56 years later, Don Larsen and Yogi Berra reminisce about perfect game
LITTLE FALLS, N.J. -- It's been 56 years since Don Larsen etched his name into baseball lore by throwing the only perfect game in World Series history. But the former Yankee's memory of the event is as perfect as the game itself.
Said Larsen, "I think about it maybe 10, 15 times a day."
Those memories were rekindled Monday when Larsen and Yogi Berra -- his catcher that day -- reunited for the 56th anniversary of the game at the Yogi Berra Museum. Larsen and Berra were kicking off a Steiner Sports Memorabilia auction of Larsen's uniform from Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The auction, whose proceeds will go to putting Larsen's grandchildren through college, will last 56 days and start at $56,000.
"I'm not getting any younger," said Larsen, 83, "and I want to make sure my grandkids have a good education."
The perfect game was truly a perfect storm of events. Larsen had no idea he would be pitching until he arrived at Yankee Stadium that morning. It was then that he saw a ball in his shoe inside his locker, the sign that manager Casey Stengel had tabbed him as the starter.
"Everybody else had known, but not me," said Larsen, who added he never asked Stengel why he was chosen to pitch that day. "I looked at the ball and I took a big swallow and I said to myself, 'Don't screw this one up.' "
After his performance in Game 2 three days earlier, Larsen had every reason to be nervous. He lasted only 12/3 innings, giving up four unearned runs and walking four in the Yankees' 13-8 loss. But in Game 5, his control was outstanding. His fastballs and sliders retired Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Pee Wee Reese with ease.
"He didn't shake me off once," Berra said. "He was throwing pretty hard and had a good breaking ball that day. Everything was working for him."
It wasn't until the seventh inning that Larsen and Berra realized they had something special on their hands. But even then, Larsen still was subject to baseball superstition -- much to his chagrin.
"I was taking a little break, and [Mickey Mantle] comes in from centerfield, and I said, 'Mick, look at the scoreboard. Wouldn't it be something with two more innings to go?' " he recalled. "I shouldn't have said anything, because then it got to be annoying. Nobody would talk to me."
When Larsen got Dale Mitchell to strike out looking for the final out -- prompting Berra to leap into his arms in one of the most iconic sports photos ever -- the magnitude of his accomplishment didn't hit him right away. "I didn't know it was a perfect game until somebody told me in the clubhouse after," he said. "I didn't even know what one was, because there hadn't been one for a long time."
Larsen -- who does regular speaking engagements when he's not with his family at his home in Hayden Lake, Idaho -- ended a 14-season career in 1967 with an 81-91 record (including 3-21 for the 1954 Orioles). But for one day, he was untouchable.
Said Larsen: "I wish we could do it all over again."
That would be perfect.