The Incredible Story of the Greatest Miracle in Baseball History
by Don Larsen
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Later on, I’d read an interview with Umpire Babe Pinelli. He recalled the moments just before the first pitch to Mitchell in the ninth:
When the last man in the ninth, pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell, stepped up, my blue suit was soaked with sweat. I noticed Commissioner Ford Frick in his box. He was pale as a sheet.In Mickey Mantle’s My Favorite Summer 1956, he described Mitchell and his feelings when the Dodger’s pinch-hitter came to the plate:
With two out, Larsen was just one man away from immortality. As he prepared to throw, I took a firm grip on my emotions. Everyone else could sympathize with him—but not me. Refusing Larsen anything he didn’t earn 100 percent was the hardest thing I’d ever done in baseball.
The Dodgers were down to their final out. It was Maglie’s turn to bat, but Walter Alston sent up a pinch-hitter, Dale Mitchell, a veteran left-handed hitter. I knew him well. He had spent a little over ten seasons with the Cleveland Indians and had a lifetime batting average of .312. He had very little power, only 41 home runs in 11 seasons, but he was a good contact hitter. He sprayed the ball all over the field and that made it impossible to defend against him. . . . As Mitchell stepped in and went into his crouch, I shifted nervously in center field. “Please don’t hit to me,” I kept thinking. Then: “Please hit it to me.” I worried about him hitting a sinking line drive or a bloop that would fall in front of me. I worried where I should play him. “Should I come in a few steps? Go into the bench for help”, as an outfielder usually does in this kind of situation, but nobody was looking at me. They were leaving it up to me. They didn’t want to be responsible if I should mess up. So I just stayed right where I was.Writer Frank Graham Jr. wrote about Mitchell and my words to him (Graham) after the game:
Now Dale Mitchell was announced, pinch-hitting for Maglie. The Yankees knew the left-handed swinging Mitchell well; he had played against them often while he was with the Indians. They knew him as a threat to slash, slap or bloop a hit in any direction. Talking about it later, Larsen said, “He really scared me up there. Looking back on it, though, I know how much pressure he was under. He must have been paralyzed. That made two of us.”Yogi and I hadn’t specifically discussed Mitchell that much, since he wasn’t in the starting lineup. I’d faced him before in the American League and knew he was a good hitter.
Casting any strategy aside, I once again decided to throw the ball as hard as I could and hope for the best. While I was planning my attack, Mitchell told reporters after the game that he knew exactly what was at stake, but tried to focus on the importance of the outcome of the game. “My job was to get on base any way I could,” he said. “It was still a 2-0 game, and if I could get on, I could bring the tying run to the plate. I was trying to look for a pitch I could handle.”
As Mitchell readied himself by swinging two bats over his head like some sort of Neanderthal caveman, I looked at Yogi. I also took a deep breath, trying to somehow calm the nerves that threatened to blow my stomach apart. I read later that broadcaster Vince Scully told his viewing audience, “I think it would be safe to say no man in the history of baseball has ever come up to home plate in a more dramatic moment.” He added “Yankee Stadium is shivering in its concrete foundation right now.” So was I.
Umpire Pinelli positioned himself behind Yogi as Mitchell stepped to the plate for what would be 103 of the most exciting seconds in baseball history. Yogi signaled #1 for a fast ball, and at 3:05, I sent it spiraling toward the plate.
Mitchell, who stood slightly bent over when he batted, passed on the pitch, which was just a bit low and a little outside. The crowd loudly booed the call, but Pinelli was right.
Yogi next called for a slider, but for all practical purposes it was a fast ball. It had good velocity to it and caught the outside corner. The roar of the crowd drowned out Pinelli’s call of “Stee-rr-rrike One” to even the count.
If Mitchell disagreed with the call, he didn’t let Pinelli know. He simply resumed his batting position, and I stared down at Yogi. He fired the Spalding baseball back securely to my glove.
Seconds later, the rotund, barrel-chested catcher I’d come to love resumed his squatting position. He carefully flashed me the sign for another slider. I took my catcher’s directive and buggy whipped the deceiving pitch. But its trajectory was low, and it certainly would have been ball two. No call was made on the pitch though, because Mitchell aggressively swung and missed on pitch number 95.
From The Perfect Yankee: The Incredible Story of the Greatest Miracle in Baseball History by Don Larsen with Mark Shaw.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Shaw. Excerpted with permission.