Donald James Larsen was born August 7, 1929 in Michigan City, Indiana.
He moved with his family to San Diego in 1944.
Don played baseball as well as basketball in high school.
He was offered several college scholarships to play basketball, none for baseball as a pitcher.
Even so, Don Larsen’s pitching ability caught the attention of St. Louis Browns baseball scout Art Schwartz.
Schwartz signed Larsen to a contract to play baseball for the Brown’s minor league team “Aberdeen Pheasants” of the Class C Northern League, with Don receiving a $850 signing bonus.
Asked later why he signed with the Browns over attending college and playing basketball, Don replied he was “never much with the studies.”
After 21 wins over 2 seasons with the Class-C Aberdeen Pheasants, Don went to the Globe-Miami Browns before playing for the Class-B Springfield Browns and the Wichita Falls Spudders.
Then in the second half of the 1950 season, Don was promoted to the Class-A Wichita Indians.
When the Korean War broke out, Don Larsen was drafted to the United States Army where he spent two years working in a variety of non-combat jobs.
He was discharged from the Army in 1953 and was signed to the St. Louis Browns major league roster prior to the beginning of the season.
Don made his debut start against the Detroit Tigers on April 17, 1953, pitching five innings, giving up three earned runs, in a no decision 8-7 Browns win.
He had his first career win against the Philadelphia Athletics on May 12, 1953.
At the end of his rookie season, Larsen finished with an 7-12 record, 4.16 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 38 games, 22 of them starts. He also broke a Major League record for pitchers by having seven consecutive hits at one point.
The Browns relocated to Baltimore for the 1954 season.
In 1954, Larsen went 3–21 with an 4.37 earned run average and 80 strikeouts in 29 games. The Orioles only won 54 games that season, while having 100 losses, and finished the season in seventh place. Two of Larsen’s three wins were against the New York Yankees, including a 10-0 shutout on July 30, his last win of the season.
Trade to Yankees
In 1954, the New York Yankees, despite winning 103 games, finished second behind the Cleveland Indians in the American League. Yankees general manager George Weiss blamed the age of their pitching staff for their performance. Desperate for young starting pitching to pitch behind staff ace Whitey Ford and promising starter Bob Grim, Weiss managed to find a trade partner with the Orioles. At the end of the season, Don Larsen was traded by the Baltimore Orioles as part of a 17-player trade, with Billy Hunter, Bob Turley and players to be named later to the Yankees for most prominently, catcher Gus Triandos, and outfielder Gene Woodling.
When the trade was announced Turley was considered the key player in the trade. During the 1954 season Turley had a 14–15 win-loss record with the Orioles, and some observers considered Turley to have the “liveliest fastball” in the league. However, Weiss and Yankees manager Casey Stengel thought that Larsen had the most potential out of the two, having been impressed with Larsen’s performance against the Yankees and demanded that he was included in the trade.
Don Larsen reported to spring training with a sore shoulder and pitched ineffectively to start the 1955 season. He was quickly demoted to the Denver Bears, and Larsen visibly upset, decided to “take my sweet time” reporting to the Bears. After staying in St. Louis for a week, Larsen had a change of heart and reported to the team. Larsen spent most of the first four months of the season with the Bears, only pitching in five games for the Yankees during that timespan.
During the 1955 season, Larsen participated in nineteen games, starting 13 of them with a 9-2 record with an 3.07 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 97 innings pitched. He pitched a shutout against Jim Bunning and the Tigers on August 5, 1955.
During the 1956 season, Larsen had a rough start to the season, and by the end of May he had an 5.64 ERA. Don gradually improved and by the beginning of August, he had lowered his ERA below 4.00. Then in a seven start stretch to finish the season, Larsen had five complete games, and pitched 10 innings in another. He pitched a four-hit shutout against his former team (Orioles) on the second game of an doubleheader on September 3. Don finished the season with a 7-3 victory against the Boston Red Sox on September 28.
The perfect game
Don Larsen’s most notable accomplishment was pitching the only perfect game in the history of the World Series; it is one of only 23 perfect games in MLB history. Don was pitching for the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 8, 1956.
Yankee manager Stengel selected Larsen to start Game 2 of the Series. Despite being given a 6–0 lead by the Yankee batters, he lasted only 1.2 innings in a 13-8 loss. He only gave up one hit, a single by Gil Hodges, but walked four batters, which led to four runs in the process, but none of them were earned because of an error by first baseman Joe Collins.
Then Don Larsen started Game 5 for the Yankees.
Larsen’s opponent in the game was Brooklyn’s Sal Maglie. Larsen needed just 97 pitches to complete the game, and only one Dodger batter (Pee Wee Reese in the first inning) was able to get a 3-ball count.
In 1998, Larsen recalled, “I had great control. I never had that kind of control in my life.”
Brooklyn’s Maglie gave up only two runs on five hits. Mickey Mantle’s fourth-inning home run broke the scoreless tie. The Yankees added an insurance run in the sixth.
After Roy Campanella grounded out to Billy Martin for the second out of the 9th inning, Larsen faced pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, a .311 career hitter. Throwing fastballs, Larsen got ahead in the count at 1–2. On his 97th pitch, a called strike, Larsen caught Mitchell looking for the 27th and last out.
Don Larsen’s unparalleled game earned him the World Series Most Valuable Player Award and Babe Ruth Award.
After his historic achievement, the New York Daily News captured both Larsen’s spotty reputation and sterling performance in a single sentence: “The imperfect man pitched the perfect game.”
When the World Series ended, Larsen did a round of endorsements and promotional work around the United States, but he stopped soon after because it was “disrupting his routine”.
Don Larsen went on to play for the Kansas City Athletics, the Chicago White Sox, the San Francisco Giants, the Houston Colt 45’s and Houston Astros as well as the Chicago Cubs before retiring after the 1967 season.
Asked later whether he gets tired of talking about his one perfect game, Don Larsen replied, “No, why should I?”
Now WE know em