By Ernie Palladino
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Hours before the Yankees and Orioles progressed through their ALDS through the Baltimore raindrops Monday night, a former pinstriped legend went about some business of his own.
Don Larsen, author of the only perfect game in World Series history, 56 years ago to the day, put up the uniform he wore on Oct. 8, 1956 to pay for his grandchildren’s college education.
We must understand here that Larsen never made a whole lot of money in his career. If not for that singular moment in time, he wouldn’t even have had the pocket money the modern card show signings afforded him. You see, by any standards, he was a mediocre pitcher, and sometimes not even that in a 14-year career that started in St. Louis with the Browns before their move to Baltimore, the Yanks, Kansas City Athletics, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, and the Chicago Cubs.
Though lengthy, that career netted him an 81-91 record, though a 3.78 ERA indicates that he probably ran into a bit of hard luck along the way in compiling losing seasons half the time. He once led the league in losses with 21 for the Orioles in 1954.
Mediocre indeed. But there was that one day, that moment in time, where he caught 27 Brooklyn Dodgers off guard, and in the end made one final catch — reeling in leaping battery mate Yogi Berra — after pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell check-swinged Larsen into history.
“It was a beautiful day and I felt great,” Larsen said. “I didn‘t know whether or not I was going to pitch. I came to the stadium early and as usual Moose Skowron and Hank Bauer were there early ahead of me.
“I got to my locker and saw a ball in my shoe. I guess (third base coach) Frankie Crosetti was told to put it there.”
Larsen gulped hard, then went perfect at Yankee Stadium.
“I said, ‘Don’t screw this up,’” Larsen told the media at the Yogi Berra Museum, where the battery officially kicked off the auction.
New York Daily News writer Joe Trimble nearly did that for him when a case of writer’s block hit him as he tried to fashion his lead to the game story. But as Mickey Mantle and Gil McDougald bailed out Larsen with two great plays, the legendary Dick Young saved Trimble’s behind.
Reaching over, Young typed out one of the great leads of sports writing history.
“The imperfect man pitched a perfect game.”
Larsen and Berra remain the only living members of that team, both old men in their 80s, far removed from an era where being the best, winning your league in the regular season, was the only ticket to the World Series. They played all the postseason in the daytime back then, when kids could run home from school and catch the final four or five innings on the radio or watch it on a black-and-white TV.
The account of Larsen’s feat is retold in the museum part of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But there is no plaque. He did not have an illustrious career.
There is no uniform there, either. It hung in his closet in Idaho for years. He had worn it all of three times, and kept it simply because he was entitled to it.
The thought of letting it go to the highest bidder occurred to him only as he grew old and his two grandchildren neared college age. One is already enjoying life in higher education, the other is a high school freshman.
But the grandfather who didn’t know if he’d even see the field on Oct. 8, 1956, let alone slice off a piece of history for himself, understood that college costs money these days. A lot of it.
The auctioneers claim the old laundry could fetch seven figures, which would certainly leave a little left over for Larsen to enjoy his final days.
That would be nice.
For a guy whose name became synonymous with perfection, he never made a lot of dough.
He’ll have a career salary year by the time the auction is done.
“It wouldn’t take much,” Larsen said. “I didn’t make that much.”
How much do you think it’ll go for? Let us know in the comments below…