Rest In Peace, Don Larsen
A headline popped up on my phone tonight that made me sad: Former pitcher Don Larsen passed away today at the age of 90 after battling esophageal cancer.
When I was a kid, my grandparents got me a set of baseball cards for Christmas. They knew I collected them, but these cards were not the normal Topps cards with (then) current players like Kirby Puckett and Don Mattingly. Nope, these cards were of old timey players (specifically the All Time Greats) That 8-year-old me had mostly never heard of – with the exceptions of players like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Cy Young, and Babe Ruth.
At first I was a little disappointed because who the hell were these old guys in black and white pictures? But on the back of each card was a short but detailed bio of each player, explaining what was so great about them, and as I studied these weird baseball cards, I finally was starting to realize just how deep baseball’s history is. It wasn’t just the players I knew in 1987-ish or whenever this was, but these old guys played some seriously badass baseball. One of these old guys was Don Larsen.
And just who was this old timey baseball player, Don Larsen anyway?
For those of you that don’t know who he was, he was a pitcher during the 50’s and 60’s era. During his second major league season, he pretty much sucked – he led the league with 21 losses for the Orioles. But that obviously isn’t what made him one of the guys in that pack of old timey player cards. His most notable feat was that he was the only pitcher to have ever pitched a perfect game in the World Series.
The late, great Roy Halladay came very close to tossing a second post season perfect game with a no-hitter in the 2010 NLDS in which he issued just one walk. But it was Larsen who lives on in baseball history as the only guy to have pitched a perfect post season game – and in the World Series, no less.
Larsen wasn’t exactly an ace. His lifetime 3.78 ERA is respectable. He had a 81-91 lifetime win-loss record, so he wasn’t always necessarily THE guy you wanted to put in to start in Game Five of the World Series. But in 1956, two years after that aforementioned 3-21 season, he was 11-5 for the Yankees – his best record during his 14-year career. And on October 8, 1956, Larsen cemented his place in baseball legend status by facing just 27 Brooklyn Dodgers to get that perfect game. (The Yankees won the Series in seven).
It’s hit me, now that I’m a parent, that the guys I grew up idolizing like the aforementioned Kirby Puckett or Cal Ripken Jr or Ken Griffey Jr are probably seen by my kids like that stack of green baseball cards. Old names they know were great, but they probably wonder who the hell are those old guys that played 30 years ago? And why should they care? And I’m now the old lady talking about the players from “my day”, saying how the greatest World Series was 1991 (but dammit the 2019 Series was AWESOME). And my 8 & 9 year old kids probably really wouldn’t care about a guy that played sixty years ago. But I do. Thank you, Mr. Larsen for being one of the reasons that a young me fell in love with the game. May you rest peacefully.