Perfect game lives on through Larsen and Yogi
LITTLE FALLS, N.J. -- The song remains the same. It can't be improved; perfection was achieved 56 years ago Monday. So no revisionists tinker with it. It is as it was if you were there in the Bronx with Joe Torre, the 16-year-old Giants fans from Brooklyn, and 64,519 others that early autumn afternoon, and even if you weren't. It was 27 up and 27 down. The Don Larsen Waltz -- 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. He made the Dodgers dance.
The score of Game 5 of the 1956 World Series is unchanged of course -- Yankees 2, Dodgers 0. Larsen remains a head taller than Mr. Berra, his catcher. He still says, "I couldn't have done it without Yogi," and Yogi returns the compliment. "And I couldn't have done without him." And we still enjoy the byplay.
The specifics that many of us have committed to memory include 97 pitches thrown by the Yankees' surprise -- and surprised -- starting pitcher against the seemingly annual opponent, a most formidable foe. Larsen struck out seven batters including the last one, Dale Mitchell. And the surviving constituency of "Dem Bums" still smarts about the location of the final pitch.
Mickey Mantle hit a mighty home run in the fourth, a rocket into the lower stands in right field and made a brilliant, sprinting catch in the real Death Valley in the fifth. He called it his greatest catch. Even Gil Hodges, the lumbering man who hit the ball, might have reached third base had Mick not intercepted.
The second inning had included Jackie Robinson's hot ground ball off the glove of third baseman Andy Carey that ricocheted to Gil McDougald at short. Robinson was thrown out by the width of a popsicle stick. And Duke Snider pulled one into the seats in right in the fourth. It was foul by three popsicle sticks and a Toostie Roll wrapper. Hank Bauer singled in a run in the sixth after Larsen's sacrifice bunt had moved Carey to second. The losing pitcher was Al -- not Sal -- Maglie. He had pitched his 'S' off, a five-hitter against that batting order.
That's the arithmetic, as Les Keiter used to say, and the nut and bolts of the lone perfect game thrown in World Series history. It gave new meaning to the phrase The Best of Seven. Larsen's performance sure was. Still is. That much was re-confirmed Monday afternoon at Mr. Berra's museum and learning center on the campus of Montclair State University.
The battery was included when Steiner Sports Memorabilia recognized its own 25th anniversary and the 56th anniversary of the ultimate pitching achievement and announced the auction of the jersey -- No. 18 in pinstripes -- Larsen wore when he became the "Zero Hero" according to the New York Daily News. Even the Brooklyn folk had to acknowledge that was clever.
Clothes make the man, someone -- probably a clothier -- said. Not in this case. The man made a marvelous mark, a magnificent moment. Now he's giving the shirt off his back to memories and maybe for millions.
The auction, which began Monday, lasts appropriately 56 days. So come Dec. 5 someone other than the 83-year-old former pitcher will own the jersey, and Larsen will increase his wealth as well as the college funds for two grandsons. "I want to take care of them and their education," he said several times Monday.
The jersey is among some 1,500 items Steiner Sports intends to sell to the highest bidder. A bat used by Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, rings Bobby Knight won for NCAA basketball championships and his Olympic gold medal and a signed lineup card from the 2011 game in which Derek Jeter produced his 3,000th hit will be auctioned as well.
The other items will be prized, but Larsen's 18 is a unique artifact. What it will fetch is left to the imaginations and deep pockets of folks as yet unknown. "More than I made for throwing it," Larsen said.
The perfect game "made me a few dollars," he conceded. It made his name and no-wind-up image a permanent, high-profile part of the game's lore. Baseball produced three perfect games this year, but all came in the regular season. Roy Halladay pitched a postseason no-hitter two years ago. He walked a batter -- and it happened in the Division Series. And he wasn't facing Pee Wee, "Skoonj", Duke, Gil, Campy, Jackie, Junior and last year's hero, Sandy Amoros.
"And," Larsen said in a rare instant of immodesty, "nobody can top what I did. They can only tie me."
He and Mr. Berra are the last men who can speak of the perfect game with a participant's perspective. The six umpires, two managers and the 17 others who played in the game have passed."When Duke died [February 2011]," Larsen said, "he left just me and Yog."
The thrill lives in Larsen and Berra. And it should live beyond them. That game constitutes old news now. But it's hardly a stale story. It is too grand an accomplishment, too magnificent a performance to fade as Larsen and Mr. Berra fade. Think of what Larsen did! People still marvel at Mona Lisa's smile, Marconi's radio, Neil Armstrong's step and Jonas Salk's discovery. It's only baseball, but the game has its place in our hearts. It's only one game, but as Larsen said "Everyone's entitled to have one good day."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.