Don Larsen was a mediocre pitcher for the New York Yankees. But 50 years ago in a World Series game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, he pulled off one of the greatest individual feats in sports, the only perfect game in playoff history.
HAYDEN, Idaho - In many ways, Don Larsen’s license plate says it all.
The three zeros stand for runs, hits and errors, a reminder that Larsen threw the only perfect game, and only no-hitter, in World Series history 50 years ago.
The former New York Yankee moved to the Idaho Panhandle in 1993 after retiring from a paper company in California. He lives above scenic Hayden Lake with his wife Corrine.
“We came up on a hit-and-run a few years ago,” Larsen said. “We thought it was nice.”
On Oct. 8, 1956, Larsen retired all 27 Brooklyn Dodgers he faced in a 2-0 win in the fifth game of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Catcher Yogi Berra jumped into his arms, creating an iconic photograph etched in the collective memory of baseball fans.
“He was pretty excited,” the 77-year-old Larsen recalled in a recent interview.
Larsen was otherwise a journeyman major league pitcher. He posted a record of 81-91 and a 3.78 ERA in 14 seasons, although he was 4-2 in World Series games.
But he is something else: A living symbol of a golden era in baseball, when Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider and Willie Mays patrolled outfields in New York, and the Yankees, Dodgers and New York Giants fought annual battles for world championships.
Larsen threw 97 pitches in besting Sal Maglie and the Dodgers. Mantle hit a home run and made a key catch to save a hit in the game.
After he retired from baseball, Larsen went to work for the paper company in San Jose. He later moved to northern Idaho, and then into the Hayden home in 1994. Hayden has about 10,000 residents — some 54,000 fewer people than witnessed Larsen’s perfect game.
These days, Larsen does a lot of fishing and spends time with his son and two grandchildren, who live nearby.
“I fish when I can,” Larsen said. “I don’t hunt.”
“It’s real good stuff,” he said of the frog legs.
He visits Yankee Stadium on Old-Timers’ Day, and occasionally for other gatherings. But he doesn’t keep in close contact with many ex-teammates.
“We’re scattered all over the country,” said Larsen, who does some baseball shows with Berra and goes to a fantasy camp in Florida run by former teammates Hank Bauer and Bill “Moose” Skowron.
A big celebration is planned Nov. 4 in New York, with many of the surviving players of the perfect game invited. All surviving pitchers of perfect games also are invited.
Larsen describes himself as a “fair-weather” baseball fan. He follows teams through the newspaper, but isn’t a fan of any particular players.
There have been 17 perfect games in major league history, and Larsen has been at two of them — his own and David Cone’s for the Yankees in 1999. Cone’s occurred on Yogi Berra Day, when Larsen was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Berra.
When David Wells threw a perfect game for the Yankees in 1998, it was noted that Wells and Larsen both attended San Diego’s Point Loma High School. Larsen phoned Wells to congratulate him.
After his perfect game, Larsen pitched three more years for the Yankees before being traded in the deal that brought Roger Maris to New York. Larsen also pitched for the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Athletics, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs.
These days, baseballs signed by Larsen sell on the Internet for $100 or more. You can listen to a radio broadcast of the perfect game at the Hall of Fame. He is popular at autograph shows, where he enjoys meeting fans and talking about his two hours of pitching magic.
“I have a good time and make a good dollar,” he said.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Larsen has no idea whether anyone will match his feat, though he thinks the recent reliance on bullpens makes another World Series perfect game less likely.
“Today it seems like managers won’t let them go nine innings,” he said.
“I’d like to see it stand up, naturally,” Larsen added. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
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