One Game Makes All The Difference: Remembering Don Larson
Readers of this newsletter know I’m a sucker for a sports obit. Don Larsen died this week at the age of 90, and Tyler Kepner of The New York Times centers the obituary on October 8, 1956 when Larson became the only pitcher to ever throw a perfect game in the World Series when he and the Yankee beat the Dodgers 2-0 in game 5. Larson’s perfect game remains a singular achievement in baseball.
While I’m sure our fathers and uncles know, Larson was an unlikely pitcher to pull off the rarest of feats. In fact, The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ) ran the headline “Clown Prince ascends the throne”. The “midnight kid who doesn’t like to miss many laughs” had a career record of 81-91. He lost a Game 7 the very next year, and became a journeyman pitcher. He was the greatest for one day, and the details of the day make the achievement even more incredible.
For one, Larsen didn’t exactly get 10 hours of sleep the night before Game 5. His friend told folks how he begged Larsen to take it easy the night before. To raise the degree of difficulty even more, there was an alimony dispute with his estranged wife. Per Kepner:
Larsen must have had a lot on his mind. The day of the perfect game, his estranged wife, Vivian, asked the State Supreme Court to hold up his World Series winnings in an alimony dispute. A court order over unpaid child support was said to have been in Larsen’s locker as he pitched; newspapers called him a playboy.
But, as Jim Palmer sums up, there’s poetry in the idea that a below average player can be the greatest for a day. In his words, “That’s what baseball’s all about.”
Solid read. – PAL
Source: “Don Larsen Became an Unlikely Legend in 9 Perfect Innings”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (01/02/2020)
TOB: I really love that quote by Palmer. It’s one of my very favorite things about baseball: In one day, an average player can create a legacy. I’ll never forget the all-time leader for RBI in a game is Mark Whiten. He was a quintessential journeyman. But one day in 1993, he hit 12 RBI in a game. Although that one game constituted about 0.1% of his career games, the 12 RBI constituted about 3% of his career RBI.
Or take Brandon Crawford. He’s had his moments and hot streaks at the plate, but he’s known more for his glove. However, in 2016, he had a 7-hit game. In 2019, he had an 8-RBI game. He is the only player in MLB history to do both in his career. How wild is that?
David Stern’s Greatest Act As Commissioner: Compassion
Former NBA commissioner David Stern died this week after suffering a brain hemorrhage before the holidays. And while he will be remembered as the maestro of growing the NBA into a global sport in a way that no other American sport could dream of, The Athletic’s Bill Oram focused his words on how Stern navigated Magic Johnson’s announcement that he had HIV in 1992.
I am just old enough to remember how absolutely terrified and uninformed Americans were of and about AIDS and HIV in 1992. And then it comes out that Magic Johnson has HIV. He immediately retires from basketball. When he does want to make a comeback, players are protesting playing on the same court as Johnson. Sponsors threaten to take their business elsewhere. People still think the virus can be contracted by sweat. Throughout all of this, Stern sticks by Johnson.
Stern admits that he did so to also protect his league. He understood the NBA needed to be about the stardom of its players, and so he stuck by one of the league’s greatest stars.
“We were in the middle of a complete panic as a nation,” [Stern] said, “and we were losing people left and right. And by just working in a certain way to protect our league, which was (that) we embraced Magic, we didn’t shun him … we changed the debate on AIDS.”
This is another one of those stories I will think about when the familiar chorus, “stick to sports” is barked. In Stern’s words, “the social clout sports can have on important issues” are often the bookmarks we use to return to our history. Good, bad, and all of the above. – PAL
Source “‘Compassion and intelligence’ guided David Stern through aftermath of Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement”, Bill Oram, The Athletic (01/02/20)
TOB: I also liked another write-up on Stern, by the Athletic’s Ethan Strauss. He never met Stern, but they became in recent years, as Strauss puts it, pen-pals. One passage in particular struck a chord with me:
Beyond that reputation, he was frighteningly “high chair famous” to me. People of my generation might know what I mean. The famous people you learned about before you can even remember learning tend to inspire more awe.
