Perfect games, where no one reaches base (whether through hits, walks, hit batsmen, pitcher fielding errors, or other means), are exceptionally rare in Major League Baseball. In nearly a century and a half of the game being played at the professional level under the auspices of the current league structure, it has only happened 23 times.
And it has happened only once in the World Series: October 8, 1956, in Game 5, between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers.
Larsen’s Career Before The Game
Larsen, at 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 215 pounds, was a towering and imposing man, at least compared to other professional baseball players of his day. The San Diego native had a commanding fastball, backed up by a sharp curve and a tricky slider.
By all accounts, he should have had a stellar career. Unfortunately, he struggled with his control on the field, and he had a fondness for partying off the field. Two seasons before his perfect game, as a Baltimore Oriole, he lost 21 games.
Still, the Yankees saw promise in the pitcher, so much so that he was tapped to start Game 2 of the Fall Classic — during which he gave up four unearned runs and didn’t make it past the second inning.
A Perfect Game
With the series tied at 2-2, Larsen took the mound in Game 5.
Going into the fourth inning, both Larsen and his opponent, the Dodgers’ Sal Maglie, were perfect. However, Maglie’s perfect game, no-hitter, and shutout all went out the window with Mickey Mantle’s solo homer.
As the game progressed, a few close calls threatened to ruin the perfect game. Jackie Robinson, a bit slower on his feet than he was earlier in his career, was barely thrown out at first on a tricky ground ball to third. Duke Snyder and Sandy Amoros both missed home runs by inches.
“I never had control like that before or since. It just seemed that everything I threw was on the black,” Larsen would later say of the game.
In the top of the ninth, with 64,000 fans on their feet, Larsen easily retired Carl Furillo and Roy Campanella. Then, Dale Mitchell stepped up to the plate.
Larsen worked the count to 1-2, then delivered a fastball. Mitchell tried to check his swing, but the ump signaled strike three, and baseball history was made.
Larsen’s Post-Perfect Game Career
Like his career before his perfect game, Larsen’s career afterward was equally lackluster. He never won more than 10 games in a season, and retired after 14 seasons with a record of 81-91.
We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Don Larsen, who remained a welcome & familiar face at our annual Old-Timers’ Day celebrations. The Yankees organization extends its deepest condolences to Don’s family and friends during this difficult time. He will be missed. pic.twitter.com/OgOdofzSTS
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) January 2, 2020
After baseball, Larsen retreated into a somewhat quiet life as a California businessman. In his later years, he and his wife retired to Idaho, while Larsen made ceremonial appearances at conventions, autograph signings, and old-timers’ games.