Larsen on perfect game: I 'never would have made it' without Yogi

Without Yogi Berra, “I never would have made it,” Don Larsen says now of his famous perfect game, the only one in World Series history. Larsen, who is about to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the biggest baseball occasion of his life, says he still thinks about that game and his catcher all the time.

“Yogi is someone nobody ever forgets, a character,” Larsen says in a gravelly voice. He’s speaking during a phone interview from his Idaho home to talk about the anniversary, how he hopes no one ever matches him and the auction of his memorabilia collection.

When the discussion turns to the famous photo of Berra leaping into his arms after the final out of 27 in a row in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Larsen chuckles and says, “He never got too excited about that stuff, so you know it was something.

“I had a helluva time holding him up with all that (catcher’s) equipment on and stuff. Couple hundred pounds I was lugging around there.”

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On Saturday, it’ll be 60 years since Larsen’s feat. It’ll also be the first major anniversary of the pivotal win over the Brooklyn Dodgers without Berra, who died Sept. 22, 2015 at 90. That makes Larsen melancholy.

“I think about him every day,” Larsen says. “I say my prayers for him and Carmen. Everybody, when he died, gave condolences to me because he passed away. Life is life. He lived a pretty good life, had a nice family. He had good support.”

What Larsen, who turned 87 in August, and Berra accomplished that day has linked forever two players from opposite ends of the baseball spectrum. One was a Hall of Fame catcher and beloved personality, the other a journeyman pitcher who no one would’ve predicted would capture even a slice of baseball immortality.

Heck, some of Larsen’s teammates were disappointed when they found out he would start Game 5. Larsen had stumbled in Game 2, getting yanked in the second inning and helping blow a 6-0 lead.

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“I got wild and Casey (Stengel) didn’t like that and he took me out, so I wasn’t sure I was going to start (Game 5),” Larsen says. “But I’m certainly glad Casey gave me a second chance.”

With Berra’s guidance, Larsen soared in Game 5. “I never had such good control in my life, for God sakes,” Larsen recalls. “What he called, I threw it pretty close to where he wanted it and that helped everything.

“That was only my second year with the ball club and Yogi had played against those guys pretty regular. I trust the catcher — he’s the manager out there, everything’s in front of him and he sees everything. Yogi picked stuff up.”

Larsen knows he couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team, either, mentioning several strong defensive plays. Mickey Mantle made a terrific backhand catch on a hard drive by Gil Hodges in the fifth inning. Andy Carey snared a liner by Hodges in the eighth after initially bobbling it. And, in the second inning, Gil McDougald nailed Jackie Robinson at first base after Robinson hit a ball that ricocheted off Carey’s glove at third.

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Maybe the baseball gods were watching, too — in the fifth inning, Sandy Amoros smashed a ball down the right-field line that would’ve been a home run if it had not curved inches foul.

The ring that was given to Don Larsen and Yogi Berra on the 50th anniversary of the perfect game.

The ring that was given to Don Larsen and Yogi Berra on the 50th anniversary of the perfect game.

(Courtesy of Steiner Sports)

Larsen even avoided trouble when he activated what some believe is a universal jinx about no-hitters — talking about them. “The seventh inning, I was having a smoke in the corner,” Larsen says. “I stopped Mantle and said, ‘Mick, look at the scoreboard. Two innings to go!’”

In some retellings of the moment, Mantle tells Larsen to “shut the f— up.” But it was nothing so profane, Larsen says. “I shouldn’t have said anything. He walked away. No one would talk to me. Usually, it was all joking around, having fun in the dugout, but no one would talk to me. The only time I was happy that day, I was pitching.

“But I don’t believe in jinxes anyway. If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen. Maybe I was trying to relax myself.”

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Larsen struck out pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell, a dangerous hitter with a career average of .312, for the final out, sparking the famous celebration moment between pitcher and catcher. Larsen must have signed thousands of copies of that photo.

The Babe Ruth Award plaque

The Babe Ruth Award plaque

(Courtesy of Steiner Sports)

The former pitcher, who was 81-91 in 412 big-league games over 14 years, says he’s selling his memorabilia now because “If I left it to the kids, it would be just another hassle. I had the chance to do this with Andrew (Levy, his longtime agent at Wish You Were Here Productions) and I figured I might as well get rid of it and get a few bucks.

“If I do any good, I’ll take the family on a cruise up to Alaska.”

Among the 287 items up for auction in the Steiner Sports “Fall Classic Auction,” which goes through Oct. 23: Larsen’s Babe Ruth Award for being the outstanding player in the ’56 Series and a ring that was given to Larsen and Berra on the 50th anniversary of the perfect game. In 2012, Larsen’s uniform from the game was sold at auction for $756,000.

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Nowadays, Larsen enjoys life living on a small lake. He loves boating and fishing, as long as it’s not ice fishing. “Baloney on that,” he says.

He knows that pitching a perfect game in the World Series “has made our life somewhat easier,” he says. “We’re happy and comfortable with a nice family and nice friends.”

Can he believe it’s been 60 years since his big moment? “Hell,” Larsen says, “time goes on with me or without me. It’s hard for me to believe it ever happened. But I think about it all the time. No one has to tell me what happened. I was there.

“Every year, I wait for the Series to come and, hopefully, no one duplicates it. It’s tougher to do now — managers are using relievers, their top guys and they’d rather have a win using their good people, rather than screw around. I think the managers are playing the game the right way — not just on account of my stuff. I’d rather have a win if I’m them.”

Tags:
mlb
new york yankees
don larson
yogi berra
world series
baseball hall of fame

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