Perfect Game Turns 60: Don Larsen’s Legacy Lives On Locally

Photo by Michael Rosen.
Photo by Michael Rosen.

There is an old saying that on any given day, any given man can achieve perfection. This Saturday, Oct. 8 will mark the 60th anniversary of arguably the greatest example of this phrase.

It was during Game 5 of the 1956 World Series that Don Larsen, a man who lost 21 games just two years prior, did the unthinkable. He threw a perfect game in the World Series for the New York Yankees against their archrival, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A perfect game is exactly what it sounds like, not a single batter reaches base. No hits, no walks and no errors; first base goes completely untouched. There have been just 23 perfect games in the almost 150 years since Major League Baseball came into existence. Larsen’s is the only one that was thrown on baseball’s biggest stage.

Among those in the stands that day include Joe Torre, a Hall of Fame manager who would lead the Yankees to four World Series titles 40 years after this game took place. He, of course, was not alone at the ballpark that day.

New Paltz Village Trustee Tom Rocco grew up so close to Yankee Stadium that he could hear the roar of the crowd from his home. He was not there that day, but his wife Ellen Rocco was.

Rocco grew up as a Yankees fan in Albany, New York. One reason for her fandom was a friendly rivalry she shared with one of her cousins, who was a Dodgers fan.

“My cousin Kenny and I spent a lot of time together,” Rocco said. “He was always the one leading the way. I would listen to him, and then get into trouble. To have something up on him was big and the better the Yankees did, the more I had over him.”

Rocco’s father, Murry Spritzer,  had two tickets to the game and was originally going to bring a friend, but he was unable to make it. So Spritzer brought a delighted 12-year-old Ellen instead.

“I remember my dad picking me up from school and saying ‘come on, we’re going to the ballgame!’” Rocco said.

At that time the Yankees and Dodgers were tied at 2-2 in the series, and the last perfect to be thrown was by Charlie Robertson in 1922. Larsen needed just 97 pitches to throw his masterpiece, striking out seven batters in the process. He faced a Dodgers lineup that featured four future Hall of Famers in Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese.

As exciting of a game as it was, Rocco does not recall all of it in full detail. But there are two distinct memories she has of the afternoon.

“One guy sitting in back of us fell asleep,” she said. “There was a guy sitting next to him who was ranting and said ‘I can’t believe it! He gets drunk, falls asleep and misses the end of the game!’

“Then after the game my father and I walked on the grand concourse to get autographs. Elston Howard was there and had his kid on his shoulders. I asked him for his autograph and one of the security guards asked me to leave him alone, but Howard happily gave me his signature.”

Howard was a catcher on the Yankees for 13 years. He won the 1963 American League MVP award and was the first African American player to wear the Yankee pinstripes.

Although Rocco is not as nearly as big of a baseball fan as she once was, this was one memory she won’t ever forget.

“It is certainly one of my strongest childhood memories,” Rocco said. “I’m happy to throw it into conversation and say ‘oh by the way, I was at Don Larsen’s perfect game.’”

It was the only World Series game that Rocco has ever attended, and it just so happened to be one of the most legendary games in baseball history. A man who finished his career with a record of just 81-91 did something that no player ever did, and no player has done since.