In this installment of the Players You Forgot Were Astros series, we look at the career of pitcher Don Larsen.
The year 2020, which has already proven to be a ridiculous mess, started off on the wrong foot with the news that Don Larsen died on Jan. 1 at age 90. Larsen is best remembered for one particular game which came a few years before his brief time with the Houston Astros.
Larsen, of course, threw a perfect game for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series. To this day, he remains the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the postseason and the only one to throw a no-hitter in the World Series. The late Roy Halladay is the only other pitcher to throw a no-hitter in postseason play.
Larsen mowed down the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game Five of that Fall Classic, which was all the more impressive because he was one of the last pitchers people would’ve expected to do that. He had talent, to be sure, but the results were mixed.
After serving in the armed forces during the Korean War, Larsen made his major league debut in 1953 with the St. Louis Browns. After the team moved to Baltimore, he led the majors with 21 losses in 1954, coming in 28 starts and one relief appearance. He was traded to the Yankees after that season. Included in the trade was the late Kal Segrist, who would later serve as the head baseball coach at my alma mater, Texas Tech.
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Larsen mostly pitched out of the rotation for the Yankees, but also spent some time in relief. He produced decent results in his first four years in the Bronx, though he was never utilized enough to pitch 200 innings in any season. The only time he did that in his entire career was in 1954 with Baltimore.
So when it came time for Yankees manager Casey Stengel to choose a starting pitcher the day of World Series Game Five in 1956, there was no certainty it would be Larsen. But he obviously made the right decision as Larsen delivered the greatest pitching performance in World Series history.
Following a subpar 1959 season, Larsen was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in a deal that sent future home run champion Roger Maris to the Yankees. He pitched poorly for the A’s and bounced around the next few years as a reliever with the White Sox and Giants, with mixed results.
The Colt .45s purchased him from the Giants in 1964. In 10 starts and 20 relief appearances that year, he went 4-8 with a 2.26 ERA in 103.1 innings. He made one start for the Astros in 1965 before being traded back to Baltimore. After bouncing around the majors and minors, he made his last major league appearances with the Cubs in 1967.
Larsen finished his 14-year major league career with a record of 81-91 and an ERA of 3.78. He was 4-8 with a 2.40 ERA in 31 appearances with the Houston franchise, but he will always be remembered for one of the most memorable performances in the history of the game.