In early October 1956, I was a second grade student in Washington, D.C. Every afternoon, I would run home from school and listen to the last few innings of the Yankee-Dodger World Series with my mother, a die-hard Brooklyn fan. When I arrived home one afternoon, the radio was off and my mother was sitting glumly next to it.
“Why isn’t the game on?”
“What was the score?”
“And the Dodgers didn’t get any hits or baserunners.”
Today is the 50th anniversary of the Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game. This feat is unlikely to be matched and almost certainly won’t be surpassed. And consider the lineup he shut down. It included four Hall of Famers (Robinson, Campanella, Reese, and Snider), plus Gil Hodges who missed the Hall by only a few votes on the old-timers ballot last year, plus Carl Furillo who had won the batting title three years earlier. The other two regulars — Jim Gilliam (.300) and Sandy Amoros (.260) weren’t slouches either. The club had also led the league in walks by a big margin.
Apparently, no film of the game survives. All one ever sees is Dodger pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell (.292 during the part of the year he played for Brooklyn) taking a pitch that looks suspiciously outside, umpire Babe Pinelli calling the third strike, and Yogi Berra jumping rapturously into the arms of a stoic (by today’s standards) Larsen. Bob Wolff, the young Washington Senators play-by-play man, who called the game on radio recalls two tough outs — a shot by Hodges that Mickey Mantle ran down, and a hard hit grounder that deflected off of third baseman Andy Carey to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw the runner out.
Accounts of Larsen’s feat almost always portray him as nothing special — an average pitcher. Actually, Larsen was one of the top ten pitchers in the league in 1956. He won only 11 games that year, mostly because he pitched a lot of relief. However, Casey Stengel, with a well-rested staff, picked him to pitch game two (in which he was shelled), indicating that he was the second best pitcher on the best team in baseball. And from 1955-1958, his record was 39-17. Outside of those years, he wasn’t average either — he was mostly terrible.
Larsen’s opponent on Oct. 8, 1956 was the distinguished veteran Sal “the Barber” Maglie. The Dodgers had picked him up off the scrap heap and he had carried them the pennant with a 13-5 record. Maglie bested Whitey Ford in the Series opener 6-3, and early in game five, Maglie was as tough as Larsen. In fact, a Dodger fan in the press box is supposed to have said, “Maglie’s pitching great and that bum Larsen isn’t doing too bad either.”
Not too bad, indeed.