DON LARSEN AND SHIRLEY POVICH

“When it was over, I was so happy, I felt like crying.”

— Don Larsen

“No, why should I?”

— Larsen, when asked if he ever gets tired of talking about his perfect game

“I wanted to win this one for Casey [Stengel]. After what I did in Brooklyn, he could have forgotten about me and who would blame him? But he gave me another chance and I’m grateful.”

— Larsen interview excerpt, in clubhouse after game

“He did it [the perfect game] with a tremendous assortment of pitches that seemed to have five forward speeds, including a slow one that ought to have been equipped with backup lights.”

— Shirley Povich, Washington Post award-winning reporter and columnist

Don Larsen died on New Year’s Day this year — January 1, 2020.

During a 15-year MLB career (1953–1967) he pitched for seven different teams, including two stints with the Baltimore Orioles franchise, formerly the St. Louis Browns.

His W/L record was 81–91, a .471 Winning Percentage.

His ERA was 3.78.

He started 171 games and recorded 44 Complete Games.

He threw 11 shutouts and saved 23 games.

In 1548.0 innings pitched, he gave up 1442 hits.

He had 849 Ks and surrendered 725 BBs, including 35 IBBs.

His career WHIP was 1.400.

Rather pedestrian by the standards of that time…and even by those standards of today.

Oh yes.

And he threw the only perfect game in World Series history.

The only one.

Still, to this day…and in all likelihood, well beyond.

As in, it could well be the only one ever.

Period.

“THIS MORNING WITH SHIRLEY POVICH”

— By Shirley Povich Washington Post Columnist October 9, 1956; Page A1

NEW YORK, Oct. 8, 1956 — -

“The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-hit, no-run, no-man-reach-first game in a World Series.

On the mound at Yankee Stadium, the same guy who was knocked out in two innings by the Dodgers on Friday, came up today with one for the record books, posting it there in solo grandeur as the only Perfect Game in World Series history.

With it, the Yankee righthander shattered the Dodgers, 2–0, and beat Sal Maglie, while taking 64,519 suspense-limp fans into his act.

First there was mild speculation, then there was hope, then breaths were held in slackened jaws in the late innings as the big mob wondered if the big Yankee righthander could bring off for them the most fabulous of all World Series games…”

Shirley Povich had baseball writers’ card №1.

Subjective certainly, but not easy; he had a lot of worthy competition.

He was a legend.

The Washington Post’s Editor of Sports before he was old enough to vote, he served as a revered columnist from 1933 to his retirement in 1973 (actually, he was an award-winning reporter and columnist at The Post for 75 years, from 1923–1998, one of the most popular and respected writers in 20th century American journalism) and covered every World Series from 1924 — -the last time a D.C. baseball team won the Fall Classic until 2019 rolled around — -to 1997.

Buildings and journalism programs and baseball fields and press boxes have been named after him.

A trove of his baseball treasures sits just off the elevator at the Nationals Park press box.

World Series pins and scorecards scribbled with notes.

Priceless.

But the crown jewel hangs on the wall.

It’s a blown up copy of The Post dated October 9, 1956, the day after Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history, a feat still, and most possibly forever, unmatched.

Not quite as noteworthy but fantastic nonetheless, was Povich’s lede, quoted above, one of the more memorable ledes in the history of baseball journalism.

As Chelsea Janes, a reporter for the Post described it, “Simple but shimmering, direct but emotive — and on deadline, no less.”

Should come as no surprise; he filed his last column — on deadline — the day before he died.

As a sportswriter and a person, Povich personified his “month of Sundays hitting the calendar,” a once-in-several-generations sort.

He set the gold standard for conduct, demeanor, class and quality of work.

Following his example, was what it was.

(Lest we forget his sartorial splendor; he was a natty dresser).

On Monday October 8, 1956 in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, pitcher Don Larsen of the New York Yankees threw a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Yankee Stadium.

Larsen’s perfect game is the only one in the history of the World Series; it was the first one thrown in 34 years (Charlie Robertson, April 30, 1922 for the Chicago White Sox against the Detroit Tigers) and is one of only 23 perfect games in MLB history.

