Don Larsen, Bob Wolff were part of a perfect day
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Bob Wolff, the play-by-play voice, is 91. Don Larsen, one of the big-name guests, is 82. Old-Timers' Day indeed. They are forever linked by a true once-in-a-lifetime event and they will help make Sundaya truly perfect day at Yankee Stadium.
"I love it. Every year at this time, it's like Christmas for me. Don Larsen is in town and I come along for the ride," said Wolff, who joined Larsen at Gallagher's restaurant in Manhattan on Thursday in a ceremony to unveil the off-white, pinstriped uniform Larsen wore when he pitched the only perfect game in World Series history on Oct. 8, 1956.
Wolff called that epic game on radio and will be the play-by-play announcer for Sunday's Old-Timers' Day game.
The jersey and pants will be auctioned off by Steiner Sports Memorabilia beginning Oct. 8 for 56 straight days, 56 years after the gem Larsen pitched against the Brooklyn Dodgers in '56. The money will go toward funding the college education of Larsen's two grandsons. "And if there's anything left over, I'll take the family on a little trip," Larsen said with a laugh.
The jersey Yogi Berra wore when he caught Larsen that day sold for a reported $600,000 in 2010. Asked what he hoped his full uniform -- which has hung in the San Diego Hall of Champions museum for more than 40 years -- would bring, Larsen joked, "A million!"
"I never get tired of talking about that day," Larsen said. "It's the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
Larsen and Wolff have total recall of that crisp fall afternoon. The Fall Classic between the two fierce New York City rivals was tied at two games apiece. Larsen showed up at the Stadium not expecting manager Casey Stengel to call on him, given that he'd been yanked from his Game 2 start because of wildness.
"I didn't know I was going to start until I came to the park that day," Larsen said. " Crosetti would put the ball in your shoe in your locker. That's when I knew."
Dodgers starter Sal Maglie nearly matched Larsen zero for zero, throwing a five-hitter, including a solo home run by Mickey Mantle. Mantle also was front-and-center on defense, making a spectacular running catch in deep left-center to rob Gil Hodges of an extra-base hit in the fifth inning.
"Gil hit that ball well. It would be a home run in any park today," Larsen said. "Mickey could run like a deer. I'm glad he was in centerfield that day."
Larsen remembered the other close call came when Jackie Robinson led off the second inning. "He hit a line drive to [third baseman] Andy Carey. He somehow got his glove on it and knocked it down. It rolled to [shortstop] Gil McDougald. He picked it up and threw Robinson out at first. Boom-boom. He could've beaten that ball out."
Larsen, who threw 70 of his 97 pitches for strikes in a masterpiece that took only 2 hours and 6 minutes, said he never shook off a sign from Berra, cracking, "I didn't want to screw up a good thing."
As the game progressed and the drama built, Wolff faced a difficult situation regarding his audience. "I started thinking about it after the fifth inning and how I would approach it," he said. "I decided I wasn't going to use the words 'no-hitter, perfect game.' I used synonyms. I know a lot of people in the country are superstitious. I'm superstitious myself. I didn't want to get lots of mail that I was a jinx. I used words like '21 in a row . . . The only men on base so far have been Yankees . . . The only hits in the game are by New York.' Nobody seemed to mind."
Superstitions aside, Wolff had another reason for his vocabulary choice. "If you keep using the words 'no-hitter, no-hitter' all during the game, what do you end with?" Wolff said. "It was good showmanship to save the best line for last."
So when Larsen struck out Dale Mitchell to end it, Wolff was able to say, for the only time that day, " . . . a no-hitter, a perfect game for Don Larsen!"