Remembering a Perfect Day

Originally published Oct 19, 1997, by Mike Barnicle for The Boston Globe


Yesterday, we all stood on the sidewalk in front of the MCM furniture store on Main Street watching the World Series on a TV that had been placed in the window as a display item. As the ninth inning began, a guy pulled to the curb behind the wheel of a dark green DeSoto.

“What’s the score?” he asked.

“Two-nothing, Yankees, ” he was told. ” Larsen’s pitching a perfect game.”

“You mean he’s got a no-hitter,” the guy said.

“No,” came the response. “I mean he’s pitching a perfect game. Nobody’s reached base.”

The crowd had multiplied throughout the afternoon, beginning with about 10 people and growing to the point where a lot of shopkeepers and school kids had dropped by to watch the drama of Don Larsen and Sal Maglie in Game 5. As good as “The Barber” was — allowing only 5 hits through 8 innings, including a home run to Mantle — Larsen was in the middle of one of those miracles only the baseball gods can explain.

He’d punched out 26 in a row when Walter Alston, the Dodgers manager, sent Dale Mitchell up to pinch hit with two down in the ninth. A couple of things happened simultaneously as soon as Mitchell struck out: Yogi Berra rushed from behind home to jump into Larsen’s outstretched arms and everyone standing there on Main Street — 200 miles from Yankee Stadium — began cheering and chattering because we’d just witnessed history.

Now, I told you this happened “yesterday” because it did. In many ways, to a lot of people, that kind of day and those type of events — a huge ball game — appear in more vivid detail than things that occurred, say, last Tuesday morning.

In fact, we’re talking about Oct. 8, 1956, an age when so much of the nation saw so many things in basic shades of black or white. But somehow, it is still so clear that I can recite the lineups for both clubs more quickly than I can recall my bank card PIN number or the new telephone area codes, because in the kingdom of continuous conversation, baseball rules.

No other sport lends itself to memory like baseball. When was the last time somebody rambled on about a tackle or a touchdown? While all sports sure do have stunning individual achievements, only baseball is discussed as a whole, with each game a story unto itself and every recollection an epic.

Plus — because baseball takes almost a whole year to resolve itself — all the runs, hits, errors, and mental flashbacks combine to provide a sketch of the society in place at the time. Don Larsen pitched his perfect game three months after Jack Kennedy jumped onto the national stage as a failed vice presidential candidate and four weeks before an election in which Ike hammered Adlai Stevenson. Larsen threw 97 pitches that afternoon in a country still mesmerized by the glamor of Grace Kelly’s wedding to the prince of a place called Monaco.

Unfortunately, too many of those who have been granted the privilege of running (ruining is actually a better word ) baseball today are greedy dopes. They are so caught up in their own ego that they don’t know they’re failing as trustees of this great game’s past, present, and future too.

For example, you would be hard-pressed to provide a better set of ballgames than those between Cleveland and Baltimore or Florida and Atlanta. Yet the lords of the game cannot capitalize or market their fantastic product for one basic reason: They are blindly stupid.

But owners don’t have a monopoly on blindness. Agents as well as a totally out of control players’ union all join in the collusion against optimistic hopes that baseball can flourish because of the simple fact that it is our best game.

It’s a game of such normal human dimension that little kids see themselves on the same field with Cal Ripken or Ken Griffey Jr. No pads. No protective gear. No 300 pounders or 7-foot-tall power forwards. Only real live dreams.

It’s a game of skill, touch, and a kid’s belief: That you can catch the ball. That you can make the throw. That you too can hit it. That you are Nomar, Mo, Tony Gwynn, or Charles Johnson.

Don Larsen had his perfect day 41 years ago but because baseball is a continual dialogue the game was played yesterday. Sadly, as we start another World Series, those in charge cannot see as far as that crowd that stood in front of a furniture store window 41 Octobers ago, all of them looking at a wonderful game they figured was too good to ever end.