Friday, January 02, 2009

Larsen Bucked Superstition During His '56 World Series Gem

The MLB Network debuted yesterday. It's 24/7 baseball, and why not? Other sports are doing it, so the national pastime may as well, too.

They kicked things off with a re-broadcast, on kinescope, of Don Larsen's 1956 World Series perfect game. Mel Allen and Vin Scully behind the microphone. Two cameras. An occasional "super" -- old-time TV talk for graphics -- of a player's name as he came to the plate. No replays. Yet there WAS excellent crowd ambience caught (you could practically hear the peanut vendors), probably due to baseball's reliance on radio, which was in love with crowd mikes in order to provide atmosphere.

Countless Hall of Famers played in that Series, too many to mention.

Yet one who didn't make the Hall -- didn't even come close -- had the best day of them all, and maybe ever in a World Series.

"A lot of guys had a good day. I had a little better one," Larsen said with a smile as he sat with Yogi Berra and Bob Costas, the three of them ruminating on the game from time to time as it progressed.

If you want proof that baseball superstitions are a bunch of hooey, look no further than Larsen's perfection in Game 5 of the '56 Series.

Years ago, narrating a movie about the game, Larsen revealed how his words and actions flew in the face of baseball's unwritten rules.

Even today, if a pitcher is working on a no-hitter, announcers are loathe to mention it. Teammates are scared to death of being seen anywhere near that pitcher in the dugout. Nobody says a word. Been like that forever.

But here's Larsen: "About the seventh inning, I went up to Mantle, and I said, 'Wouldn't it be something if I got a no-hitter?' He looked at me like I was insane, and moved away from me."

I love it.

An enduring image: Larsen hugs Berra after perfection in '56 Series

Don Larsen, the pitcher himself, working on a perfect game, no less, in the World Series, brazenly and openly talks of the possibility of doing it while the game is going on. So wrong on so many levels, according to baseball tradition.

Yet Larsen bucked that tradition and completed the perfect game anyway. But it did nothing to stop the superstition. When Justin Verlander pitched his no-no in 2007, FSD announcers Mario Impemba and Rod Allen blatantly refused to mention the ongoing effort.

Jack Morris, pitching a no-hitter in Chicago in 1984, was being tormented by a White Sox fan throughout the game, near the Tigers dugout. The fan kept mentioning the no-hitter, hoping to jinx Morris. After he finished it, Morris sought out the fan and yelled, "THERE'S your no hitter!" I think Jack added some more colorful language, too.

But I think it's awesome that Don Larsen either defied superstition or simply was naive to it. Either way, he stood up to the baseball gods and won.


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