Chapter one: Fifty years and a few weeks ago, unheralded New York Yankee pitcher Don Larsen threw the only perfect game (i.e., not allowing a single baserunner, either from hits, walks or errors, in 27 outs) in World Series history.
Chapter two: Last week, the now 77-year-old Larsen sat in a big, comfy chair in the downtown branch of Idaho Independent Bank and signed baseballs and photographs for two hours to celebrate the bank's 10th anniversary.
What's the connection? What happened in between? We hadn't the foggiest, so we got the straight dope from Larsen himself. He continued pitching in the major leagues through 1967, mainly as a reliever, compiling an 81-91 career win-loss record along with four total wins in the World Series. Aside from that, he's been fishing and, if our interview was any indication, making service personnel cry.
BW: How much do you get paid to do appearances like this?
Don Larsen: What?
Don't they pay you to do this?
Why do you think I do them?
That's what I thought. How many appearances do you still do a year?
I can't tell you that. You'd have to ask my agent.
What's your connection to Idaho and this bank in particular?
I had an account with them up when they first started in Hayden [Lake, Idaho].
There are plenty of great stories about your perfect game, but one of my favorites is about the attitude of the Yankee dugout, because everybody was afraid to say anything during the game. I read somewhere recently that you tried to talk to Mickey Mantle during the game, and he told you to "Shut the fuck up." Is that true?
Nope. Ask somebody who was there. (Pause for 10 seconds).
I mentioned to Mickey after the seventh inning, "Look at the scoreboard. Two more innings to go." When I said that, he just walked away from me. But nobody would talk to me in that clubhouse anyway.
When you finished the game, did you have a realization like, "Wow, I'll be famous for this this for the rest of my life"?
Nope. I didn't think anything about that then. It wasn't that popular then.
Do you still watch baseball and the World Series?
I'm a regular fan.
Were you watching the other night when [Detroit Tigers game two starting pitcher] Kenny Rogers looked like he had, uh, something on his hand?
What was your take on that?
What a bunch of bullshit.
So you think [Tony LaRussa, St. Lous Cardinals manager] should have made a bigger deal about it?
No! What the hell? A guy gets a little dirt on his hand, or something like that, and you're going to make him wash it off? What's the big deal about that? Be realistic, for God's sake. You're not playing in a bathtub out there. You're going to get dirty, whether it's your hand, or your uniform, or something, once in a while. Unless they thought he was putting the dirt on the ball. But a catcher or anybody could do that. It didn't have to be the pitcher.
I think pine tar is what people were afraid of.
Well, you're not supposed to use that stuff.
If a pitcher is blatant enough in his cheating that the other manager sees it, should he be kicked out?
Sure. You've got to kick him out of the ballgame. It's a no-no. [LaRussa didn't demand an examination, and Rogers wasn't kicked out].
So describe for me how you watch a baseball game? Do you just sit back in your chair and crack a beer like everyone else?
I watch a couple innings, I get bored, and I go watch something else ... I'd rather be fishing.
I'm sure you've been asked this a million times, but what was so good about your stuff that day in the World Series?
I never had such good control in all my life. The ball went pretty much where I wanted it to every time except for a couple of plays that the defense took care of. That was it.
What pitches were you throwing during the perfect game?
I threw slider and fastball. I didn't have a very good curveball.
Slider and fastball was all it took to get through that Dodgers lineup? There were a lot of Hall of Famers on that team.
They had a hell of a ball club. [Dodgers pitcher Sal] Maglie pitched a hell of a game, too, you know. First hit of the ballgame was Mantle's home run. We only got five hits off of him.
I also read that you took a smoke break in the seventh inning. Did you keep the cigarette butt? That could be worth something.
I know it. Somebody ought to go find it.
Are you rooting for any team in particular this year?
I root for the American League every year in the Series.
You pitched in the National league, too, though.
Yup. I even pitched in the series, with the [San Francisco] Giants against the Yankees.
That was before the designated hitter days. What kind of batter were you?
I was a good hitter. I don't like the DH. They have that in one league, and the other, they don't. I don't like that.
So you spent a lot of time in the batting cages?
We all did. Bunting, mostly, and we played a lot of pepper, too.
Can we take your picture?
I don't care.
When's the last time somebody bought you a beer because of the perfect game?
Happens all the time.
And you'll still accept it?