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In October of 1956, Don Larsen Had Himself a Perfect Day

In October of 1956, Don Larsen Had Himself a Perfect Day

Congratulations to the Washington Nationals, who amazed the baseball world by defeating the favored Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series. It was a unique Series that featured some great pitching.

But not perfect pitching.

So, it is a good time to note that it has been 63 years since Don Larsen threw his perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Dozens of World Series have come and gone since then—and many records have been broken, but no one has thrown a perfect game (or even a no-hitter) in a World Series since Larsen’s perfecto.

In a perfect game—just in case you’re a little fuzzy on the definition—the losing team never gets a man on base. So, in addition to no hits allowed, there are also no walks, no hit-batsmen, and no one gets on base by an error.

Larsen in the ’55 World Series

Larsen had pitched in the 1955 World Series (his first), against the Dodgers in Game 4 and took the loss. The final score was 8-5 in favor of the Dodgers, who tied the Series at 2-2. Larsen didn’t pitch the rest of the Series and the Yankees eventually lost in seven games.

The 1956 World Series

Like the ’55 contest, this one would also go seven games, with the Yanks taking the Crown. Casey Stengel was the Yankees manager; Walt Alston was the Dodgers skipper.

The Dodgers lineup for Game 5 looked like this:

Pee Wee Reese

Duke Snider

Jackie Robinson

Gil Hodges

Carl Furillo

Roy Campanella

Charlie Neal

Snider had hit 43 home runs that season, Hodges 32.

Here was the Yankees lineup:

Hank Bauer

Joe Collins

Mickey Mantle

Yogi Berra

Enos Slaughter

Billy Martin

Gil McDougald

Andy Carey

Mantle was the AL MVP that season with 52 home runs, 130 RBIs and a .353 average. Berra had 30 homers and hit .298.

Did you know?

  • Larsen ended the regular season with a record of 11-5.
  • Larsen also started Game 2 of the ’56 Series. He was staked to a 6-0 lead in the first two innings, but he lasted only 1 2/3 innings.
  • He only gave up one hit in that game, but he walked four batters. A Yankees error led to four unearned runs, and Brooklyn tied the game in the 2 nd inning.
  • The Yankees would go on to lose that one 13-8. Larsen was not the losing pitcher.

The Dodgers took the first two games of the ’56 Series in front of their home crowd at Ebbets Field. The Series shifted to Yankee Stadium and the Yankees took Games 3 and 4.

Game 5

Don Larsen—26 years old, 6’4” and 215 lbs.—took the mound again for Game 5. He had solid stuff right from the outset and took control of the game.

  • Yogi Berra didn’t pay a visit to the mound once during the game.
  • Gil Hodges smacked one that looked like it would go for a double, but a sprinting Mickey Mantle ran it down and made a back-handed catch in left-center.
  • Yogi Berra said Larsen had only one three-ball count during the game, in the first inning facing Pee Wee Reese.

The 9th inning

With the Yankees clinging a two-run lead, Whitey Ford was warming up in the 9 th, just in case, but he wasn’t needed:

  • Carl Furillo led off and flied out to Hank Bauer in right field.
  • Campanella hit a grounder to second baseman Billy Martin, who threw him out.
  • The last batter was Dale Mitchell, a good contact hitter who’d joined the team during the season. “I was shaking a little bit,” Larsen recalled later, “quite a bit.” Larsen struck Mitchell out.

After the final out, Larsen started to trot to the dugout, as if it were the end of the first inning. But before he got to the first base line, Yogi Berra leaped into his arms and photographers caught one of the most iconic pictures in the history of sports.

Larsen had thrown only the sixth no-hitter in MLB history. He later said he didn’t know he’d thrown a perfect game. He knew he’d pitched a no-hitter and that no one had reached base, but the idea of a “perfect game” hadn’t struck him until someone later told him what he’d done.

The final score of the game was Yankees 2, Dodgers 0. Sal Maglie was the losing pitcher. After the Series, Larsen was named the World Series MVP and won the Babe Ruth Award, given to the best performer in the postseason.

A perfect ending.

Don Larsen, who was born in 1929, is still alive. When Yogi Berra passed away in 2015, it left Larsen as the last living player for either team who played the day he pitched his perfect game. In an interview with Bob Costas, Larsen said he thinks about the game nearly every day of his life.

As part of the "Yogi Berra Day" celebration in the middle of the 1999 season at Yankee Stadium, Don Larsen tossed the ceremonial first pitch to Yogi. Larsen and Berra stayed to watch the whole game.

That day, July 18, 1999, David Cone threw a perfect game for the Yankees. You could call it a perfect day.