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12/25/08 12:00 AM EST

Launch party features mound of drama

Larsen's perfect game in 1956 World Series kicks off new MLB Network

On Oct. 8, 1956, Don Larsen threw a 1-2 fastball past Brooklyn's Dale Mitchell and into Yogi Berra's mitt for a called third strike, ending the only perfect game in World Series history. As the Yankees celebrated Game 5, a reporter asked their manager, Casey Stengel, one of the craziest questions ever asked in sports:

"Was this the best game Larsen ever pitched?"

"So far," Stengel said in his typical humor.

Well, so far it was probably the best game anyone ever pitched, considering all the circumstances. Not just a World Series game, but a clinch game, in what then was the unquestioned capital of baseball. It was good enough, in fact, that out of the zillions of Major League Baseball games that have been broadcast before and after, that one outing was chosen as the greeting card for the new MLB Network.

It will be the perfect start.

When that 24/7 baseball network goes on the air for the largest launch in cable history at 6 p.m. ET on New Year's Day, viewers will be greeted by an introduction welcoming them to the new world, followed the rest of that hour by the first live Hot Stove Show, and that will segue into the 7 p.m. rebroadcast of Larsen's perfect game. It will mark the first time since that day on 1956 that a viewing audience will see it, and just think how much larger 50 million homes is now than what it was piped into back then.

Stay tuned after the final pitch, because the program will feature new commentary by Larsen and Berra in a sit-down taped session, as well as the original call by Hall of Fame broadcasters Mel Allen and Vin Scully. Using the original film negatives, MLB Productions has retransferred this footage with grass valley/Technicolor technology to restore the quality of the classic game.

"It's never been shown to a large audience since that game was played," MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti said. "It needed a little cleaning up. The first inning is missing. It's really charming. Watch all the old Gillette spots, the beer commercials. See how the broadcasters split up the game. You can hear Mel Allen again. It will be wonderful to watch."

Petitti noted that play-by-play is only one camera angle, from behind home plate. Thus, you probably will not see Larsen taking a cigarette break during the seventh-inning stretch. It will look so different, so ancient-yet-moving. "To make a graphic, they took a picture of a drawing," Petitti said. "That's how they did the graphics then."

In 2006, color home movie footage shot at the game by Saul Terry, of Jupiter, Fla., while on his honeymoon, reportedly was found. The Zapruder-like 8mm film footage features shots from the right-field stands of the last out, Mickey Mantle's famous catch, Duke Snider's catch, Billy Martin's backpedaling catch, Whitey Ford warming up in the bullpen at the top of the ninth inning, and fans running onto the field after the last out.

So out of all the baseball games that have been broadcast, why choose this one to launch your brand-new network?

"They came to me with the idea," Petitti said of the owners of the footage. "They had the tape, and I said, 'That's a good idea to launch.' It could be a thing to get some attention."

The perfect game will be replayed again at 10:30 ET on launch night, as well as the subsequent 2 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. time slots. The actual show is called "All-Time Games," and viewers can expect to see an ongoing mix of classics. But Petitti is quick to point out that MLB Network will not be the "Baseball Classic" channel.

"This is today's players, but taking advantage of the history of the sport," he said. "That's what makes it the best game."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.