Oct 082016
 

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On this date in 1956, in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Larsen’s perfect game is the only perfect game in the history of the World Series one of only 23 perfect games in major league baseball history. His perfect game remained the only no-hitter of any type ever pitched in postseason play until Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on October 6, 2010, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

I’ve never been a huge baseball fan, but when I lived in New York I occasionally went to games. They have a certain atmosphere. I supported the Mets and my colleague down the hall from my office at Purchase College, Rich Nassisi, was a die-hard Yankees fan. We indulged in a great deal of friendly banter about baseball over the years, so this post is my little memory of those days. I hope you enjoy it Rich.

Rich and I agree that the true baseball aficionado knows that the most crucial element of any baseball team is the pitching staff. Sure it’s great to see your favorite slugger hit a game-winning grand slam, but at the end of the day, if your team has gorillas for batters but mediocre pitching, you’re not going into the post season.  End of story. If you go to a Yankees or Mets game you’ll see that the fans pay as much attention to the pitching as the batting, because they are true baseball fans. At other venues the fans are less knowledgeable or caring. I went to a Cincinnati Reds game once and was astounded to find that the fans around me were riveted to the play when the Reds were at bat, and totally uninterested when they were pitching. They went off to get hot dogs or beer, or else chatted mindlessly about something other than baseball. Not fans in my book. Hitting is important, but it’s the pitching that counts.

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I can’t imagine that Don Larsen’s feat will ever be repeated. The fact that it took until 2010 for a pitcher to pitch even a no-hitter in the post season is telling. Perfect games are rare under “ordinary” circumstances and every pitcher who pitches one in the major leagues becomes a legend – rightly. As a small sop to his teammates I will grant the fielders some credit too !!  A perfect game means that no hitter reaches base – 27 up, 27 down – for any reason. That means, no hits, no walks, and no hit batsmen. Rarely an error occurs but does not count if the batsman does not reach base – a misplayed foul ball, for example. Only 21 perfect games have been pitched in the modern era, that is, since 1900 when the rules changed substantially, and only 3 had been pitched before 1956 (1904, 1908, 1922). Don Larsen’s World Series feat is unlikely to be repeated because these are not “ordinary” circumstances. You’re talking about the two best teams of the season that year, slugging it out to be the champions. The chances that no one on a team will reach base under any circumstances are minuscule.

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The game is also a great classic because it was between the old Yankees and Dodgers as they are fondly remembered – bitter cross-town rivals (just before the Dodgers moved to L.A.).  In the late 1940s and early 1950s you almost didn’t need to ask who was in the World Series: it was the Yankees and Dodgers most of the time (and the Yankees usually won). The games were played in those great cathedrals to baseball – Yankee Stadium (as it once was) and Ebbets Field. This was also in the days before the designated hitter was introduced into the American League. In the 1950s pitchers had to bat.

I’ll spare you a long-drawn-out description; you can find details in plenty of places. Here’s some stock footage:

Larsen came to this game as a good pitcher, but not stellar in World Series play. He made his first start in a World Series game in the 1955 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers and was the losing pitcher. The 1956 series was extremely tight. Behind Sal Maglie, the Dodgers defeated the Yankees in Game 1. Casey Stengel, manager of the Yankees, selected Larsen to start Game 2 against the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe. Despite being given a 6–0 lead by the Yankees’ batters, he lasted only  1 2⁄3 innings against the Dodgers in a 13–8 loss. He gave up only one hit, a single by Gil Hodges, but walked four batters, which led to four runs in the process, although none of them was earned because of an error by first baseman Joe Collins. The Yankees won Games 3 and 4 to tie the series at two games apiece.

