Hoosiers on Cardboard, Part 2

Congratulations! You're about to read the second in a series on pro athletes who either were born in Indiana or spent their formative years here. Go here for the first installment about a pitcher who last week made his major league debut, hurling 5.2 shutout innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Don Larsen

Don Larsen was a journeyman pitcher.

I always had the notion that he was an ace - probably among the best of his era. As a kid breathing baseball facts, I didn't dig deep enough.

Of course, he pitched a gem of a ball game just about 55 years ago. It was Game 5 of the World Series, Oct. 8, 1956. Larsen's New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Larsen didn't allow a hit or a walk. It's the only time in World Series - wait, post-season history that a pitcher has accomplished this.
"Sometimes a week might go by when I don't think about that game, but I don't remember when it happened last."  - Don Larsen, who turned 82 on August. 7.  

Larsen was born in Michigan City, Ind., roughly 45 minutes from downtown Chicago. Michigan City is best known as a place for bargains on clothes and shoes courtesy of their swell outlet mall.

This is my only Don Larsen card, acquired this Spring at a card show for $4.
He finished playing the game with a career record of 81-91and a respectable ERA of 3.78. His best year came in 1956, when he posted an 11–5 record, a career best 107 strikeouts and a 3.26 ERA. 
Larsen started in the majors in April 1953 with the St. Louis Browns. I had assumed he pitched most of his years with the Yankees. Not so.

His career arch:
  • New York Yankees (1955-59)
  • Kansas City Athletics (1960-61)
  • Chicago White Sox (1961) 
  • San Francisco Giants (1962-64)
  • Houston Colt .45s/Astros (1964-65)
  • Baltimore Orioles (1965)
  • Chicago Cubs (1967) 
In New York, manager Casey Stengel used Larsen as a backup starter and occasional reliever. He went 45–24 with the Yankees, making 90 starts in 128 appearances.

Described as gangly righthander, Larsen was called "Gooney Bird" by his teammates.

And he had a reputation for partying. Stengel: "The only thing he fears is sleep."

When Larsen crashed his car into a light pole in the middle of the night during spring training, after curfew, Stengel said, "He must have gone out to mail a letter."

Here's what he did after his history-making game, according to his words in a New York magazine piece earlier this year:

"The first stop was a place called Fifeto Squeri's, it was on 50th and Second Avenue; it was a little Italian place that I frequented. I knew the family. We had Champagne. It was a ball.

"Then, we went to a place called McAvoy's. I stopped in there with a bunch of my friends. We were just goofing around, having fun. That was on Lexington Avenue, downtown, or maybe just in town. You never know. New York's a big place.

And then we went to the Latin Quarter, I was with [sportswriter] Arthur Richman. Joe E. Lewis was performing - the comedian. We were there until late. I had to be on Dave Garroway's show the next morning. Early. Like six o'clock."
Don Larsen: A native Hoosier, journeyman pitcher and baseball legend.

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