Don Larsen, an otherwise ordinary pitcher who achieved the extraordinary by throwing the only perfect game in World Series history, died Wednesday in Hayden Lake, Idaho. He was 90 years old.
Andrew Levy, his agent, confirmed his death.
Larsen's son, Scott, said in a statement last week that his father was being treated for esophageal cancer that was diagnosed earlier this summer.
When Larsen kicked the hill against the Brooklyn Dodgers at the original Yankee Stadium on the afternoon of October 8, 1956, he was in season four of an understated career.
He had an imposing build, 6 feet 4 inches tall and about 215 pounds in weight. His body was crowned by a brush cut and oversized ears. His repertoire of fastball, slider and curve seemed to be weapons enough for a good career.
Still, Larsen was the picture of perfection for a day. Twenty-seven times the Batters came on the plate in a Dodgers line-up with four future Hall of Famers, and all returned to the bunker without a hit, walk, or mistake by a Yankees field player.
Larsen's 2-0 masterpiece followed 34 years after the big leagues had last seen a perfect game. No pitcher has thrown a no-hitter in the World Series before or since.
As Larsen once put it: "Stupid things happen."
Larsen's 1956 season had not started promisingly. During spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida, he drove his car to a telephone pole around 4 a.m. when he returned to the team hotel. Later that day, he said he had fallen asleep at the wheel, and when asked about the incident over the years, he claimed he had not drunk.
He got away with nothing worse than a broken tooth, but his mishap inspired the Yankees teammates to call him Gooney Bird for the albatross, found mainly on Midway Atoll in the Pacific and known for being a Pratfall applies while he scurries ashore.
But Larsen took the 11: 5 lead in 1956 and had a heyday when he developed what was then an unorthodox no-windup performance that gave him a better balance while concealing his choice of pitch.
Manager Casey Stengel took the chance in Game 2 of the World Series to knock him out in the second inning at Ebbets Field when the Dodgers scored six runs in a 13-8 win.
When Larsen arrived at Yankee Stadium three days later, he had no idea whether he would face the Dodgers again. He was told that if he found a baseball in one of his shoes – the usual signal of a starting mission – he would start the fifth game with two tie games from Frank Crosetti, the third base coach. Nobody had been selected by Stengel the day before.
Larsen and the Dodgers & # 39; Sal Maglie were both perfect for the fourth inning. However, Mickey Mantle scored a home run with two failures in the fourth to give the Yankees a one-time lead, and the Yanks added another run in the sixth.
Larsen fluttered and survived a couple of fears.
In the Dodgers' second inning, Jackie Robinson won with a hard shot that bounced off Andy Carey, but Gil McDougald grabbed the rebound and threw Robinson, who lacked the speed of his early years, into a close game.
"It hit my glove tips," Carey recalled once. "Robinson would have hit it a few years earlier."
In the fourth inning, Duke Snider missed a home run by a few centimeters. In the fifth, Gil Hodges' drive to the left center of Mantle was shut down, and Sandy Amoros missed a run home by a hair.
At the seventh inning, Larsen knew he was working on a no-hitter, though he didn't know he had a perfect game. He had hit three balls in one stroke, Pee Wee Reese, when he hit the corner of the plate in the first inning.
"I've never had so much control before or since" he told Sports Illustrated decades later. "It just seemed that everything I threw was black."
Teammates who feared they might upset him went to the dugout when he tried to start a conversation in the late stages of the game.
With more than 64,000 fans, Carl Furillo, the first batsman of the Dodgers in the ninth inning, flew into the right field. Then Roy Campanella landed on the second base. Dale Mitchell, an outsider tricky for Maglie, came on the plate, and Larsen remembered, "I said a little prayer."
With the first ball and two strokes, he delivered a fastball, his 97th pitch. Mitchell checked his swing, but the home referee, Babe Pinelli, signaled strike three. A few minutes after 3:00 p.m. baseball history had been made.
Catcher Yogi Berra jumped into Larsen's arms, the crazy hug in a photo that became a classic baseball picture. "In addition to reaching the Hall of Fame in 1972, it was probably my biggest thrill in baseball," Berra said once.
But Larsen realized that he had only shown a perfect game when he entered the clubhouse.
Donald James Larsen was born in Michigan City, Indiana on August 7, 1929, but his parents, James and Charlotte Larsen, moved to San Diego at the age of 15. His pitching for Point Loma High School brought an offer from the St. Louis Browns in 1947. (David Wells, another graduate from Point Loma, was a perfect game for the Yankees against the Minnesota Twins in 1998.)
Larsen reached the majors in 1953 when he was 7-12 for the Browns.
He went 3-21 in 1954 when the ever-low Browns became the Baltimore Orioles. He was then exchanged with 17 players for the Yankees, who also received fastball player Bob Turley, who won the Cy Young Award for best baseball pitcher in 1958.
Larsen had a 9-2 record for the 1955 Yankees. After his 11 wins in 1956, he never won more than 10 games in one season.
It was traded to Kansas City Athletics in December 1959 in a deal that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees. Two years later, Maris set another record with 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth's single-season mark.
Larsen also posed for the Chicago White Sox, the San Francisco Giants, the Houston Astros (then Colt .45s), the Orioles and the Chicago Cubs. He retired after 14 seasons with a record of 81-91 and was represented four times with the Yankees and once with the Giants in the World Series.
"I'm not happy with my career," said Larsen once. "It could have been better. Celebration had something to do with it. But I always needed camaraderie, even if there were only two people in town."
After leaving baseball, Larsen was a seller at a California stationery company.
Larsen and his wife Corrine (Bruess) Larsen spent their later years in the small town of Hayden Lake in Idaho's Griff. Larsen liked to fish on a lake next to her house, but also appeared at autograph and souvenir shows and took part in the games of the Yankee classic cars.
He sold his perfect match uniform – the pinstripe jersey number 18 and his pants – to a collector of memorabilia in December 2012 for $ 765,000 to enable his grandsons Justin and Cody Larsen to be trained. They survive him alongside his wife and son.
Larsen often said that a day had passed when he hadn't thought about his performance, and he drove a car with the license plate number DL000, with his initials and the boxing note, which contained no runs, no hits and no errors.
On the 45th anniversary of his perfect game, Larsen thought again about the moment. "I think you work hard enough and something good will happen," he said. "Everyone is entitled to a few nice days."
Tyler Kepner contributed to the reporting.