Good morning, it’s Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, the day of the week when I reprise quotations intended to be uplifting or educational. This week’s comes from Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game in the World Series 65 years ago today.
There had never been a no-hitter in the World Series, let alone a “perfecto,” but there was nothing fluky about Larsen’s performance over the Brooklyn Dodgers on Oct. 8, 1956. The Yanks right-hander sometimes struggled with his control, but not that day. He threw 97 pitches, 70 of them strikes, and went to three balls on only one hitter, Brooklyn shortstop Pee Wee Reese.
Few pitches were even hit hard off Larsen. One exception came in in the 2nd inning before anybody was thinking of a no-hitter, when Jackie Robinson hit a sharp ground ball to the left side of the infield. It skipped off third basemen Andy Carey’s glove, but ricocheted to shortstop Gil McDougald, fired to first in time to nab the speedy Robinson.
In the top of the 6th inning, Dodgers’ slugging first baseman Gil Hodges hammered a fastball deep into left-center field. Yankee Stadium had a cavernous left field in those days, and Mickey Mantle raced into the gap to make a running back-handed catch nearly 400 feet from the plate. As Larsen noted later, it would have been a home run in some ballparks (or a triple with some centerfielders), but not on this day.
In the bottom of the 7th, Larsen nudged Mantle in the dugout and pointed toward the scoreboard and said something like, “Wouldn’t it be something? Two more innings to go…” This, of course, violates baseball superstition, and Mantle walked away from Larsen wordlessly. After that, none of his teammates would talk to him until the game was over, including catcher Yogi Berra.
I’ll have more on this legendary game in a moment. First, I’d point you to RCP’s front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters, columnists, and contributors, including the following:
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The American Virtue of Hard Work. At RealClear’s American Civics portal, D.G. Hart considers this cornerstone of our national identity.
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Several days earlier, Don Larsen started Game 2 of the 1956 World Series and things hadn’t gone well. Although he was charged with no earned runs, he was wild — as he’d been earlier in his career — walking the leadoff hitter in the game and three more in the 2nd inning before being pulled by manager Casey Stengel with the bases loaded.
Not sure he’d pitch again in the Series, Larsen hadn’t spent the night before his famous achievement mentally preparing. Instead, in the euphemistic parlance of the day, he “went out on the town.” (During spring training that year, after Larsen drove his car into a telephone pole at 5 in the morning, Stengel quipped, “He was either out pretty late or up pretty early.”)
But when Larsen arrived at Yankee Stadium on the morning of Oct. 8, 1956, he found a baseball in his cleats, the signal from Stengel that he was the starting pitcher
“I must admit I was shocked,” Larsen wrote in his autobiography. “I knew I had to do better than the last time, keep the game close and somehow give our team a chance to win. Casey was betting on me, and I was determined not to let him down this time.”
There’s a lesson in all this, and it was not lost on Larsen, his teammates, or the sportswriters who covered the team. As baseball writer Jay Jaffe wrote last year, Larsen had “a reputation for putting his night life ahead of his day job.” During the Series, he was being sued for non-payment of child support. “Damn!” said legendary New York Daily News columnist Dick Young. “The imperfect man pitched a perfect game.”
Ultimately, Larsen seems to have gotten his act together. He pitched for another decade in the major leagues, weaned himself from the prodigious ability to drink that had impressed even the hard-living Mickey Mantle, remarried, became a good family man, took a job as a salesman in the San Francisco Bay Area, retired to Idaho, and faithfully showed up at Yankees old-timers’ games or MLB reunions.
Larsen never tired of giving interviews about the day he made sports history, and was gracious while doing so. In 2012, he sold his most prized memorabilia artifact — the uniform he wore on that historic day — to raise money for his grandchildren’s education. He lived until he was 90, as did Yogi Berra, the catcher who leapt into Larsen’s arms after the perfect game ended.
In 2009, sportscaster Bob Costas sat down with Larsen and Berra, and both players agreed that of the 97 pitches Larsen threw in his perfect game, all were called by the Hall of Fame catcher — without the pitcher ever calling for a sign to throw a different pitch.
“Don never shook you off, right?” Costas said. “No,” Berra concurred, “he didn’t shake me off once, no.”
And that’s the other lesson here. A perfect game entails, as do most successful human endeavors, a bit of luck and more than a bit of teamwork. Or as Don Larsen quipped to Bob Costas when explaining why he let Yogi call the came: “We didn’t want to screw a good thing up.”
And that’s our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics