(Reuters) – Don Larsen, who in 1956 pitched the only perfect game in World Series history for the New York Yankees, died Wednesday, his agent said. He was 90 years old.
Larsen died of esophageal cancer in Hayden, Idaho, Andrew Levy, who represented the pitcher, tweeted Wednesday night.
The unlikely Larsen, in Game Five of the ‘56 World Series on Oct. 8, pitched to 27 Brooklyn Dodgers batters, retiring pinch hitter Dale Mitchell on a called third strike before catcher Yogi Berra leaped into his arms.
“Don’s perfect game is a defining moment for our franchise, encapsulating a storied era of Yankees success and ranking among the greatest single-game performances in Major League Baseball history,” the Yankees said in a statement.
“The unmitigated joy reflected in his embrace with Yogi Berra after the game’s final out will forever hold a secure place in Yankees lore. It was the pinnacle of baseball success and a reminder of the incredible, unforgettable things that can take place on a baseball field.”
Larsen had lost Game Two of that series, but his perfect game earned him the World Series most valuable player honors as the Yankees won the series in seven games.
“I’ll show ‘em all,” Larsen had said when manager Casey Stengel announced the day before the right-handed Larsen would be starting Game Five “Don’t be surprised if I pitch a no-hitter too.”
The next day he did.
“I must admit I was shocked,” Larsen wrote in his autobiography The Perfect Yankee. “I knew I had to do better than the last time, keep the game close and somehow give our team a chance to win. Casey was betting on me, and I was determined not to let him down this time.”
Nicknamed “Gooney Bird” because of his flaky nature, Larsen pitched for seven teams in a 14-year career and never won more than 11 games in a season while posting a 81-91 record. He had joined the Yankees in 1955 after going 3-21 in Baltimore.
After winning nine of 11 games in 1955, he posted a 11-5 record ahead of the perfect game in 1956.
He remained a welcome and familiar face at Yankees’ annual Old-Timers’ Day celebrations in the decades following his playing career, which ended in 1967.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle