Don Larsen is baseball’s “perfect” example that one moment can define a career.
On Oct. 8, 1956, Larsen started game five of the World Series for the New York Yankees, who were taking on their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers. After giving up four runs on one hit and four walks in 1.2 innings of the Yankees’ 13-8 game-two loss, Larsen learned a few hours before game five that he was starting. The series was tied two games apiece and Larsen stood on the doorstep of history.
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Don Larsen tossed nine perfect innings against Brooklyn and remains the only pitcher in baseball history to throw a perfect game in the postseason. I had a chance to chat with Larsen recently about that historic day in the Bronx.
“That Brooklyn lineup had four future hall of famers and a couple more that could have made it to the Hall of Fame,” said Larsen. “I have to thank my teammates for the great defense they played behind me. They definitely saved me a few times.”
Larsen pitched 14 years in Major League Baseball. He posted a career 3.78 ERA and pitched in five World Series, but he is most remembered for pitching his perfect game.
“It is hard to think that anyone would think of me without the perfect game coming to mind, but I also want the kids to remember that they should never give up,” said Larsen. “In 1954, my record was 3-21 playing for the Orioles. The next year I found myself playing for the Yankees, and my career turned around. I played in the World Series the next four years in a row and again in 1962 with the Giants.”
Larsen’s 1962 World Series appearance for the Giants came against a familiar foe — the Yankees.
“It was great being back at The Stadium again,” said Larsen. “The biggest thrill was being able to win a game there during the Series on the sixth anniversary of my perfect game.”
In addition to pitching on baseball’s biggest stage, Larsen also played against some of baseball’s greatest players. Larsen was a teammate of the legendary number seven, Mickey Mantle, and the “Say Hey Kid,” Willie Mays. Baseball fans often debate which player was better, Mantle or Mays.
“I not only played with both Mickey and Willie, I played against both of them,” he said. “If Mickey hadn’t been hurt in 1951, he would be my pick by far. Who knows how much he could have accomplished with two good legs. But when you look at their total careers, I have to say Willie. Willie always played while Mickey spent so much time recovering from injuries.”
Larsen thought neither player was the best to ever play. He reserves that honor for Ted Williams, whom he calls the “greatest hitter ever.”
One day. One game. One moment can change a lifetime forever.
“I haven’t woken up yet and I don’t want to,” exclaimed an excited Larsen. “It was the greatest moment in my life, along with marrying my wife Corrine.”