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His Memory Is Perfect
Kostya Kennedy
October 14, 1996
Don Larsen recalls details of his flawless game in 1956 as if it were yesterday
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October 14, 1996

His Memory Is Perfect

Don Larsen recalls details of his flawless game in 1956 as if it were yesterday

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Furillo made the first out, on a fly ball; then Campanella made the second, on a grounder. And then, with pinch hitter Dale Mitchell coming to the plate, Larsen stepped off, lifted the rosin bag and came back to the rubber. He threw a ball, two strikes, and then Mitchell fouled one off. On the next pitch, Larsen's 97th of the game, a fastball that shaved the outside corner, umpire Babe Pinelli called Mitchell out on strikes. Berra ran to the mound and leaped into Larsen's arms. Fans stormed onto the field.

Larsen says he didn't know what a perfect game was until someone told him afterward. He thought he had simply thrown a no-hitter. And even in the frenzied clubhouse, where Larsen was besieged by the media for hours, visited by Maglie and even asked to sign an autograph for Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, it didn't really sink in. It was only later, when he called his mother in California and heard the pride in her voice, that he began to understand his achievement.

Though he made numerous television appearances after the game and received countless gifts and endorsements, and though he pitched well for two more years for the Yankees, Larsen never again had a brush with greatness. By the summer of '59 there was talk of moving him, because of his strong bat, to the outfield (which never happened), and after that season he was traded to Kansas City, where he went 1-10. Larsen stayed in baseball until 1968, moving in and out of the minor leagues and bouncing among 11 teams. He finished with a lifetime record of 81-91. "People said I didn't do enough in my career," Larsen says, "and maybe they're right. But I had one great day."

In 1993, after 24 years as a paper salesman in California, Larsen moved to Hayden Lake, Idaho. He and Corrine built a home on the shore of a sheltered cove. Standing together on their deck on a late September day, they look down past the northern pines to a boat rolling gently against a small dock. "You get trout in there, and bass," says Larsen. The phone rings regularly with interview and appearance requests. In a few days the Larsens will leave their idyllic retreat to promote The Perfect Yankee in New York City. "Mind?" says Corrine. "We like it."

Don nods and brushes some pine needles off the railing of the deck. "That was an amazing thing that happened," he says, pensively. "I'm just glad that it happened to me."

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