.
Named the MVP of the Series by Sport magazine for his epic feat, Larsen received a Corvette. He also earned about $35,000 in endorsements and appearances, including $6,000 for being on Bob Hope's TV show. He spent $1,000 for plaques commemorating the game and gave them to his teammates, Yankee executives, the six umpires, his parents and close friends.
The man who the reached perfection also received many letters and notes including this one:
"Dear Mr. Larsen: It is a noteworthy event when anybody achieves perfection in anything. It has been so long since anyone pitched a perfect big league game that I have to go back to my generation of ballplayers to recall such a thing and that is truly a long time ago.
"This note brings you my very sincere congratulations on a memorable feat, one that will inspire pitchers for a long time to come. With best wishes, Sincerely, Dwight D. Eisenhower President of the United States "I pitched for 14 years with 8 different clubs and won only 81 games," Larsen said. " Hey, I gave it my best shot and I tried and I wish my record had been better but I was very pleased to get into the World Series and pitch the Perfect Game. And I guess that is what I will always be remembered for.
"I have been asked a million times about the perfect game," Larsen mused. "I never dreamed about something like that happening. Everybody is entitled to a good day, and mine came at the right time."