August 7 – Happy Birthday Don Larsen
Larsen will of course always be remembered as the guy who threw the only perfect game in World Series history. When most fans think of this big right-hander they probably visualize the famous clip of that game’s final out, when umpire Babe Pinelli ended the at bat of the Dodgers’ Dale Mitchell with a questionable third strike call. At the end of that clip, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra is shown jumping joyously into Larsen’s arms. Did you know that during that leap, Yogi’s knee hit Larsen squarely in the groin, putting the Yankee pitcher in excruciating pain?
One of the things I most like about sports is getting the opportunity to watch non-stars have their day in the sun. Just two seasons before he became a Yankee legend, Larsen had a 3-21 record for baseball’s worst team at the time, the Baltimore Orioles. After that horrific year, he was traded to the Yankees as part of a sixteen-player transaction that was then the largest trade in baseball history. Can you imagine the current Yankees making a trade involving sixteen players and their agents?
Larsen pitched decently for the Yankees for five seasons, compiling a 45-24 regular season record and a total of three World Series victories against just one defeat. But during his fourteen-year big league career he was traded eight times, lost more games than he won, and was never considered one of baseball’s upper tier pitchers. None of that mattered to Larsen. During the fiftieth year anniversary celebration of his World Series classic, I heard Larsen tell an interviewer that one game performance had changed his life and continued to help him pay the bills a full half century after it happened. Larsen was born on this date in 1929, in Michigan City, IN.