Don Larsen Became an Unlikely Legend in 9 Perfect Innings

By the end of his career, though, Larsen had settled into a role as an elder statesman. He logged time with the Athletics, the White Sox, the Giants, the Astros, the Orioles and the Cubs. He faced the Yankees as a Giants reliever in the 1962 World Series, and helped mentor a young Jim Palmer with Baltimore three years later.

“He was a huge guy, very soft-spoken, a really nice man,” Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher, said by phone on Thursday, recalling a time when Manager Hank Bauer called Larsen into a game at Yankee Stadium, only to realize he had summoned the wrong pitcher.

“Nine years earlier he’d pitched the greatest game in the history of the World Series, and now he comes in and Hank says, ‘No I don’t want you, you’ve got to go back to the bullpen,’” Palmer said. “But he was the type of guy — it didn’t bother him. He was a gentle giant.”

Palmer starred on the mound in the 1970s, a decade in which no pitcher threw a perfect game. The feat has been accomplished only 23 times, and Larsen’s was the only one between 1922 (Charlie Robertson) and 1964 (Jim Bunning).

Two other Yankees — David Wells in 1998 and David Cone in 1999 — have done it, and Larsen had a connection to both. Larsen and Wells both attended Point Loma High School in San Diego, and Larsen threw the ceremonial first pitch to Berra on the day of Cone’s gem.

“Coney pitched his in July and Wells pitched his in May,” Torre said, “and if it was reversed, neither one of them probably would have done it, because Coney needed the warm weather to stay loose and Wells needed the cool weather to keep from getting exhausted. The stars have to be aligned, I guess.”