The Perfect Game
by Michael Aubrecht, Copyright 2002
Also online at

As I sit here midway through the 2002 season, I can't help but feel sad for the state of our great American pastime. Our beloved game of baseball, has fallen on hard times as alleged steroid abuse, possible team contraction and an impending strike over revenue sharing threaten to distance even more fans from the game. The disappointing All-Star debacle and accusations of racketeering within the baseball commissioner's office are just the latest in a long line of heated controversies. Many fans have become disillusioned with the sport and many others have questioned why even play the game.

To find an answer, I looked to the games of days gone by. One game in particular… seems "perfect" for this occasion.

In many sports, individuals receive perfect scores from judges when they are believed to have performed a flawless routine. Gymnasts, skaters, and divers spend countless hours practicing the same repetitions over and over in an attempt to focus their minds and bodies towards accomplishing this rare feat. Many have believed that this is an impossible task as no athlete can truly be perfect. Surely the participants could have nailed their landing better, or done something to improve their routine overall. In baseball, perfection comes few and far between, and can only be measured by the statistics on a scorecard.

On October 8, 1956 during game 5 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, Don Larsen and his pinstriped teammates took the field against their rival Brooklyn Dodgers. After 97 pitches, the Yankee pitcher had mowed down the Dodgers 27 straight times and tallied a perfect game.

The magic of this moment however, goes way beyond a single game. Don Larsen's performance on the mound that day illustrates exactly why they play the game of baseball. It is an American tradition rich in legends, folklore and history, a never-ending story where every game is a new 9-inning chapter and every player has the chance to be the hero. October 8, 1956 was Don Larsen's shot and he shined with the only perfect game in World Series history.

The 64,000+ fans in attendance that day could never have predicted that they were about to witness the birth of a record that would stand into the next millennium or that their ticket stubs would mature into a $2000 piece of sports memorabilia. The Dodgers couldn't have predicted the beating they were about to take either. During the first inning, Larsen went to his first and only "ball three" count on Pee Wee Reese.

From then on, the modest pitcher and his pinstriped teammates worked together on both sides of the plate to deliver an instant classic. In the second inning, Jackie Robinson smashed a line drive that was deflected by Yankees third baseman Andy Carey to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw out Robinson at first. In the fourth inning, Mickey Mantle hit a low line drive into the right field seats, just inside the foul pole. Mantle's homer gave New York a 1-0 lead. In retrospect, home field advantage and a little luck sometimes pays off big. If the game had been at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, The Mick's hit would have likely been off the right field screen for a double.

In the top of the fifth, Gil Hodges, a 32-homer man during the regular season, drove a pitch deep into left-center field and right into the outstretched glove of a sprinting Mickey Mantle. Larsen later said, "Mantle made such a beautiful catch. That ball probably would have been a home run in most parks, but Yankee Stadium at that time was pretty big in left-center. Mantle could run like a deer, caught that ball and I had another sigh of relief." The next batter, Sandy Amoros, hit a line drive toward the right field corner but it curved foul and just missed being a home run.

As the game progressed, so did the anticipation of the crowd and the superstition of the players. Most of the Yankees avoided Larsen completely in the dugout. "Nobody would talk to me, nobody would sit by me, like I had the plague." Larsen recalled, "I don't believe in that superstition stuff. You just do your best. Some of the guys didn't want to say anything, afraid they'd put a jinx on it." Even Yankees skipper Casey Stengel got involved in attempting to preserve Larsen's marvelous momentum. "I had more managers around me on the bench than any pilot ever had before." he said, "The boys were helping me place the outfielders."

As the ninth inning came to a close, Larsen got a called third strike on pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell to end the game and set off a wild celebration that began with Yankees catcher Yogi Berra leaping into Larsen's arms. The moment would be replayed over and over for decade after decade in countless highlight films.

Even more impressive than Don Larsen's performance was the class that he showed after the Yankees left the field. In the locker room he said, "When it was over, I was so happy, I felt like crying. I wanted to win this one for Casey (Stengel). After what I did in Brooklyn, he could have forgotten about me and who would blame him? But he gave me another chance and I'm grateful." Stengel himself was quoted as saying that it was the greatest game he had ever seen thrown by a pitcher. Larsen responded in turn by stating that it was the greatest game ever called by a catcher (referring to his teammate Yogi Berra).

After losing Game 5, the Dodgers were down three games to two and the Series shifted back to Brooklyn. The Dodgers won Game 6 1-0 in 10 innings when Robinson's line drive to left field got past Enos Slaughter to score Junior Gilliam. However, the Yankees breezed to a 9-0 win in Game 7. Neither game would compare to 5 though and no other pitcher would even come close to Larsen's numbers.

Larsen pitched another three years for the Yankees before bouncing from team to team over the final seven seasons of a 14-year career. He retired in 1967 with a forgettable career record of 81-91, failing again to approach the heights he achieved on that October afternoon in 1956. Overall, his total stats added up to nothing more than mediocre. He was a good pitcher, but certainly not a great one. Once when asked about his performance in Game 5 he said, "I think about it every day. Sometimes it's hard to believe it ever happened. I'm glad it did because everybody thinks about that and forgets all the mistakes I made in my career."

Who knows? If history had gone another way, Larsen might have ended up as one of those forgotten players who fade away from memory shortly after hanging up their cleats. Instead he went down in World Series history as the man who pitched the perfect game.

His story exemplifies the game of baseball when anybody, can be anything, on anyday… and that's why they play the game!


Yankee Killer
by Michael Aubrecht, Copyright 2002
Also online at

Even though I consider myself to be a true, seasoned Yankees fan (not one of those bandwagon "team of the year" guys), I still have a place deep down in my heart for my old hometown Pittsburgh Pirates. Yes you heard it; 2 teams, one AL and one NL, who are about as diametrically opposed as 2 ballclubs can be. God forbid the league finally gets this revenue sharing situation straightened out and they find themselves once again, on the same field in the World Series! What will I do then? I must admit, I love NY, but part of me still loves the Bucs.

As a kid, I loved going to Three Rivers Stadium and watching Willie Stargell dent the outfield seats during batting practice. I used to imitate him, standing at the plate, doing that windmill windup and swinging for the bleachers. In 1980, I was fortunate enough to meet "Pops" and it was one of the greatest memories from my childhood.

As I grew into adulthood, I became less interested in playing sports and more interested in writing about it. Sports history (baseball in particular) became my new obsession and it was then that I fell in love with the New York Yankees. Not just the team, but the whole legacy of the franchise. From the days of Ruth and Gehrig, to Mantle and Ford, from Jackson and Mattingly, to Jeter and Giambi, I have spent countless hours studying this franchise and I am still in awe of them.

Over the last few decades I've watched the rebirth of baseball's greatest dynasty and the death of one of it's originals. While the Yankees invested in winners and maintained their commitment to excellence, the Pirates went another way and became a farm team for the rest of the league. As a fan, it's not easy to root for a team whose players and coaches rotate in and out of the clubhouse before you can even learn their names and numbers.

Yes, I'm bitter, but there's still a few traces of Bucco black and gold running through my veins as I follow the team from a distance. Sometimes, I'll go to PNC Park when I'm in town visiting my family, but nothing will ever compare to those classic Pirate teams going head-to-head with baseball's finest at Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium. (and just for the record my fellow 'burg natives, I'm still a diehard "stillers" and "guins" fan - some things will never change).

With that in mind, I thought it might be refreshing here at The Pinstripe Press to "switch hit" and write one from the other side of the plate: What happens when the Yankees lose and the Pirates win? It happened. And the moment it happened has become one of the most memorable in the history of baseball.

On October 13, 1960, Bill Mazeroski became an instant hero when he became the first player ever to end the World Series with a home run. In one of the greatest games ever played, "the Maz" hit a fastball off of Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry over Yogi Berra's head in left field, giving the Pirates a 10-9 victory and their first World Championship in 35 years.

It still remains as one of the most shocking moments in sports history and many middle-aged Yankee fans are still trying to forget that day. "As an 8-year-old Yankee fan in 1960, I literally wept when Bill Mazeroski's home run cleared the ivy-covered wall of Forbes Field." Bob Costas said, "35 years later, I believe I have come to terms with it, and can see Bill Mazeroski for what he really was: one of baseball's all-time great second basemen."

Not only was Mazeroski the greatest second baseman in Pirate history, he was also very likely the best defensive second basemen of all time. Yet he achieved instant fame offensively with one swing of the bat. He had already made his mark in the Series against the Yankees with a two-run homer in the opener, but no one could have predicted his game 7 winner.

As a whole, the '60 series will always be remembered as one of the most exciting as both teams played to a 3-3 standoff. The Pirates and Yankees pitching staffs were solid on the mound and both were backed up by strong performances at the plate. There were some overall differences in playing styles, the Yankees played more aggressively while the Pirates relied on finesse, but many feel that this represented one of the best match-ups of the 1960's.

The Pirates won the opener, 6-4, at Forbes Field, but the Yankees answered back in Games 2 and 3. New York, led by Mickey Mantle's two home runs and five runs batted in, knocked six Pirates pitchers for 19 hits and rolled to a 16-3 victory in the second game. As the Series shifted to Yankee Stadium, Bobby Richardson stepped up to the plate and delivered. Having driven in only seven runs in the last 75 games of the AL season and just 26 overall, the second baseman connected for a bases-loaded home run off reliever Clem Labine in the first inning of Game 3. He later contributed a two-run single, giving him a Series-record six RBIs. Yankee powerhouse Mickey Mantle continued to shine with a two-run homer and three other hits. New York was a 10-0 winner, with Whitey Ford pitching a four-hitter.

Down, but not out, the Pirates gave the ball to first-game winner Vern Law in Game 4. Law, a 20-game winner in '60 and the NL's Cy Young Award winner, combined with relief ace Roy Face to beat back the Yankees, 3-2. Art Ditmar, the Game 1 starter for the Yankees, received another chance in Game 5. Bill Mazeroski's double was the key hit in the Pirates' three-run second inning. The smash scored two runs and drove Ditmar off the mound. Roy Face returned with 2 2/3 innings of hitless relief after replacing starter and winner Harvey Haddix to nail down the 5-2 triumph. The win moved the Pirates ahead in the Series.

Surprised by their opponents tenacity, the Yankees called on a proven combination in Game 6; big bats and the pitching of ace Whitey Ford. The Bronx Bombers did their part at the plate with an unbelievable 17-hit spree and Ford again shut out the Pirates, this time holding the NL champions to a meager seven hits. Hoping to clinch their first Series championship in 3 1/2 decades, the Pirates instead wound up 12-0 losers in their own backyard.

While the first six games of the 1960 Series had been statistically notable; the Yankees' victories, for instance, came by the combined score of 38-3, Game 7 would erase those numbers and leave fans in both agony and ecstasy. Vern Law and the rest of the Pirates showed why they were still there by rolling over New York to take an early 4-0 lead. However, the Yankees came back with key performances at the plate by Skowron, Mantle and Berra and shot to a 5-4 lead going into the eighth inning. They continued to lead 7-5 and appeared to be in great shape as reliever Bobby Shantz appeared at the top of his game. Fortunately for Pirates, appearances can be deceiving.

Gino Cimoli led off the Pittsburgh eighth with a pinch single and Bill Virdon hit a sharp grounder toward Yankees' shortstop, Tony Kubek. The ball took a bad hop and struck Kubek in the throat resulting in a single. The injury proved serious and he was taken out of the game. Joe DeMaestri was summoned to replace him as both Pirates remained on base. Dick Groat followed with another single and cut the lead to 7-5. Roberto Clemente kept the rally alive with an infield hit that scored Virdon and advanced Groat to third. Now trailing 7-6, Pittsburgh had two runners on base and Hal Smith at the plate. Smith, who entered the game in the top of the eighth after Pirates catcher Smoky Burgess had left for a pinch-runner in the previous inning, sent shock waves through the Pittsburgh crowd by blasting a home run over the left-field wall.

Bob Friend, an 18-game winner for the Pirates and the Bucs' starter in Games 2 and 6, came on in the ninth to try to protect the 9-7 lead. The Yankees Bobby Richardson and pinch-hitter Dale Long both greeted Friend with singles and Pirates manager, Danny Murtaugh was forced to lift the veteran pitcher in favor of Harvey Haddix. Although he forced Roger Maris to foul out, Haddix gave up a key single to Mickey Mantle that scored Richardson and moved Long to third. Yogi Berra followed with a strong grounder to first, with Rocky Nelson stepping on the base for the second out. In what, at the time, stood as a monumental play, Mantle, seeing he had no chance to beat a play at second, scurried back to first and avoided Nelson's tag (which would have been the third out) as McDougald raced home to tie the score, 9-9.

Ralph Terry, who had gotten the final out in the Pirates' eighth, returned to the mound in the bottom of the ninth. The first man he faced was Bill Mazeroski. With a count of one ball and no strikes, the Pirates' second baseman smashed a drive over the wall in left ending the contest and crowning the National League as champions. As the Pirates erupted in a wild celebration, the Yankees stood in disbelief knowing that they had clearly dominated the series, but were unable to finish the job. The improbable champions were outscored, 55-27, and outhit, 91-60, but in the end Pittsburgh prevailed. Years later, Mickey Mantle was quoted as saying that losing the 1960 series was the biggest disappointment of his career. For Mazeroski, it was the highlight. Both men (and many others from this game) would be joined together in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. Some would remember the '60 series with fondness and others with regret.

Someone once said, "It's not always the better team who wins." And even the mighty Yankees can fall to an opponent who is able to seize the moment. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Bill Mazeroski were able to do that in Game 7 and proved that "carpe diem" does exist. I think Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry summed it up perfectly when he said, "I don't know what that pitch to Mazeroski was. All I know is that it was the wrong one."


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