Remembering Don Larsen’s Perfect Game In The 1956 World Series
Don Larsen’s amazing ‘El Perfecto’ in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series was a pitching performance to remember. And it was a complete surprise, after his previous outing – a dud of an outing in Game 2, when he allowed four runs and snagged only five outs the whole game. But his perfect game was made all the more unbelievable because it’d never been done before during the World Series.
What’s even more amazing is that Larsen pitched this perfect game against a team of precision and power. The 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers had big names like Robinson, Reese, Furillo, Sinder, Campanella, and Hodges. Many baseball fans still idolize these players today.
Larsen wasn’t known as a star pitcher. He was more of a worker bee – a journeyman of sorts. He got the job done, when it was needed. But after this game, he rose to fame. Everyone was amazed, from his teammates to the fans to the press. Even Larsen, himself, was amazed.
The long-standing Yankees public address announcer, Bob Sheppard, said that if one of the greats (like Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan) had done what Larsen accomplished, everyone would’ve just believed it, and moved on. But we’re still “speechless about Don Larsen,” and his amazing performance that day …
The Fire In New York Baseball
The rivalry between Larson’s team – the New York Yankees – the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the New York Giants was hot in the 1950s. Baseball was so popular in the city at the time that it makes today’s baseball rivalries seem meaningless by comparison.
In that one decade, the Yankees won the World Series six times – three against the Dodgers, and one against the Giants. In that same decade, Brooklyn beat the Yankees in another World Series, and the Giants won in an odd year that neither Brooklyn nor the Yankees even made it to the Fall Classic.
New York’s baseball was on fire. The teams were packed with some of the best players to ever play the game. It was in that competitive environment that Don Larsen pitched his perfect game.
The Stats Don’t Tell The Story
Larsen’s career average walks per nine innings was 4.2. His stats were not looking any better at the time of his spectacular game – at 4.8 walks per nine innings. That means he was walking one batter every two innings, by the time Game 5 of the 1956 World Series rolled around.
There was no expectation of change for Larsen’s pitching. His mom didn’t attend or watch the game, as usual. She said it was bad luck to watch him pitch; it was a longstanding family superstition. But the stakes were high. Both teams were packed with talent, which resulted in fierce competition, and a very close game.
The crowd was 65,000 strong. Larsen took out 27 Dodgers with only 97 pitches. The Yankees only scored two runs. The first came thanks to a homerun by all-time great, Mickey Mantle, while the other came in through an RBI from Hank Bauer, the man who holds the record for the longest World Series hitting streak.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell stepped up to the plate. There was no song and dance from Don Larsen. He pitched without a wind up. The final pitch was no different. It was a fastball. Some swear it was high, but 21-year veteran home plate umpire Babe Pinelli called it a strike, and that was the game. It was a 2-0 win for the Yankees, and they went on to win the series 4-3.
After the game, Larsen is remembered for saying, “Last night I was a bum, and tonight everybody wants to meet me.” He truly savored his moment, but it wasn’t the beginning of a streak of incredible performances for Larsen. Actually, his unbelievable performance was a one-and-only affair. After that game, he went back to being a journeyman pitcher, and retired a decade later with no highlights even close to matching his 1956 World Series Game 5 performance.
But Larsen’s fame persists, even today. He’ll remain in the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his perfect game. His record for pitching the first perfect game in a World Series remains unbroken, all these years later.