Don Larsen Deserves Better Than Damon Amendolara
Hall-of-famer Yogi Berra leaped into Don Larsen’s arms at the end of Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, a perfect game for the ages. Both men passed away at the age of 90. Photo via Twitter from the Yogi Berra Museum.
OK. So Don Larsen didn’t win 300 games, or even 100, or a Cy Young or an MVP or a Silver Slugger. But he did do one thing that no one else in the the game of baseball has ever done.
Ever. As in… evvvver.
Sandy Koufax? Roy Halladay? Whitey Ford? Nope, nope and nope. This is a table for one and the reservation says, “Don Larsen.”
1956. Game 5. World Series. Don Larsen captured perfection in a bottle and gave the world something to talk about every October 8 for the next six decades. Don Larsen gave us a perfect game. A singular achievement not only for the performance itself, but for who did it: an every man. A journeyman. A guy who hung in because that’s what guys did. They kept trying because they were too obstinate or proud or ornery to quit. And every once in awhile, one of them… a Don Larsen for instance, came shining through with a performance for the ages.
But to hear Damon Amendolara on CBS Radio the morning after Larsen died of complications from cancer at the age of 90, it was obvious that the radio host neither appreciated the feat, nor learned anything from it. Somehow, it passed right over his eggnog-soaked cerebellum that maybe there was something more to be learned not only from one of the most iconic games in baseball history but also one of the great pictures in baseball history: 5’7 New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra jumping into the arms of his 6’4″ teammate (not the other way, Charlie Rose, though that would have been funny to see). He didn’t bother to see the unbridled joy of one teammate being so happy for his teammate that he celebrated as if he were the one throwing every pitch.
Instead, Amendolara crammed his foot and his whole damned leg in his mouth and down his throat when he called Larsen “a terrible pitcher” on “The DA Show” on CBS Radio Thursday morning as if Larsen was not befitting the stature of someone who should have thrown a perfect game.
Not only was it inaccurate, it was also classless and thoroughly insensitive, having been delivered less than 24 hours after Don Larsen died.
Hey Damon. Let’s try this. Give me a call next time one of your family member dies and I’ll take to these pages and call said family member an inadequate, irrelevant, unremarkable sack of crap, which is essentially what you called Larsen.
What’s doubly confusing besides it being a lowdown, gutter-crawling thing to say is that the premise behind the comment isn’t even accurate. Yes. Larsen for his career was 10 games under .500. That’s the life of a man who spent a lot of time in the bullpen, but who had a more-than-respectable 3.78 earned run average. For reference, C.C. Sabathia’s is 3.74, Ralph Branca’s is 3.79, Al Leiter’s is 3.80 and Bud Black’s is 3.84. Not a loser in the bunch.
Larsen was primarily a starter early in a career that began in 1953 and had some good results when he wasn’t pitching for the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles, fresh off a move from being the St. Louis Browns were, at the time, “terrible” as in winning the same number of games as the year they played. That’s right, 54-100 in ’54, the year Larsen lost 21.
But what Amendolara failed to mention was Larsen had four years as a starter with ERAs under 3.74 immediately following that 21-loss season. Three of them were under 3.26. Couldn’t we have celebrated that… that a guy who could have packed up his bags and went home after a crappy season with a crappy team instead turned it around and had four really solid years immediately following?
Apparently not in Amendolara’s world.
There were mediocre years after that stretch as Larsen played in Kansas City and for the White Sox. But again, he didn’t quit. He persevered. He got a second wind as a reliever and posted ERAs of 3.05, 2.45 and 2.67 in his final three seasons. He was good enough to be in the trade of players that sent Roger Maris to New York. Yeah. That Roger Maris, the man who many say is still the rightful owner of the single-season home run crown.
Larsen “terrible?” Hardly. Tough as hell? Able to get outs despite arm talent that got him 849 strikeouts in 1548 innings? Willing to fight for every pitch and every at-bat and make a career doing something the rest of us could only dream of? Abso-damn-lutely.
Maybe “terrible” wasn’t the word Amendolara was blindly groping for in his sleep-deprived delirium as he patted himself on the back for CBS’ decision to put him on the air at 4 a.m. PST. Maybe his point was, that on October 8, 1956, Don Larsen was lucky.
That is a theorem the man himself hasn’t discounted over the years as he has patiently retold the story about being alone with his thoughts during the biggest game of his life because no one wanted to jinx it and that he might not have said a single word to Berra during the entire game.
“I never had that kind of control in my life,” Larsen would recount later according to USA Today. Sitting with Berra for an interview with Bob Costas Larsen also said he was unaware of what he’d done until later. “I didn’t know it was a perfect game until somebody in the clubhouse told me after. I did not know what a perfect game was,” Larsen said in September 2015.
Of course Larsen was in the dark because the last time anybody had thrown a perfect game was 1922. Charlie Robertson threw one for the White Sox against the Tigers. No one threw around the term much since it never happened enough to be talked about.
The hero, not knowing just how heroic he was. Does it get any better than that? No. And neither does the story of a pretty good player who rose to put on the greatest of performances on the greatest of stages.
All that was lost on our radio host, however. Perhaps he will in the future handling his business like a professional, a little more like the man who’s career he slammed with the corpse not yet cool to the touch. Maybe a little more “thinking Damon” and a little less “hot take Damon.”
He likes to say fans insist on referring to him as “DA.” Given his performance the day after one of baseball’s icons passed away, his initials most certainly could stand for something else.
Disrespectful and dumb are two words that leap to mind for the first part.
I’ll let you fill in the rest.