Monday, October 10, 2005

Perfect For One Day

By Mitchell

Saturday was the 49th anniversary of one of the greatest feats in baseball history: Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series. (Yes kids, it might surprise you but there was a time when the World Series was played in early October.)

It was the only no-hitter ever thrown in postseason play (which, until 1969, meant the World Series exclusively), and at the time only the fifth perfect game ever pitched. A World Series no-hitter had long been one of baseball's holy grails, the history of the Fall Classic being littered with close calls and near-misses. Larsen's perfect game was considered perhaps the greatest game ever pitched, being done in the cauldron of baseball's championship, with the added pressure of perfection - not only no hits, but no base runners of any kind - hanging over his head.

In the years since, many commentators have focused on those characteristics, along with the unlikeliness of Larsen being the one to do it (he was a sub-.500 career pitcher). However, I think one should pause to consider how truly monumental his accomplishment has proven to be over time. The World Series started in 1903. Only twice since has it not been played. Since 1969 there has been at least one additional round of playoffs preceding the Series, and today there are two rounds. What this means is whereas in Larsen's day there were at most seven postseason games, today there can be a maximum of 31.

And yet, in all that time, with many more opportunities, no one has yet to match Larsen's feat. Not just a perfect game in the postseason, but a no-hitter of any kind. Nowadays even a complete game in the playoffs draws notice. So Larsen truly has one of the great single-game records in baseball history. It's dangerous to assume it's an unbreakable record, but it is one of the few remaining accomplishments in baseball that has stood the test of time.

One could speculate on the reasons why in 49 years nobody has followed in Larsen's footsteps. While the last few years have seen a surge in power hitting, there are still no-hitters thrown every season (albeit some seasons more than others). It's true that pitchers don't go the distance much anymore, but any pitcher throwing a no-hitter is almost invariably given the chance to complete what he started. The pressure's there, but one could argue that the World Series has nowhere near the prestige it once had, certainly not what it had in Larsen's day.

No, the more I think about it the more inclined I am to consider Larsen's game a remarkable achievement, one we may not see duplicated in our lifetime. (Of course, having said that, it's now likely we'll see one tonight.) Larsen's game occurred at almost the midpoint of World Series history; and with all the extra playoff games we have nowadays there have been far more postseason games played since Larsen than before him, and still the feat hasn't been duplicated - not just a perfect game, but even a no-hitter.

Next year is the 50th anniversary, and I'm sure we'll hear more about it, for this truly is an accomplishment to be celebrated. Maybe Larsen was perfect for only one day, but we should all have such days in our lives.

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