A rather unlikely candidate to carve out and lay claim to something most probably never to be duplicated, in a game which began on the major league level in 1869 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

151 years and counting.

(Even though, in his rookie season of 1953 he showed he could hit a little too. He broke a major league record for pitchers by getting seven consecutive hits at one point, while batting .284 with 3 HRs in 81 AB.

Larsen finished his career with a .242 batting average, hit 14 HRs, and had 72 RBI. In the magical year of ’56 in fact — -April 22 — -he hit a grand slam against the Red Sox in a game in which he pitched 4 innings.

He was well enough regarded by his managers that he was used as a pinch hitter 66 times).

In 1954 the St. Louis Browns relocated to Baltimore, becoming the Orioles and they were horrid.

54–100, kind of horrid.

So was Larsen.

He finished 3–21 with a 4.37 ERA and 80 Ks in 29 games. He led the major leagues in losses and finished third in earned runs allowed (98).

At the end of the ’54 campaign Larsen found himself part of a 17-player deal between the Orioles and the Yankees who insisted that he be included. Two of his three wins that season came against New York, including a 10–0 shutout on July 30, his last victory of the year.

His was a young arm and the Yanks sorely needed that; their “Big Three” pitching staff of the late 1940s and early 1950s, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat and Allie Reynolds were all over thirty-five and clearly on the back nine. Johnny Sain and Tommy Byrne were in the same boat.

Ace Whitey Ford and promising starter Bob Grim needed help.

Bob Turley — -14–15 in ’54 for the moribund O’s, with what was widely considered to be the “liveliest fastball’ in the league — -was the centerpiece of the deal, but Yankees manager Casey Stengel liked Larsen’s potential.

As a member of the Yanks from 1955 through 1959 Stengel used Larsen as a spot starter and occasionally as a reliever. His numbers over that span were good, highlighted by a sterling 45–24 W/L record. (He made 90 starts in 128 appearances).

In Game 2 of the ’56 Series Stengel started Larsen.

Despite being handed a 6–0 lead, he lasted only 1 ⅔ innings in what was to become a 13–8 loss. He was not injured and he did not perform abysmally.

He gave up only one hit, a single by Gil Hodges. He did however, issue 4 walks and allow 4 runs in the process, but because of an error by first baseman Joe Collins, none of the runs were earned.

Stengel may have taken the ball from Larsen but he didn’t lose confidence in him.

In Game 5 he got the start against Brooklyn’s Sal “The Barber” Maglie.

Larsen needed just 97 pitches to complete the perfect game, and only one Dodger batter — -Pee Wee Reese in the first inning — -was able to work a three-ball count.

Larsen recalled, “I had great control. I never had that kind of control in my life.”

Ya think?

Maglie was pretty good that day, giving up only two runs on five hits; Mickey Mantle’s fourth-inning home run broke a scoreless tie and the Yanks added an insurance run in the sixth.

But pretty good is a far cry from perfect.

After Roy Campanella grounded out to Billy Martin for the second out of the 9th inning, Larsen faced pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, a career .312 hitter.

Relying on fastballs he got ahead in the count 1–2.

On his 97th pitch, a called third strike by home plate umpire Babe Pinelli, Larsen caught Mitchell looking — -a feeble check-swing but a strike either way to Pinelli — -for the 27th and final out.

Catcher Yogi Berra never ran so fast in his life, jumping into Larsen’s arms in celebration and wrapping his legs around him, in what became perhaps the most iconic baseball photo of all time.

An “everlasting image.”

For his efforts, Larsen was named the World Series Most Valuable Player and the winner of the Babe Ruth Award.

“There wasn’t a Brooklyn partisan left among the 64,519, it seemed, at the finish. Loyalties to the Dodgers evaporated in sheer enthrallment at the show big Larsen was giving them, for this was a day when the fans could boast that they were there.

So at the finish, Larsen had brought it off, and erected for himself a special throne in baseball’s Hall of Fame, with the first Perfect Game pitched in major league baseball since Charlie Robertson of the White Sox against Detroit 34 years ago…

But this was one more special. This one was in a World Series…”

— Shirley Povich

[This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in October 2020.]

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store