American League: New York Yankees (97-57) - 22nd World Series (Won 16 previous times)
National League: Brooklyn Dodgers (93-61) - Ninth World Series (Won in 1955)
Don Larsen staggered into the Yankee Stadium clubhouse. He was hung over, possibly still drunk. He had been out drinking the night before Game 5, like he had been after every game of the 1956 World Series, like he had been most of the season. On this day, he showed up at the stadium working on only an hour and a half of sleep. When he sat down at his locker, he saw something puzzling; a baseball was in his glove. It was his turn.
See, if you were a pitcher for the Yankees in the 1950s, you never knew if you were going to pitch in that day's ballgame until you showed up to the ballpark. If there was a baseball in your glove, you were the guy, so you better head out to the bullpen. Larsen certainly didn't expect to be handed the ball after the mighty Dodgers had pounded him around Ebbets Field in Game 2. But there was the ball. Nothing he could do about it now. Larsen immediately got up, walked into the trainer's room, and took a nap.
He woke up at noon, an hour before first pitch, and went to warm up. To say his start was important was an understatement. The series was tied 2-2, with the home team winning all four games. In most years, the Yankees would just shrug their shoulders, grip the bat a little tighter, and start a killer rally to put the Dodgers away for good. But this year was different. For the first time ever, the Dodgers were the defending champions. They wouldn't go away easily this time. So the Yankees needed Larsen at his best.
What they got was better than they could have ever expected.
He got lucky a few times. In the second inning, Jackie Robinson ripped a liner that deflected off the glove of third baseman Andy Carey and bounced right to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw out Robinson by a half step. Later, in the fifth, Gil Hodges got a hold of one, sending it deep to the gap in left center field. Mickey Mantle, that year's triple crown winner, tracked it down right in front of the monuments in deep center field.
But that was it. The Yankees got a run on a Mantle home run, another one on a Hank Bauer single, then held their breath to see if Larsen could do it. By the time they got to the ninth inning, nobody on the Yankees wanted the ball hit to them, afraid they'd screw up Larsen's date with history. The first two outs of the ninth were hit to fielders, though: a fly out to Bauer in right and a grounder to Billy Martin at second. The last batter was Dale Mitchell, pinch-hitting for Sal Maglie, who had thrown a great game himself. It would be Mitchell's final Major League plate appearance, but that's not why it's been replayed over and over again.
Mitchell checked his swing on a 1-2 pitch, but home plate umpire Babe Pinelli called it a strike anyway. Yogi Berra leaped from behind the plate, jumped up and down up the first base line, and leaped into Larsen's arms as he tried to walk off the field. Soon the rest of the Yankees joined in the celebration. It was the first, and so far only, no-hitter in World Series history, and it was a perfect game to boot. There have been many unlikely pitchers to throw perfect games, but Larsen's gem in the World Series, against the powerful Dodgers, might have been the most unlikely of all.
Well, powerful might be a bit of a stretch, because the Boys of Summer were getting long in the tooth. It was obvious in 1956 that they were wearing down. The fire in Robinson's belly was fading, catcher Roy Campanella was flat-out collapsing. They were running on fumes. This was their last shot at glory.
In many ways, Larsen's perfect game signaled the end of the Boys of Summer dynasty. Over the final three games of the series - including two in tiny Ebbets Field - the Dodgers only scored one run, coming on an RBI single by Jackie Robinson in the 10th inning of Game 6. That game may have technically kept the series alive for the Dodgers, but it was only delaying the inevitable. The last game was the fourth Game 7 played between Brooklyn and the Yankees, and it doubled as the worst Game 7 ever played. Berra's home run gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead before the Dodgers even came to the plate, and Brooklyn only managed three hits in a 9-0 humiliation. It was a sad end to one of the National League's best dynasties. And it all started with a baseball in a drunk man's glove.
Larsen threw a perfect game. Of course he was going to be named MVP. Who cares if he got knocked out of his other start in the second inning. Perfect game!
(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:
19. 1956 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-3
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:
7. 1946: St. Louis (N) 4, Boston (A) 3
9. 1925: Pittsburgh 9, Washington 7
12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
15. 1971: Pittsburgh 2, Baltimore 1
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
23. 1973: Oakland 5, New York (N) 2
24. 2002: Anaheim 4, San Francisco 1
26. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
28. 1965: Los Angeles (A) 2, Minnesota 0
29. 1964: St. Louis 7, New York (A) 5
30. 1957: Milwaukee 5, New York (A) 0
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago (N) 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0
34. 1934: St. Louis (N) 11, Detroit 0
35. 1985: Kansas City 11, St. Louis 0
36. 1956: New York (A) 9, Brooklyn 0