Sixty-six years ago, in 1956 I was in the eighth grade in the local yeshiva in Detroit. Back then the teachers of Hebrew subjects were allowed to potch (usually a slap across the face) male students in intermediate and high school for bad behavior. I was probably the best-behaved kid in class but I received a couple of slaps over the years.
All were deserved, except one, and I’ll never forget it and the rebbe never forgot it either. But he never apologized. Back then the World Series was in early October, not in early November as it is now. The team that won the most games in the American League played the team that won the most games in the National League. No playoff series with several teams to produce more television revenue. It was simply the best team in one league against the best team in the other league and there were no inter-league games during the season. Only during the World Series. It was game five and each team had won two games. I was curious to see how the sixth game of the World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees was coming along and we had a 15-minute break between classes. I hopped across the street to the gas station as the radio had the volume up to accommodate customers and workers.
Don Larsen, 27, who didn’t last through the second inning in game two was pitching for the Yankees, and Sal Maglie was on the mound for Brooklyn. The odds favored the latter as the 39-year-old veteran posted a 13-6 record with a nifty 2.89 ERA in 1956. It was the seventh winning season for Maglie, who had 108 career victories at the time and only lost 49 times. Larsen’s career record was an unimpressive 30 wins and 40 losses.
There was no score the first time I went to the gas station and no one huddled around the radio. This time there were a couple of customers and attendants. I soon learned that Larsen was pitching a perfect game, no runs, no hits, no errors and not a single Brooklyn player reached first base safely via a walk (base on balls). I was able to hear the end of the historic game that the Yankees won 2-0.
I ran back to the yeshiva and headed to the classroom. I encountered my next Hebrew studies teacher in the hallway. He was a street-smart New Yorker and a big Yankees fan who moved to town two years earlier. “How’s the game going?” he asked. “The Yankees won 2-0 and Larsen pitched a perfect game,” I answered. Rabbi K. responded by slapping me across the face and said, “don’t lie.”
I felt it but thought it was funny. After all, who would believe that Larsen could face Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and the rest of the lineup without yielding a hit. I couldn’t wait for the next day and an apology. The apology never came and he stayed in Detroit until his passing some 50 years after that historic October 8, 1956, game.
About 20 years after the Larsen gem, I was schmoozing with United Press International’s baseball writer, Milt Richman prior to a game at Yankee Stadium. Milt related that he adopted Larsen as a favorite player when the pitcher was with the lowly St. Louis Browns a couple of years before he was traded to the Yankees. No one bothered no-name players and a bad team. Richman, however, would speak and meet with Larsen whenever he could and even invited Larsen to his parents’ home on Tremont Avenue in the Bronx to enjoy a kosher dinner.
The night before the perfect game, Larsen dined with the Richmans and told the future writer that he was going to pitch a no-hitter the next afternoon. He pulled out a dollar from his wallet and instructed Milt to give it to his mother for a donation to her synagogue.
So armed with confidence and a donated dollar to receive help from above, Larsen made his way to the pitching mound in front of 65,419 paying fans and pitched the only perfect game in World Series history.
And it was the only time in my history that I didn’t deserve a slap in the face from a teacher.