Don Larsen, Known For Pitching a Perfect Game in the World Series, Has Died at 90 Years Old

Today the world is a little less perfect as Don Larsen, the only man to pitch a perfect game in a World Series, has died. For a man who was perfectly imperfect as a pitcher, Larsen was just simply perfect when he took the mound for Game 5 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium on October 8th 1956. Larsen cemented himself into baseball immortality and set himself up for a life time of love, wealth, and remembrance. In honor of the life of Don Larsen, let’s relive the day which Larsen never got tired of being asked about.

Much like any iconic moment from the past, that has been told and spread by the word of mouth, stories of Larsen’s perfect game have been exaggerated throughout the years, making it hard to determine which are truth and which are myths.

A great example of this is the story that Larsen did not know that he was going to start the game until he arrived at the ballpark and found a baseball in his cleats, which was a long standing Yankee ritual indicating who was starting the game that day. Is there some truth to that old tale, sure as the series was tied 2-2 and Larsen had a reputation of being “hit or miss.” Just take a look at Larsen’s career, he was a tall hard throwing right handed pitcher, who’s control would often escape him causing him to be erratic for periods of time. Luckily on that day the Yankees got the very best Larsen or any other pitcher could ever be, perfect.

While the story makes the moment even more iconic, not that it is necessary, it isn’t totally true either. There was a very good chance that it was always going to be Larsen getting the ball in Game 5, as manager Casey Stengel had told the media it was down to either Larsen or Bob Turley and that he preferred Turley out of the pen.

To piggy back off of the previous story is one linked to it, that Larsen, who Mickey Mantle declared “the greatest drinker I’ve known” was still a little drunk as he entered Yankees Stadium after being out all night. While there was no social media and smart phones back in 1956, it is possible but far from likely that he was still buzzed while mowing down the Dodgers lineup. Nonetheless, mythical stories to be true or not, there is no denying that Larsen was perfect on that day.

The perfect game really did Larsen wonders for his career and post career. It erased his abysmal 3-21 season with the Baltimore Orioles from our minds, and hell most Yankees fans today don’t even recall that he got clobbered in the 1955 World Series before avenging his loss in the 1956 series with his perfect game.

As for his post career benefit of throwing the perfect game, Larsen became a house hold name as every time a perfect game would be thrown his name would come up, and he was a fixture at Old-Timers Day at Yankees Stadium. One of the coolest moments post career that involved Larsen took place on “Yogi Berra Day,” July 18th, 1999. On that magical day at the old Yankees Stadium, with Don Larsen and Yogi Berra in attendance, David Cone threw a perfect game against the Montreal Expos. It still gives me chills watching Larsen throw out the first pitch to Berra, and for Cone to close out the game perfect in front of the two legends 43 years after they were perfect is just magical. As the broadcast kept showing Larsen throughout the game, it almost seemed like it was meant to be and the baseball Gods were on Cone’s side that hot summer day.

For Yankees fans, the highlight of every Old Timers Day was watching Yogi Berra and Don Larsen walk out to the field and be greeted to deafening cheers. With the loss of Berra in 2015, and Larsen just a day ago, old timers day in the Bronx won’t ever feel the same. But I would like to imagine that at the gates of Heaven, Berra met his long time friend Larsen the way he did after the final out of their perfect game.

R.I.P Don Larsen 1929-2020.

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