Friday, January 2, 2009

The Socio-Ethnic Implications of Don Larsen's Perfect Game

The MLB Network made it debut yesterday, marked primarily by Harold Reynolds' heroic restraint in not giving his comely co-host Hazel Mae a hug and by the airing in its entirety of Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. While the last thing the baseball world needs is more mythologizing of the Dodgers and Yankees of the 1950s, the fact that they showed the whole game - including many Gillette commercials, with ultrarare footage of Don Newcombe shaving with the "heavy" razor, an obvious precursor to the later classic Deacon Jones/Multiblade episode of "The Odd Couple" - allowed us a glimpse into how the game was played two generations ago.

If you were watching closely, here's some of what you might have noticed:

* While I can't find the exact starting time for the game, I think it was about 3:00 in the afternoon, which meant that in October in New York, the shadows had already crept between the batter's box and the pitcher's mound. Dodger hitters spent the entire afternoon watching the ball emerge in the sunlight then disappear into half-darkness. It's no wonder these games were so low-scoring.

* They didn't bring out a new ball for each inning, which means that after an infielder recorded a third out, he'd simply roll the ball onto the mound (which would only make it dirtier) rather than flipping it back to an umpire or tossing it into the stands as they do today. After Dodger pitcher Sal Maglie struck out to end the Dodger sixth, Yogi Berra simply flipped the ball to him so Maglie would have it to start the seventh.

* There appeared to be a strange white object, maybe someone's discarded T-shirt, in short leftfield at one point. I have no idea what that was.

* When the pitchers were scheduled to hit, they didn't come into the on-deck circle but stayed in the dugout until they were due at bat. Both Maglie and Larsen did this, trotting out of the dugout as if they had been in the bathroom when Bob Sheppard called their name.

* When Mickey Mantle hit lefthanded, the Dodgers shifted their infield so that three players were between first and second bases and only Jackie Robinson, playing third, was on the left side of the infield. I had no idea teams ever used that kind of shift on Mantle.

* After the teams recorded an out with no one on base, and they ritually whipped the ball around the infield, they included the catcher, which no one does today. This was a nice democratic touch.

MLB Network has promised a series of All-Time Games, which will be very handy for this kind of sociological analysis. Unfortunately, the Web site lists only this game so far as part of this slate. I guess this means if you missed it, you'll have plenty of chances to catch it again.


Anonymous said...

I, too, was surprised to see the shift that the Dodgers put on for Mantle. Also, I believe the starting time was 1:00 PM, based on several promos for the next day's game (no off-day between games 5 & 6 with the teams only moving from the Bronx to Brooklyn) which was to start at that time. A couple of other observations:

1. No replays.

2. For the most part the batters got into the box and stayed there for the entire AB. The only batter I remember stepping out was Robinson who got something in his eye...and that move evoked some scattered boos when he had to go to the on-deck circle and have Hodges take a look at the eye. Where was the trainer?

T. Nawrocki said...

I meant to mention the Robinson thing but forgot. Jackie has become so sainted over the years that it's jarring to hear him booed, but I'm sure it was not racial at all; the fans just thought he was slowing down the game.

We could use a little more of that these days. I'd love to see the fans boo any player who steps out of the box in the middle of an at-bat.

Marshall said...