Once upon a perfect game, Yogi Berra leapt into Don Larsen’s arms.
Their World Series celebration took place Oct. 8, 1956, at the dramatic conclusion of Game 5 against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Yankee Stadium. Larsen, a strapping right-hander, retired all 27 Dodgers he faced, striking out seven, including pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell, who looked at a third strike to end the 2-0 Yankees victory.
Larsen, who remains the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series, will soon be auctioning the jersey and pants he wore that day. If the $565,000 auction price for the jersey and pants that Berra wore that day is any indication of what Larsen’s uniform might fetch, the next to leap into Larsen’s arms will be his two grandsons.
“I’m auctioning the uniform to provide my grandsons with enough money for a college education,” Larsen, 82, said Friday in a telephone interview from his home in Hayden Lake, Idaho. “What the uniform actually sells for is not that important to me; whatever happens, happens. I’m just hoping for enough to help the grandkids.”
Larsen and his sports marketing agent, Andrew Levy of Wish You Were Here Productions, have consigned the uniform to Steiner Sports Marketing, which is set to run an online auction for 56 days, from Oct. 8, the 56th anniversary of the perfect game, to Dec. 2, at steinersports.com.
“I really don’t know what it is worth,” Larsen said. “But what I do know is that in terms of historic importance, my uniform is a part of one of the greatest moments in the history of sports. I have thought about that perfect game, more than once a day, every day of my life since the day I threw it.”
“It was a moment in time that changed my life,” said Larsen, who had an 81-91 record with seven teams over 14 seasons. “That one game has helped me tremendously over the years with paid appearances at card shows, conventions, all sorts of things.”
Larsen said that all the Yankees received new uniforms for the 1956 Series. He had worn his once before, in Game 2 against the Dodgers, who chased Larsen after he allowed four runs in one and two-thirds innings in a 13-8 loss. The Yankees won the Series in seven games.
“The uniform never got dirty because I didn’t wear it very long,” Larsen said. “It’s still in beautiful condition. I will miss it when it goes because I have a whole lifetime of memories wrapped up in it.”
Long before the sports memorabilia craze, most players placed only sentimental value on milestone bats, baseballs and uniforms. The scarcity of such items raises their value in today’s market. Look no further than the Babe Ruth Yankees road jersey from 1920 that sold this month at auction for $4.4 million, a record for a sports artifact.
“While the Babe Ruth jersey was worn at some point by the greatest baseball player of all time, the uniform worn by Don Larsen is part of arguably the greatest single achievement in the history of sports,” Levy said. “It is certainly a part of one of the most iconic moments in Yankees history.”
Larsen, who said he “saved everything I could possibly save from my career,” auctioned the cap, glove, shoes and last-out baseball from his perfect game in 2002. They sold for $120,750. But those items were bronzed, and most memorabilia experts say that bronzing devalues a memento.
“That money was also put into a trust for my grandkids,” said Larsen, who added that the most he made in a season was $20,000 with the Houston Colt .45s in 1964.
Unfortunately for Berra, he did not save the uniform he wore while catching Larsen’s perfect game. Instead, he tossed it into a laundry basket, and it circulated around the Yankees clubhouse for three years until it was given to Ron Stevenot, a 17-year-old from Long Island, to wear for a tryout. Stevenot, who kept it for more than 50 years, placed it in auction two years ago.
Dr. Richard Angrist, a memorabilia collector, bought the uniform and lent it to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the Montclair State University campus in Little Falls, N.J.
“Having Don’s uniform next to mine, which the doctor gave us, would be real nice,” Berra said Friday. “That would be pretty fitting.”