“I’ll guarantee that nobody, but nobody, has left this ballpark… and if anyone did manage to leave early, man, he’s missin’ … the greatest! … Two strikes and a ball… Mitchell, waiting, stands deep, feet close together… Larsen is ready, gets the sign… Two strikes, ball one, here comes the pitch… Strike three! A no-hitter, a perfect game for Don Larsen! Yogi Berra runs out there, he leaps on Larsen and he’s swarmed by his teammates… Listen to this crowd roar!”
– Bob Wolff, radio broadcasterIf ever there was a team of destiny, it is the New York Yankees. A team steeped in tradition. 26 world titles, countless Hall of Famers, and a city full of fans that is as brutal and as big as their $200 million payroll.
They win, and they win, and they keep on winning. It’s unbelievable the amount of success the Yankees have had during the 20th century and early into the 21st.
But in the midst of the media frenzy of the Bronx, a relatively unknown name pitched one of the most emotional and memorable games ever.
The Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers and 62,513 fans came into Yankee Stadium on October 8th, 1956, creating an electric atmosphere. But no one could have foreseen what was about to unfold in front of their very eyes.
See, back in the early to the mid portion of the 20th century, baseball in New York in October was almost a given.
The thinking across the country was the Yankees were always going to be in the World Series, and if they weren’t then either the Dodgers or [New York] Giants would be.
1956 would prove to be no different. At the time, however, no one knew it would be 44 years until the next “Subway Series.”
In 1957, the Dodgers and Giants relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively.
All of a sudden, the New York spotlight belonged solely to the Yankees. It wasn’t until 1962, when the Miracle Mets came along, that the Yankees would have to share that spotlight again.
And until 2006, not one time since 1962 had the Yankees and Mets won their division in the same season.
But no one complained about the amount of postseason baseball played in New York between the 1920’s and 1950’s. This was the biggest stage of sports in America and all three New York teams took pride in their ability to dominate baseball for a generation.
As the 1956 World Series took shape, it looked as if the Dodgers would repeat as Champions of the baseball world.
They took games one and two in Brooklyn, but as the Series shifted back to the Bronx, it was the Yankees who won games three and four.
It was then a subtle pitching thing the Yankees would do that would make all the difference in the Series. A sub par pitcher named Don Larsen, who already lost game two, was given the ball by Manager Casey Stengel to pitch the swing game, game five, of the World Series.
His counterpart was Sal Maglie. But after centerfielder Mickey Mantle homered for the Yankees in the 4th inning, Larsen would take the game and the lead into his own hands. The rest of the way is now sweet history.
He would need just 97 pitches and in just over two hours of play, Don Larsen tossed the first and still the only perfect game in the history of postseason baseball, an unbelievable feat to say the least.
How many times have you seen a catcher jump into the arms of a pitcher like he was a little baby? That’s how important this game was to the Yankees and that’s how much of an impact Larsen’s performance had on the rest of the series.
It is such a unique record, one that can ultimately never be broken. It may be matched one day, but it’s impossible to break a record like a perfect game.
There have been so many pitchers before and since Larsen’s time, some of them much more dominate then Larsen ever was, yet no one has ever been able to match his extraordinary feat.
The Yankees would drop the next game, but won game seven and were once again World Champions.
Larsen was dubbed World Series Most Valuable Player for his great accomplishment and he would continue to pitch big postseason games for the Yankees for the next few seasons.
Larsen was ultimately one of the players traded for the infamous Roger Maris before the 1960 season, and although Larsen never experienced much great success before or after the perfect game, his legacy is one that will never be forgotten by baseball fans.
The Yankees have a Mr. October in Reggie Jackson; they even have a Mr. November in Derek Jeter. But for that one day in October 1956, nobody can deny Don Larsen the greatness he achieved and the thrill he exemplified with Yogi Berra and his teammates at the end of that great game.
50 years later, this is just a matter of the moment for fans who watch this game on ESPN Classic. But for Don Larsen, it’s a moment that remains frozen in time, forever.
Copyright ©2006 Colin Cerniglia. All Rights Reserved.