Series Highlight: Don Larsen's Game 5 Perfect Game
The 1956 World Series was business as usually for the New York Yankees as they, once again, knocked off the Brooklyn Dodgers, first-time defending champions. However, there was one glaring difference about this 7th "Subway Series," as Yankees’ hurler Don Larsen made history in Game 5 throwing a perfect game against the Dodgers, the only perfect game in the history of the World Series and, until 2010, the only no-hitter in postseason history. New York went head-to-head for the American League crown against the Cleveland Indians, who finished second to the Yankees five out of six times from 1951 to 1956, with their only AL pennant coming in 1954 before losing to the New York Giants in the World Series. The challenge was short-lived this year, however, as the Yankees walloped the Indians by nine games to win the American League pennant easily. The Yankees also boasted the American League’s 1956 Most Valuable Player in Mickey Mantle, who led the AL in batting average (.353), home runs (52) and RBI (130) to win the rare Triple Crown. The Bronx Bombers also featured future Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford and mid-season acquisition Enos Slaughter. The National League pennant race was a war between the Dodgers, the Milwaukee Braves and the upstart Cincinnati Reds, who led the NL in home runs, RBI and tied the Dodgers for the fielding percentage lead. Brooklyn had a host of future Hall of Famers of their own like Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, and Don Drysdale, as well as NL MVP Don Newcombe who also captured the inaugural Cy Young Award that same year. At the start of the Fall Classic, Brooklyn’s aging ace, Sal Maglie, was also only nine days removed from pitching a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies.
In Games 1 and 2, it seemed business as usual for the Dodgers as they took up right where had left off in the 1955 World Series pounding out three home runs and winning the first two games 6-3 and 13-8, respectively. And then, the Yankees threw down the gauntlet. New York starting pitchers rattled off five consecutive complete games and did not allow another home run off a Dodger bat for the remainder of the Series. On the other hand, the Yanks took Games 3 and 4 to tie the Series with four home runs from Billy Martin, Enos Slaughter, Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer. In Game 5, manager Casey Stengel sent Don Larsen, who went 11-5 with a 3.26 ERA in the regular season, to the mound to face Maglie, who had already defeated New York ace Whitey Ford in Game 1. Few could have predicted what was to come, however, as Larsen, a mediocre pitcher with a 30-40 record to that point, threw the first and only perfect game in a World Series. Though the Dodgers did put up a tremendous fight launching balls into the alleys of the outfield only to have them tracker down by Mantle, Slaughter and Bauer. Dodgers’ left fielder Sandy Amoros missed a home run by mere feet when his shot to right curved foul. Larsen then shut the door, striking out pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell to complete the perfect game. The photograph of catcher Yogi Berra bolted to Larsen leaping into his arms has become one of the most iconic images in baseball lore.
Though now down 3-2 in the Series and having been handed a crushing blow, Brooklyn pitching rebounded as Clem Labine returned in Game 6 beat Bob Turley and shut out the Bombers 1-0, forcing a deciding Game 7. But, once more, the Yankees staff, specifically Johnny Kucks, was up to the task as he held the Dodgers to only three hits and New York got homers from Berra (2), Elston Howard and Moose Skowron. The Yankees pummeled the Dodgers 9-0 to win Game 7 and the 17th World Series title in franchise history. It was the last all-New York World Series, until 2000 when the Yankees faced the New York Mets, due to the relocation of the Dodgers to Los Angeles and Giants relocation to San Francisco. It was also the final World Series for future Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, who had broken baseball’s color barrier only ten years earlier. (Robinson’s impact on Major League Baseball was perhaps the most significant in its more than 150 year history.) Larsen’s Game 5 heroics would not be matched, or nearly matched, until 2010 when Philadelphia Phillies hurler Roy Halladay pitched the second postseason no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the 2010 National League Divisional Series.