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World Series perfection

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Larsen perfect in Game 5 of '56 Series
By Nick Acocella
Special to

Signature Game

Oct. 8, 1956 - Two years ago, Don Larsen had a 3-21 record with the Baltimore Orioles. Today, he became the toast of the baseball world. The imperfect man pitched a perfect game - in the World Series. The New York Yankees righthander, known more for his partying than pitching, hurled the only perfect game (and only no-hitter as well) in Series history in beating the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-0.

Three days after failing to hold a 6-0 lead in Game 2, the no-windup pitcher wound up his classic performance in Game 5 by slipping a called third strike to pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell before 64,519 breathless fans at Yankee Stadium.

Larsen, who came to the Yankees in an 17-player trade, was helped by three outstanding fielding plays. In the second inning, Jackie Robinson's hard grounder went off third baseman Andy Carey's glove, but shortstop Gil McDougald recovered the ball in time to throw out Robinson.

In the fifth, centerfielder Mickey Mantle, whose homer had staked Larsen to a 1-0 lead, streaked into deep left-center to make a backhanded catch and rob Gil Hodges of an extra-base hit. In the eighth, it was Carey's turn to rob Hodges, as he lunged to catch Hodges' liner inches off the ground.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • On the day Larsen pitched his gem, his estranged wife Vivian - whom he married only because they had a daughter together but with whom he never lived - filed suit for back payment of court-ordered support.

  • Hours after the game, Larsen wrote a check for $420 to cover the seven weeks he was behind.

  • When a reporter asked Yankee co-owner Del Webb whether he would reward Larsen with a $500 bonus - as Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley had after Carl Erskine and Sal Maglie pitched no-hitters during the 1956 season - the multimillionaire Webb replied, dismissively, "Who's got O'Malley's money?"

  • Larsen holds one record for pitchers - a batting mark. In 1953, he had seven consecutive hits (over three games) for the St. Louis Browns.

  • While in the Browns' minor league system, he had been considered a candidate for being switched to the outfield.

  • Larsen played in the outfield twice in the majors - for the Browns in 1953 and for the Kansas City Athletics in 1961.

  • Larsen had several nicknames. His Yankee teammates called him "Gooneybird" for his late-night behavior.

  • He called himself "The Nightrider," choosing it because it reminded him of the names of the heroes in comic books, which he read avidly. The nickname also reflected his late-night wanderings from bar to bar.

  • Jimmy Dykes, his manager in Baltimore, said of him, "The only thing Larsen fears is sleep."

  • The trade that sent Larsen to the Yankees was the largest in history. Completed in two stages, it involved 17 players. On Nov. 18, 1954, Larsen, Bob Turley and Billy Hunter went to the Yankees for Harry Byrd, Jim McDonald, Hal Smith, Gus Triandos, Gene Woodling and Willie Miranda.

  • The deal was concluded on December 1 with Mike Blyzka, Darrell Johnson, Jim Fridley and Dick Kryhoski also coming to New York for Bill Miller, Kal Segrist, Don Leppert and minor leaguer Ted DelGuercio.

  • Larsen's alma mater is the only high school to produce two pitchers who threw perfect games in the majors. David Wells, who was perfect for the Yankees against the Minnesota Twins on May 17, 1998, also graduated from Point Loma in San Diego.

  • On July 18, 1999, Larsen was a guest at Yankee Stadium for Yogi Berra Day when David Cone pitched a perfect game against the Montreal Expos.

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