This is so true. When you are very young, you don’t realize that famous people – be they athletes, politicians, coaches, media personalities – have not always been around. Sometimes, you find out later, they came to prominence just before you learned about them. But for you, they will always hold a special place. As time passes, for example, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of who the coaches of each team in the four major sports are. At age 9, though, I could have told you all of them, and I figured they’d all been there twenty years.
But they hadn’t. And they moved on. And many have passed away. Still, Stern will always be the NBA Commissioner to me just like Tom Brokaw will always be the face of television news. It’s hard to believe Stern is gone. It just feels…strange.
Colin Kaepernick’s Continued Exile Proves His Point
I highly recommend you read this article about Colin Kaepernick and his continued exile from the NFL. Here’s a great passage that is more or less the thesis:
The demonization of Kaepernick and the distortion of his message have contributed to his NFL exile. It is, as Patterson described, a kind of social death and, in many ways, our shared burden, just as it is Goodell’s and the 32 owners’ who have kept the league’s doors closed to him. The cancer isn’t Colin Kaepernick. It is the scourge of racism in our institutions, and it must be confronted or else the next curious black athlete of another generation will face the same battle: fatigued enough to embrace protest as their weapon of upheaval only to suffer in the same, scripted ways of their predecessors.
Kaepernick protested specifically against police officers not being punished for killing young persons of color. But his exile confirms an even larger point: the system is racist and the system is rigged. Good read. -TOB
Source: “Colin Kaepernick’s NFL Exile Feels Like Forever,” Tyler Tynes, The Ringer (12/23/2019)
Bumgarner Wanted to Leave, So He Left/An Ode to Farhan Zaidi
Madison Bumgarner, who almost single-handedly won a World Series for my favorite baseball team, left that team for a division rival – the Arizona Diamondbacks. A lot of Giants fans are angry – Bumgarner grew up a Giant, helping the team win the World Series in 2010 as a 20-year old rookie. But the anger is directed not at Bumgarner for leaving, but at the team’s front office, led by second-year President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi.
These are the same fans who whined and complained about Farhan constantly shuffling the roster last year; and then when he found a mix that won, those same fans cheered, while giving Farhan little credit.
Farhan’s shuffling found players who were good but underappreciated at their previous stops – guys like Mike Yastremzki and Alex Dickerson. Farhan flipped free agent to be pitchers like Drew Pomeranz and Sam Dyson for young and highly valued prospects who might be part of the next great Giants team, like Mauricio Dubon and Jaylinn Davis.
Back to Bum. He is an above average pitcher, though he never could find the consistency required to be truly great. Still, the Giants rotation next year looks to be a mess, and his innings and leadership would have been welcome for the next few years. In fact, it was reported that the Giants offered him something around 4 years and $75 million, which sounds a bit low until you learn his deal with Arizona was 5 years and $75 million. So, Bumgarner took less money per year and the same money overall to go elsewhere. It’s also been reported other teams offered him deals with much higher money. And what does that tell you?
It tells you Bumgarner did not want to be here. He wanted to be in Arizona. He said at his press conference that Arizona was his preferred destination. I don’t get it, personally; I think Phoenix sucks. And I don’t get why you wouldn’t want to become a legend in a city that reveres its sports heroes. But it’s his choice to make.
So why are fans mad at Farhan when Bumgarner chose to leave? Here are some recent questions to Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic’s mailbag article:
Do the Giants know how discouraged and worried the fans are? — @romareb
What’s the Giants management reaction to the discontent among their fans? — @woodiewoodf14
Discontent? Worried? Worried about what? First, it’s baseball! Chill out. Second, your team won three World Series titles this decade! Are you kidding me? These fans are spoiled and insufferable. They think there’s no plan because they think the Giants are one big bat away from competing with the Dodgers, who are so deep and so good. But the Giants are so far behind the Dodgers right now, it’s going to take so much more.
Farhan has done and continues to do an incredible job. When he turns this mess around, those fans will probably say they knew all along. But I know. I’m keeping the receipts. -TOB
Baseball in the 2010s
This is a really neat article from Tom Verducci about how baseball changed over the decade. I highly recommend it. -TOB
Source: “MLB Changed More Than You Think in the 2010s,” Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated (12/23/2019)
Video of the Week
Tweet of the Week
PAL Song of the Week: Brittany Howard – Stay High
Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or: