Sunday, June 23, 2019

Don Larsen and Old Timer's Day

It's Old Timer's Day at Yankee Stadium.

Oh yeah, I get it. Yankees Universe showing Yankees Arrogance at its Yankees Most Obnoxious.

For me, it's an absolutely glorious day.

Those 27 rings are shiny brightly today as Gator, Boomer, Coney, Tino, Bucky, Mo, Paulie have all been introduced.

It evokes memories of watching as a little boy when Joe D, the Mick, Casey, Whitey, and the Scooter would lead the cheers.

Back then, the widows of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig would elicit cheers.

Today, it's Catfish Hunter, Billy Martin, Mel Stottlemyre, Thurman Munson and one Mr. Bobby Ray Murcer who are represented by their wives.

The Great Mariano was the last great to be introduced.
Remembering Mel

There's occasionally talk that Old Timer's Day should end. Maybe it's because of the "lesser known" names that also attend, but that's part of the charm of the day. The idea is to bring up the memories of all eras.

It matters so much that the Houston Astros -- today's regular game opponent -- have come into their dugout to watch.

Sure, I loved the days when opponents would be there. Willie Mays was there when I was in attendance one time. It doesn't need to be all Yankees to be a great day for me.

My memories of Old Timer's Day are plentiful, such as watching Bobby Murcer play in his very first one -- in person -- in 1983 and getting to see Roger Maris and other heroes.

But the title of this thread includes Don Larsen who, along with Dr. Bobby Brown (94 years of age, who walked out under his own power), are the two oldest players there.

Larsen, the 1956 World Series perfect game pitcher was wheeled out initially, before taking his walker the rest of the way to join his fellow perfect game friends David Wells ('98) and David Cone ('99).

I was in the Jefferson Valley Mall sometime in the 1990s when I looked in the center court area at an older man sitting on a stage. He had someone sitting with him and they were just talking. Nearby, a table held some pictures.

Don Larsen, the imperfect man who was perfect for a day, was there to sign autographs. Except nobody was paying any attention.

I have autographs, but I'm not a collector of them. They're cool, but meh. But this was Don Larsen, and part of me almost felt bad.

So I bought a picture and walked up. He signed politely, and my mind wandered to find something to say.

"I hope we see you back in The Bronx one day," I think I mustered. "Do you think you'll be back at Old Timer's Day?"

"Nah," he said. "I don't think anyone cares about seeing me around."

Keep in mind this is a man who authored the game that Vin Scully called, "The greatest game ever pitched in baseball history." It was October 8, 1956. There were 64, 519 in attendance at Yankee Stadium. There were no hits in the game until Mickey Mantle homered in the fifth. Mantle also had to track down a long fly ball off of Gil Hodges in center to keep the perfect game alive. Andy Carey and Gil McDougald worked together on a 5-6-3 putout to get Jackie Robinson at another point.

Larsen, by all accounts hungover and not expecting to play, needed just 97 pitches to get the 2-0 win and give the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the Series. They'd win the title in seven as Yogi Berra homered twice in Brooklyn.

As for Larsen, he indeed was invited back to The Bronx. I recall the 40th anniversary of the perfect game beginning an era of him being a regular attendee. Of course, he was there for Yogi Berra Day in 1999, when he watched Cone author his perfect game.

So when I see Don Larsen, who is nearly 90, at Old Timer's Day, it reminds me of what felt like a sad day at the Jefferson Valley Mall. Imagine he was sitting there now signing autographs?

We care about you, Mr. Larsen. The standing ovation you received today is proof of that.

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