We remember Don Larsen for just one moment — throwing a third strike past Brooklyn Dodgers pinch hitter Dale Mitchell. It was his 97th and final pitch for the New York Yankees on Monday, Oct. 8, 1956, the culmination of the only perfect game in World Series history.
Larsen was born to James and Charlotte Larsen on Aug. 7, 1929, in Michigan City, Ind., and was 15 when the family moved to San Diego, where he starred at Point Loma High School.
After graduation in 1947, the St. Louis Browns offered him a $500 signing bonus and a $150-a-month contract to pitch for the Class C Aberdeen (S.D.) Pheasants. In 1953 he made his big-league debut with the Browns. The next year, the franchise moved to Baltimore.
In 1954, the season before the Orioles traded him to the Yankees, Larsen won three games and lost a league-leading 21. In 1960, the season after the Yankees traded him to Kansas City, he won one and lost 10.
With his no-windup delivery, Larsen started Game 2 of the 1956 World Series. Manager Casey Stengel pulled him out during Brooklyn's six-run rally in the second inning. Larsen thought he would spend the rest of the World Series in the bullpen — but before Game 5 he found a baseball tucked into a shoe in his locker. It was Stengel's way of letting him know he would be starting.
On the game's 50th anniversary, Berra said in an interview that he "knew pretty soon [Larsen] had his best stuff going for him. He went to three balls on just one hitter, Pee Wee Reese, in the first inning. After that he had great control. He never shook me off. He was throwing the pitches I called for, and he was getting them all in the right spot."
In the fourth inning, Mantle got the first of New York's five hits off Sal Maglie, a home run over Yankee Stadium's 45-inch fence, barely inside the right-field foul pole, just 296 feet from home plate. Hank Bauer's sixth-inning single scored the other run.
Defense saved Larsen's gem several times. In the second inning, Jackie Robinson hit a liner off Andy Carey's glove at third. McDougald grabbed the deflection on one bounce. His throw to first baseman Joe Collins barely beat Robinson.
In the fifth, a sprinting Mantle made a backhanded catch of Gil Hodges' drive to left-center field. In the seventh, Duke Snider flied out to Mantle in "Death Valley," deep left-center field, where the distance to the fence was 457 feet.
By then, both teams were acutely aware of what was unfolding.
"I think it must have been the third or fourth inning, and somebody on our bench said, 'We haven't had a base runner yet,' " Brooklyn pitcher Carl Erskine told the AARP Bulletin from his home in Anderson, Ind. "It got pretty tense about the sixth, seventh, eighth inning."
In the Yankees' dugout, "they wouldn't talk to me," Larsen said. "They sort of avoided me. They were afraid to say anything. They probably believed in the jinx or something." When he mentioned the no-hitter to Mantle, "he just walked away from me."
In the clubhouse afterward, Stengel was asked if it was the best game he'd seen Larsen pitch. "So far," Casey deadpanned.
In his five seasons with New York, Larsen's record was 45-24; with six other teams, it was a combined 36-67. His career ended quietly. He spent all of 1966 and most of 1967 in the minor leagues before appearing in three Chicago Cubs games. The next year, Larsen was back in the minors. Then he was gone.
On Dec. 7, 1957, shortly after a first, brief marriage ended in divorce, Larsen married — and remains married to — the former Corrine Bruess, then a TWA flight attendant and registered nurse. They have one son and two grandsons.
In 1968, Larsen returned to San Diego but couldn't find work, so the family moved up the coast to San Jose, where he spent 25 years on the road making sales for Blake, Moffitt and Towne, a paper company, before retiring.
Seventeen years ago, Don and Corrine Larsen moved to Hayden Lake in the Idaho panhandle, where he spends his time fishing for bass, pike, trout and the occasional salmon.
As the most valuable player in the World Series, Larsen was awarded a Corvette by Sport magazine. He did a few endorsements, Camel cigarettes among them, appeared on Bob Hope's television program, and did the rounds of celebrity appearances and speeches for a couple of years.
"He does not like to speak, so he never really has done a great deal of public appearances," Corrine Larsen told the AARP Bulletin. "He's done more card shows now since he's been retired," and he attends some Yankee reunions.
Still, Larsen said he never tires of talking about that magical day: "Best thing ever happened to me."
He wasn't watching Wednesday night when Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay threw only the second no-hitter in postseason major league play, forever linking himself to Larsen.
"I think we both had good days, " Larsen said of Halladay. "He worked hard enough, and maybe sometimes you get a little lucky, too."
Larsen admitted, "I'm always happy when I'm watching a World Series when there's a walk or a base hit. I figure … I'm safe for another day." As for comparisons between Halladay's playoff game and his World Series performance, Larsen said: "Well, I think the World Series is number one."
Bruce Lowitt, a freelance writer living in the Tampa Bay area, is a former sports features writer for the Associated Press and the St. Petersburg Times.