Don Larsen was a no-name pitcher who became a baseball legend when he pitched a perfect game for the New York Yankees in their 2-0 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series in Yankee Stadium.
The game is remembered with an iconic picture of Yankees catcher Yogi Berra jumping Larsen’s arms after the game’s final out.
Larsen, 84, and now living in Idaho, is the only pitcher to throw a perfecto in the World Series. But in the days before he was a Yankee, he played for the St. Louis Browns and then the Orioles, during their first season in Baltimore in 1954.
Overall, Larsen played for seven teams in 14 seasons, finishing with an 81-91 record. For the ‘54 Orioles, he was 3-21 with a 4.37 ERA.
I recently caught up with Larsen to talk about his time in an Orioles uniform.
What do you remember about moving from St. Louis to Baltimore?
“I liked St. Louis, playing in that park (Sportsman’s Park). I thought we were going to be there a while, but we never got the chance. It was my second year in the big leagues, so I didn’t know what was going on. I just did what I was told.’‘
Describe the 1954 Orioles:
“Our first spring training was in Yuma, (Ariz.). I was living in San Diego and so it wasn’t a bad drive for me. We had a bunch of rookies and old-timers wanting work, trying to make good. The manager was Jimmy Dykes. I tried my best, but I ended up not doing much for him.’‘
What kind of a pitcher were you?
“I had a good fastball, but I needed to learn command. I needed to throw strikes. My season with the Orioles wasn’t too hot. My record was 3-21. I was trying to learn from the older guys.’‘
What was the atmosphere like at Memorial Stadium?
“I remember how excited we were to be in Memorial Stadium. It was a beautiful place. It felt like we were in the big leagues. And the fans were encouraging with their support. You could tell it was going to be a good baseball town. We felt their support and tried to repay them with a good team.’‘
But the Orioles lost 100 games that season - what was that like?
“Yes, we were happy to be in the big leagues, but all that losing wasn’t fun. We kept trying, but we didn’t have much luck. We did get to end that season early because the Colts had a game at the stadium on that (final) Sunday. So we played our last game on a Saturday, a day early.’‘
What games do you remember pitching for the Orioles?
“I won three games that season and two of them were against the Yankees. I think that’s why the Yankees wanted to trade for me after the season. They had seen what I had done against them. I don’t know why I pitched well against them, but I did. And, then I went to the Yankees in a 17-player trade (that brought Gus Triandos and Gene Woodling, among others, to the Orioles).
You hit a home run for the Orioles in Philadelphia versus the A’s?
“Yes, I did. It didn’t surprise me. I hit a few. I hit three or four my first season with the Browns. I felt comfortable hitting, and pitchers don’t forget the home runs they hit.’‘
What did you think about going to the Yankees in a trade?
“I liked the idea of playing for the Yankees because they were a better team. They knew me well and I guess the manager, Casey Stengel, wanted me because he thought his staff was getting old.’‘
What was Stengel like?
“He knew baseball, but he could talk about anything, and he talked more about other subjects than he did baseball. He’d get on a subject and go on and on. I liked listening to him. And, his baseball decisions worked out 90 percent of the time.’‘
Do you ever get tired of talking about the perfect game?
“Never. Why should I? It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I think back to it 10 or 20 times a day. I used to watch the video, but I don’t set that up anymore. When Yogi (Berra) jumped onto me after the final pitch, my mind went blank, and it is still blank today. It’s like I am not sure the perfect game happened.’‘
Do you have any memorabilia from the Orioles or the perfect game?
“Nope, nothing. Whatever I had, I got rid of. I auctioned the uniform I wore in the perfect game and used the money to send my grandson to college. That was a good cause.’‘
Have you ever been to Camden Yards?
“Yes, once. It’s a beautiful place, a great atmosphere. It’s got an old-time feel and I like the warehouse. It’s a nice park. The players are lucky to have such a park to play in.’‘
First in a series of question-and-answer sessions with former Orioles celebrating the 60th anniversary of the club’s first season in Baltimore. Stay tuned to MASNsports.com for more historical retrospectives of six decades of Baltimore baseball.