Yankee great Larsen to auction off World Series jersey

Photo by Jim Hague
All-time New York Yankee greats Yogi Berra (l.) and Don Larsen pose with the jersey that Larsen wore to pitch the perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series last week at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University. Larsen is auctioning off the jersey after 56 years.



It was 56 years ago when Don Larsen walked into Yankee Stadium for Game 5 of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, having no idea he was about to create one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.

Larsen had just walked from his hotel room in the Bronx to the ballpark to get ready for the World Series, but had no clue what lay in store.

“It was a beautiful day and I felt great,” Larsen said. “I didn’t know whether or not I was going to pitch. I came to the stadium early and as usual, Moose Skowron and Hank Bauer were there early ahead of me. I got to my locker and saw a ball in my shoe. I guess Frankie Crosetti (the Yankees’ third base coach) was told to put it there.”

At that point, Larsen knew he was tabbed by manager Casey Stengel to start Game 5 with the Series deadlocked at 2-2.

“I looked at the ball and took a big swallow,” Larsen said. “I said to myself, `Don’t screw this one up.’ I’m just glad Casey had the faith in me to give me the ball.”

Larsen certainly did nothing wrong that fateful day, throwing the only perfect game in World Series history, helping the Yankees capture the 1956 World Series title, 4 games to 3, and earning the Series MVP in the process.

Last week, on the 56th anniversary of Larsen’s perfect game, Steiner Sports Memorabilia announced that they will auction off the uniform that Larsen wore while pitching the historic game.

Larsen, accompanied by his World Series battery mate, Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, was at a press conference that day, held at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University.

The 83-year-old Larsen figured it was time to part with the jersey that he kept for several years in a closet in his home in Idaho, then loaned it to the San Diego Hall of Fame, where it remained until recently.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a bit,” Larsen said. “I’m not getting any younger and I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around. I have two grandchildren, one in college and the other is a freshman in high school. I want to be able to take care of them and make sure they can both go to college, which isn’t cheap these days. So I figured it was the right time.”

Larsen was asked if he could fathom that his uniform could draw more in an auction than he made in his career as a Major Leaguer.

“It wouldn’t take much, because I didn’t make much,” Larsen said.

Brandon Steiner, the founder and CEO of Steiner Sports, cannot put a price tag on what Larsen’s uniform (both the jersey and pants) might get in the open auction market.

“I know that there will be a lot of interest,” Steiner said. “After all, it has the Yankee brand and that’s very popular. We’re pretty excited about it.”

A Babe Ruth jersey went for $4.4 million last year, so Steiner anticipates such a historic relic to draw at least seven figures.

“I would have to think so,” Steiner said, when asked if the auction could go over $1 million. “It’s hard to say, but I know someone is going to really want this.”

Larsen said that he made sure he kept the uniform in safe keeping after the game.

“I had only worn it three times, but we were entitled to keep it,” Larsen said. “I kept in my closet and it was in great condition.”

There was only one downside. The hat Larsen wore fell off when Berra jumped into his arms after getting pinchhitter Dale Mitchell to strike out looking and a fan apparently picked up the hat. “I was told it was picked up by some guy in New Jersey, then supposedly donated to the (National Baseball) Hall of Fame,” Larsen said. “Every picture I have of the day, my hat is gone.”

Berra said that Larsen’s command was impeccable that day.

“He didn’t shake me off once,” Berra said. “He was throwing pretty hard and had a good breaking ball that day. Everything was working for him.”

Larsen said that he didn’t realize he had a perfect game until the seventh inning.

“As the game went on, my control got better,” Larsen said. “I didn’t want to screw things up. It was a close game (the Yankees won, 2-0). In the seventh inning, I told Mickey Mantle (who hit a homer in the fourth inning of that game) to look up at the scoreboard, that the Dodgers didn’t have a hit. I said, `Wouldn’t it be great if I could keep this going?’ I shouldn’t have said anything, because no one talked to me from that point. I was alone.”

“I left him alone, because I didn’t want to jinx him,” Berra said. “I didn’t say a word. He looked at me and said, `What am I, a poison or something?’ ”

In the ninth inning, both pitcher and catcher were at wit’s end.

“I was very nervous,” Larsen said. “I couldn’t believe it was going to happen. After I got two outs, I looked upstairs and told him to get me one more. I almost fainted.”

“He had great stuff still, but we felt it,” Berra said. “It was a very easy game for me to catch.”

The sentimentality of that perfect game remains today.

“Yogi and I are the only ones left from that game,” Larsen said. “I’ll never forget the day when I came to the Yankees. One of the things I knew was that I was going to pitch to one of the greatest catchers ever. Yogi means as much to me today as he did then. As time goes on, it hasn’t been forgotten and it will never be forgotten even after we’re gone.”

Berra said that he never dreamed that memorabilia from his playing days would become so valuable.

“I never thought it would become so important,” Berra said. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have saved all my uniforms instead of giving them back. And I had a lot of them.”

Larsen said that he will always celebrate October 8.

“I’ll celebrate it for as long as I live,” Larsen said. “It’s always going to be a special day. I can’t believe that it’s been 56 years. It seems like it was yesterday.”

The auction was slated to open on Steiner’s website, www.steinersports.com. The bidding will open at $56,000 to commemorate with the 56th anniversary of the 1956 World Series. The online auction will continue until Dec. 5.

The Observer Staff