Larsen’s 1956 feat perfectly vivid to ex-sports scribe

It was Oct. 8, 1956 – 56 years ago today – that Herb Jaffe climbed behind the wheel of his big Plymouth hardtop and shifted gears, when the gears were on the steering column, for the ride from his home in Linden, N.J., to The House That Ruth Built. It was a Monday, just like today.

Herb Jaffe was almost 24. He was a baseball writer for the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger.

There was nothing really remarkable about that day, he said. At least not when he got out of bed. Well, there would be a World Series game in a few hours, and back then, those were always special – especially when the Yankees played the Dodgers.

The Bums had won the first two games; the Bombers the next two. In a few hours, they would play pivotal Game 5.

It would be Sal "The Barber" Maglie for the Dodgers against Don Larsen of the Yankees.

It would be the greatest game ever pitched in the World Series.

Jaffe wouldn’t have known that on the drive up to Yankee Stadium. His job that day was to cover the Yankees’ locker room and write a sidebar. He remembers driving across the Hudson River. The sun was out, but there was a crispness to the October air. It was World Series weather, ideal.

As Herb Jaffe drove across the George Washington Bridge, he cranked the window on the big Plymouth to let some of the sunshine and crispness inside.

In a few minutes, he would be pulling into the parking lot reserved for the press, and then he wouldn’t remember what a beautiful day it was, because the parking lot would be a mess.

The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Mickey Mantle hit a home run off The Barber. Meanwhile, Don Larsen was really mowin’ down the Dodgers.

He had been traded by Baltimore to the Yankees after the 1954 season – in a 17-player swap – though "Bullet" Bob Turley was considered the key guy in that deal. Jaffe said Larsen had his good stuff on this day. By the fifth, he said, you could tell the Dodgers were going to have trouble hitting him.

It was in the fifth that Mantle had raced into "Death Valley" to run down a drive off Gil Hodges’ bat, and Jaffe said that was when the murmuring in the press box started.

Three up, three down. Three up, three down. Three up, three down.

Larsen remained perfect through the sixth, seventh and eighth. And then it was the ninth, and then Jaffe had to go down to the Yankees’ locker room because it would all be over soon.

Whether baseball history would be made or not, there would be a lot of jockeying for position to talk to the players. Because this was the World Series, and Red Smith would be there. And a lot of other baseball writers, none quite so good as Smith, would be there, too.

Even if the Dodgers got a hit off Larsen, a lot of guys would want to talk to him. And to Mantle, for hitting that homer and making that catch. And to Yogi, too, because guys always wanted to talk to Yogi, because you never knew what he might say.

And so Herb Jaffe witnessed history being made on TV in the Yankees’ locker room.

After Larsen struck out Dale Mitchell for the sixth perfect game in baseball history – and the only one ever in the World Series – and Yogi had leaped into his arms because Yogi was short and Larsen stood 6 feet 4 inches, there was a huge hubbub in the runway. And then the Yankees came barging through the door, Yogi and Mickey and the rest of ’em with the throng, and Larsen of course, and Herb Jaffe remembers being the second guy to grab him, right after some TV reporter from CBS.

"He couldn’t believe what he had just done," Jaffe said. "I remember Hank Bauer coming in, and (Gil) McDougald, and people were yelling and all kind of stuff. Larsen was normal though. He was so stupefied he couldn’t talk."

Jaffe remembers Yogi speaking for his batterymate. And Casey Stengel holding court. When somebody asked Ol’ Casey if this was the best game Larsen had ever pitched, Stengel answered only as Stengel could. "So far," he said.

After writing about sports for 14 years, Jaffe would become an investigative reporter. He moved to Summerlin after retiring and still writes for the Review-Journal’s Summerlin View. He will turn 80 on Friday.

He remembers clipping the story he had written for the Oct. 9, 1956 edition of the Star-Ledger about the greatest World Series game ever pitched, and his kids taking it to school for "show and tell." Beats the heck out of a frog in a cigar box.

He remembers the hubbub eventually subsiding on Oct. 8, 1956. And Larsen still being there. And reality setting in – but only slowly.

"Wow, I really did it, didn’t I?"

He remembers Don Larsen saying that. And eventually, when Herb Jaffe wheeled the big Plymouth hardtop back over the Hudson River on his way to New Jersey, the sun was gone and it was getting chilly outside.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0325. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

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