Tonight I watched Game 5 of the 1956 WS. It’s not the first time MLB Network has shown it…it was shown on their first night on the air. I didn’t get that channel then, nor was I aware a full copy of that game even existed. Apparently somebody made a copy, and then it was found in a vault 50 years later. Thus, this was both a surprise and treat for me.
What a game. I’ll get to the game itself in a bit, but some background first. The game, on Oct 8, 1956 was at Yankee Stadium in front of 64,517 fans. Both managers are in the Hall of Fame (Walter Alston for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Casey Stengel for the New York Yankees). Seven players in the game are in the Hall too: Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, and Duke Snider for the Dodgers…and Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Enos Slaughter for the Yankees. I believe one day Gil Hodges will be inducted too, which would make it 8. On the rosters that day but not playing were Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (Yankees), Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale (Dodgers). Three Ford Frick Award announcers were involved too: Vin Scully and Mel Allen for the NBC telecast and Bob Wolff doing the radio broadcast. That’s 15 enshrinees in one game, and that’s just nuts. I got goosebumps actually getting to see Jackie Robinson play ball; that by itself made it a worthwhile expenditure of my time, let alone Larsen’s perfect game. I got more goosebumps when Carl Hubble showed up in the booth and was interviewed by Mel Allen.
Again, what a game. We all know it’s the only perfect game in the 116 years of the World Series, but it was well pitched and well played defensively on both sides. The losing pitcher, Sal Maglie, went the distance (was pulled for a pinch hitter in the 9th, who became the final out). He gave up 5 hits, 2 walks, and two runs. He struck out the side in the bottom of the 8th. Normally that would be a description for a winning pitcher. Larsen, though, pitched the first perfect game in MLB since 1922. Nobody had ever heard of a “Maddox,” nor would for another half century, but he had one of those that day as well since he needed only 97 pitches to complete his gem. He had 7 strikeouts.
The first run came with 2 out in the bottom of the 4th when Mickey Mantle hit a solo rocket into the right field bleachers. The next better, Yogi Berra, hit a blooper into shallow CF that I thought was certain to drop for a hit, but nope—Duke Snider sped in, dove, rolled, and came up with the ball. The top of the 5th saw the two biggest threats to Larsen’s perfecto. With one out Gil Hodges hit a ball to deep left center; Mickey Mantle showed just how fast he really was, racing over from where he’d set up in right center to make a spectacular running grab. (Two HoF center fielders each making highlight reel catches within minutes of each other was amazing.) The next batter, Sandy Amoros, hit one into the bleachers just right of the RF foul pole, but then grounded out. In the bottom of the 6th, Andy Carey led things off for the Yankees with a single and was advanced to second on a bunt by Larsen. Hank Bauer then singled him in to make it 2-0 Yankees. Amoros, in LF, tried to scoop the ball on the run to be able to hold the runner but bobbled it— it was a tough play and rightly not called an error. It was also moot as Joe Collins, the next batter, also singled (to right center), so Carey would’ve scored anyway. Mickey Mantle then grounded into a 3-2-5-2-5 double play to end the inning. The second half of that DP was Bauer getting caught in a run down, during which Roy Campanella hurried his first throw to third. The throw went low and wide, but Jackie Robinson dove, caught it, and got it back to Campy throwing from his knees. Great, great game.
Scully and Allen never mentioned the absence of any Dodgers getting on base until the top of the 8th inning was complete. In the 9th, Scully stated all of New York City has wobbly knees, not just Larsen. Twice Larsen stepped off the mound with his back to the plate to collect himself, including with two strikes on the last batter, Dale Mitchell, pinch hitting for Maglie. He struck out. Dale Mitchell, a career .312 hitter, only struck out 119 times in his entire 11 year major league career, with over 4300 plate appearances.
In the third inning, Allen and Scully talked about how there was normally a canvas tarp covering one section of the centerfield bleachers at Yankee Stadium, which had been removed to open up the seats due to demand for tickets. They stated it’s absence was making it more difficult than usual for hitters on both teams to see the ball. They also spoke at game’s end of how the game would always be remembered, and Scully joked “well, we can leave now”—meaning both it was time to sign off and also that was a moment never to be topped. As an Army brat in Germany, Mel Allen’s “This Week in Baseball” was a highlight of my week during the season. Vin Scully is still awesome. Both of them were clearly awesome long before I was born too, as this game showed.
Also cool was the MLB TV broadcast having Berra and Larsen present with host Bob Costas interviewing them between innings.