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Perfect game reason to party
Don Larsen's career statistics
Larsen had one perfect day
By Nick Acocella
Special to ESPN.com
"If Nolan Ryan had done it, if Sandy Koufax had done it, if Don Drysdale had done it, I would have nodded and said, 'Well, it could happen.' But Don Larsen?" says Yankees public-address announcer Bob Sheppard on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.
Don Larsen, who is the only man in history to pitch a perfect game in the World Series, will be profiled on Wednesday, October 26 at 4 p.m. ET.
In the fifth game of the 1956 World Series, after retiring the Brooklyn Dodgers in order for the seventh consecutive inning,
It certainly was something. Two innings later, the New York Yankees righthander had completed his masterpiece. The perfect game always bemused Larsen, who otherwise had a less than scintillating career and who was never shy about his rambunctious ways off the field. But for all his downplaying of his accomplishment and all his carousing, his performance on the afternoon of Oct. 8, 1956 remains unique in postseason play.
After the Yankees won the Series, Larsen earned about $35,000 in endorsements and appearances, including $6,000 for being on Bob Hope's TV show. He spent $1,000 to have plaques made up commemorating the game and gave them to his teammates, Yankee executives, the six umpires, his parents and some close friends.
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. He never led his league in any category. In five World Series, however, he went 4-2 with a 2.75 ERA.
He was born on Aug. 7, 1929, in Michigan City, Ind., the younger of James and Charlotte Larsen's two children. Don learned to play baseball in games of catch with his father.
In 1944, the family moved to San Diego, where Larsen starred at Point Loma High School. While Larsen was more a standout playing hoops - he turned down several college basketball scholarships - Browns scout Art Swartz was impressed enough by Larsen's baseball skills to give him a $500 bonus and a contract for $150 a month to play for Aberdeen, S.D., in the Class C Northern League.
After a 4-3 half-season in 1947, he had a 17-11 record in 1948. But he hurt his arm at Springfield of the Class B Three-I League in 1949 and didn't show much that year or the next.
Larsen spent 1951 and 1952 in the military, playing ball for an Army team in Hawaii. He pitched and hit so successfully that some called him the best service player there since World War II. When he was discharged from the Army, he surprisingly made the Browns in 1953.
His 7-12 record was scarcely better than the club's mark of 54-100 in its last year in St. Louis. The move to Baltimore the following season didn't improve matters either. Larsen went 3-21 (with a 4.37 ERA) for one of the worst seasons ever by a major league pitcher.
Nov. 18, 1954, was the second most important day in Larsen's career: In what would be an 17-player deal, he was traded to the Yankees, the victims of two of his wins.
But it was not love at first sight. Manager Casey Stengel wearied of Larsen's late-night antics and his sore shoulder, and farmed him out to Denver in May. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Larsen pitched himself back into shape and returned to finish the 1955 season with a 9-2 record and 3.06 ERA.
The year ended on a sour note, however, when he was bombed for five runs in four-plus innings in an 8-5 defeat to Brooklyn in Game 4 of the World Series. The Yankees lost the Series in seven games.
The next year might have been Larsen's best in the big leagues: Starting 20 games and relieving in 18 others, he won a career-high 11 games (against 5 losses) and had a 3.26 ERA. In his next-to-last start, Larsen unveiled his no-windup delivery and shut out the Boston Red Sox. Asked why he went to the unorthodox delivery, he quipped, "The ghouls sent me a message."
But in his Game 2 start in the World Series, Larsen was awful. He walked four Dodgers and allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings that helped squander a 6-0 lead. The Yankees lost 13-8 and fell behind two games to none.
"He really scared me up there," Larsen said. "Looking back on it, though, I know how much pressure he was under. He must have been paralyzed. That made two of us."
Named the MVP of the Series by Sport magazine, Larsen received a Corvette.
Larsen had another solid season in 1957, going 10-4 with a 3.74 ERA. Against the Milwaukee Braves, he won Game 3 of the World Series with 7 1/3 innings of effective relief, but he lasted only 2 1/3 innings in a 5-0 loss as the Game 7 starter.
A month after the season, Larsen divorced his wife Vivian, a former Baltimore phone operator whom he had married in 1955 because he felt it was the right thing to do after getting her pregnant. In December, he married Corrine Bruess, and she helped bring order to Larsen's personal life.
In 1958, he went 9-6 with a 3.07 ERA, plus seven shutout innings in winning Game 3 of the World Series against the Braves. He again started Game 7, but was replaced in the third inning with the Yankees leading 2-1. They went on to win 6-2 behind Bob Turley.
After slipping to 6-7 with a 4.33 ERA the next year, Larsen performed his final service for the Yankees - getting traded to the Kansas City Athletics as part of a package for Roger Maris on Dec. 11, 1959.
Aside from the 1962 season with the Giants, the rest of Larsen's career was classic journeyman. It began with a 1-10 record and a 5.38 ERA for the Athletics in 1960, punctuated by a detour with Dallas-Fort Worth of the American Association.
On June 10, 1961, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, for whom he went 7-2. After the season, he was traded (with Billy Pierce) to San Francisco. His 5-4 record and 11 saves helped the Giants capture the 1962 National League pennant. He won the deciding third game of the playoffs against Los Angeles as the Giants rallied in the ninth inning. Then Larsen won Game 4 of the World Series against the Yankees, though the Giants would lose in seven.
Early in the 1965 season, Larsen was dealt to the Orioles, for whom he went 1-2. After spending 1966 and most of the next season in the minors, he pitched three games for the Cubs at the tail end of 1967.
That brief stint was Larson's major league swan song. He hung on for one more season in the minors before leaving the game. An excellent hitter for a pitcher, Larsen had a lifetime batting average of .242 with 14 homers and was used as a pinch-hitter 66 times in his major league career.
After leaving baseball, Larsen worked for a San Jose paper company for 24 years. When he retired from his second career, he and Corrine moved to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, overlooking Hayden Lake and 100 miles from the Canadian border.
Looking back at his perfect game in the World Series, Larsen once said, "They can never break my record. The best they can do is tie it."
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