Don Larsen’s perfect game

New Salon column about watching the rebroadcast of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

A few other thoughts:

• It was really a pleasure to watch the hitters march right up to the plate, get set and wait for the pitch. No relaxation techniques or surveying the defense before stepping in. Nobody stepped out to lovingly adjust both batting gloves and his helmet before every stinkin’ pitch.

It helped that nobody wore batting gloves or helmets.

But this, along with the relative paucity of mid-inning pitching changes, is the main reason games are so much longer today than in the past. Batters just won’t get in the box.

• The thing that looked the most similar to today’s game was fielding. I guess there are only so many ways you can field a grounder or catch a popup. It was interesting how both teams, when whipping the ball around the horn after a bases-empty out, threw it to the catcher. College teams sometimes do this today, but you never seem major leaguers do it.

Interesting might be too strong a word there.

• The pitchers didn’t stand in the on-deck circle before they hit. They waited in the dugout. Then, when it was their turn, they bounded up the steps — and marched right into the box.

I don’t remember this practice from my early days of fandom, the early ’70s. I do remember that in situations when the next hitter — whether he was a pitcher or not — might hit or might be hit for, the on-deck circle would sometimes be empty. Nowadays there’s a rule that says you have to put somebody in the on-deck circle, and the umps actually enforce it. Kind of a dumb rule, because you can put a pinch-hitter out there and still send the scheduled hitter up.

• Yogi Berra would stand up after every pitch to throw the ball back to the pitcher. That was a lot of work for his legs. I can’t think of a catcher today who does that. They mostly drop to one knee after the pitch and throw that way. Berra also bounced a lot in his crouch, and when warming up a pitcher, he kind of leaned on his right leg while crouching. Don’t know if he was favoring an injury that day or if that was a habit. His legs took an awful beating, though. And it’s not like he was a bouncy young thing in 1956. He was 31, and he’d caught more than 1,200 games.

• Roy Campanella, the Dodgers catcher, looked like a fat middle-aged bus driver who somehow got drafted to play. He was a month shy of 35, and 1956 was sandwiched between his last good offensive season and the last year of his career. He stepped way in the bucket as he flailed at pitches. He’d go 4-for-22 with seven strikeouts in the ’56 Series, but even while he was hitting .219 during the regular season, he walked more than he struck out.

Thanks to segregation, which helped keep Campanella — a pro at 15 — out of the big leagues till he was 26, Berra had a much longer big-league career than Campanella did. But at least the numbers say that at his best, for a few years in the early ’50s, Campanella was a better hitter than Berra. That’s saying a lot.

• The Dodgers played an exaggerated shift on Mantle when he hit left-handed, as he did in Game 5 against Sal Maglie. They pulled Pee Wee Reese to the right of second base. I’d never heard that teams did that for Mantle. Just for Ted Williams.

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