With the series tied at two games apiece, Larsen started Game 5 for the Yankees. Larsen’s opponent in the game was Maglie. Larsen needed just 97 pitches to complete the game, and only one Dodger batter (Pee Wee Reese in the first inning) was able to get a 3-ball count. In 1998, Larsen recalled, “I had great control. I never had that kind of control in my life.” The closest the Dodgers came to a hit were in the second inning, when Jackie Robinson hit a line drive off third baseman Andy Carey’s glove, the ball caroming to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw Robinson out by a step, and in the fifth, when Mickey Mantle ran down Gil Hodges’ deep fly ball. Brooklyn’s Maglie gave up only two runs on five hits and was perfect himself until Mantle’s fourth-inning home run broke the scoreless tie. The Yankees added an insurance run in the sixth as Hank Bauer’s single scored Carey, who had opened the inning with a single and was sacrificed to second by Larsen. After Roy Campanella grounded out to Billy Martin for the second out of the 9th inning, Larsen faced pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, a .311 career hitter. Throwing fastballs, Larsen got ahead in the count at 1–2. On his 97th pitch, Larsen struck out Mitchell for the 27th and final out. Mitchell appeared to check his swing on that last pitch, but home plate umpire Babe Pinelli, who would retire at the end of this World Series, called the last pitch a strike. Mitchell, who struck out only 119 times in 3,984 at-bats (or once every 34 at-bats) during his career, always maintained that the third strike he took was really a ball.

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In one of the most memorable images in  U.S. sports history, catcher Yogi Berra leapt into Larsen’s arms after the final out. With the death of Berra on September 22, 2015, Larsen is the last living player who played in this game for either team.

I’m stumped when it comes for a recipe today. I’ve talked about hot dogs to death in my posts, not least of all here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/baseball/ in my homage to the history of baseball. I can’t even give a recipe for Cracker Jack (as in, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack), because I gave a recipe for caramel popcorn two days ago https://www.bookofdaystales.com/motion-pictures/ Life gets bleak when you post constantly for over three years. But . . . there’s always hope. Larsen’s game was played at Yankee Stadium, last of a 3-game set before the series returned to Ebbets Field. Nowadays at Yankee stadium there’s a great deal more on offer than hot dogs and Cracker Jack, although you’ll certainly find them. You won’t find anything at the stadium this year (2016) in the post season, though. The Yankees had a dismal year.  Nonetheless, here’s a listing of food stalls at the stadium from this website — http://ny.eater.com/2016/4/1/11347464/what-to-eat-at-yankee-stadium-2016

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Section 100

For the meat lovers in the crowd, there are outposts of both Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (133) and Lobel’s of New York (134), plus Parm, the well-known Italian sandwich shop in Section 104. NYY Steak Express, which serves strip steak sandwiches in Section 109, is right next to chicken wing stand Wings (109). Johnny Rockets, the faux-retro chain also serves burgers, hot dogs, shakes and fries in Section 132. And starting next week, Carl’s Steak (107) is offering a two-footlong cheesesteak for $27.

For a snack that doesn’t involve beef, the best bet is Garlic Fries (108) which offers French fries in a variety of permutations, including cheese fries and garlic fries, plus chicken fingers. Cheese lovers can go to Big Cheese (107) for grilled cheese sandwiches with Boar’s Head cheese. And those looking for something completely different can find noodle bowls and assorted sushi platters at the Noodle Bowl and Sushi Stand (Section 127B and A, respectively)

The Pepsi Food Court (126) is where fans can find Papa Johns Pizza and Nathan’s hot dogs, plus frozen drinks, craft beer, premium drafts, and cask-aged cocktails including a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Negroni. Making its debut at the ballpark and the Pepsi Food Court this year is lunchtime favorite Hale and Hearty Soups. A rotating menu will include a classic chicken noodle, chili mac and cheese, lasagna, sweet-corn chowder that’s gluten-free, and a vegetarian three-lentil chili. The menu also offers a variety of cold soups.

Between Sections 100 and 200 is the Tommy Bahama Marlin Bar serving drinks like a classic piña colada, tropical Tea, and “The Spicy Apple.”

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Cheese steaks, burgers, garlic fries, and ribs all seem like reasonable additions to the old stand-bys, but sushi????? I’m crushed. The point is that creating ballpark food at home is a mistake. Go out to a game, and should you ever find me at one ever again, I’ll be eating a hot dog with mustard, onions, and sauerkraut.

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