Was Last Out Strike 3 in WS Perfecto a Swing?

Only Perfect Game in World Series History Don Larsen, New York Yankees October 8, 1956

Only Perfect Game in World Series History
Don Larsen, New York Yankees
October 8, 1956

In the column I wrote about Yogi Berra this week, I described him, among other things, as “the guy who celebrated Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game by leaping into his arms after Dale Mitchell took a dubious called strike three final out.”

That comment prompted a tempered, but clear rebuttal by e-mail from SABR friend Mark Wernick about the outcome of that pitch. Mark implicitly removes the “dubious” aspect  that has long been associated the question ” was the pitch really in the strike zone” and he places it – where he and other think it belongs: It was a called strike three, alright,  but it should have been ruled a swinging – no question, batter Mitchell’s out – strike three by examining the whole pitch and swing sequence with the kind of cutting board stop action technology available to us today.

When you look at the tape today with our current modern technology for instant replay review of hard to call plays, you can see – clear as day – it was a swinging strike three that simply wasn’t added to umpire Pinelli’s quick call, just prior to Mitchell’s wrists breaking into a swing at the pitch as the ball passes.

Even Mitchell’s quick recoil of the bat to beg for a “swing check on ball four” could not sell any reconsideration by umpire Pinelli. To my eyes, it really looked like a hittable ball that Mitchell missed.

Whether it was in the strike zone as a hittable ball isn’t even the question. He swung at it. And he missed. And just maybe – that was why Dale Mitchell didn’t make a bigger stink about the strike call than he did. Mitchell knew, even if he never said so, that he didn’t deserve a break. He swung. And he missed. On strike three.

Here’s how Mark Wernick expressed it briefly: “One thing about the Mitchell 3rd strike in the perfect game,  which seems to be pervasively missed by so many,  including no less a luminary than George Will:  it was a swinging strike,  not a called strike. Mitchell tried to hold up,  but his bat was well out past the plate when Pinelli rang him up. Freeze this footage at the 2:59 mark,  and you will see clearly that this is a swinging strike 3.”

http://m.mlb.com/…/bb-moments-56-ws-gm-5-don-larsens…

“For all we know,  the  ‘Pinelli missed the call’  wave began before freeze-frame YouTube videos were available to all.  This YouTube phenomenon also helped verify Yogi Berra’s claim that Jackie Robinson was really out,  and that Babe Ruth really pointed towards center field,  while both Root and Hartnett had their backs to him.” ~ Mark Wernick.

Larsen365375CORBIS

The Iconic Visual Moment The World Series Perfect Game Five New York 3 – Brooklyn 0 October 8, 1956

 As one who watched that strikeout in Houston on a grainy 17″ television set between classes as a UH freshman, it never occurred to me to ask for a second look at the pitch. We didn’t have that little technological game-changer at our disposal back on October 8, 1956.

Even if we had been so blessed/cursed, it still may have been impossible to click it off in stop-action mode and told much on the kinds of sets we watched in those days. George Wills says the ball was “a foot and a half” outside. Really? Maybe George Will had his buddy Michael J. Fox fly a 70″ flat screen and game-officials quality replay equipment back from the future to wherever he watched the game at age 15. None of us could really see where the ball was pitched that accurately back in the day, but that didn’t stop many of us from creating and perpetuating the mind-teaser that maybe – just maybe – that third strike “call” was really the umpire’s contribution to the perfect game.

My worst regret? About fifteen years ago, I had about an hour of private time in St. Louis with Don Larsen in the hotel lobby where we were both attending the same banquet that night. All we talked about was the World Series perfect game. – And I never asked him anything on this specific vital detail beyond “was that last pitch really a strike?” Larsen answered with a smile. “It was a strike, alright, and it’s always going to stay a strike.”

It was the strike that immortalized the memory of Don Larsen and the visage of Yogi Berra running to the mound and jumping into Don Larsen’s arms, but no real memory of Dale Mitchell stood out quite so boldly, other than that feint call to doubt that the pitch may have missed the strike zone. I, for one, had no TV memory of the Mitchell swing. I was too busy jumping on a couch in over-the-top celebration with Yogi and Larsen.

I did ask Don Larsen that early 21st century day we talked in St. Louis one question that he, at least, told me was new to him. That news surprised me. It could easily have been the first question any of us might have asked him back anytime after October 8, 1956.

“What was the last thought you had before you released that two-strike pitch to Mitchell in the top of the ninth with two outs?” I asked.

Don Larsen stared at me with those steely blue eyes for a brief moment. Then he spoke in three deliberately quiet words.

“Here. Goes. Nothing.” End of answer. No need to ask more. Larsen’s voice was steady. His face was as frozen as Gary Cooper’s,  just prior to the big shoot-out in “High Noon,” as his piercing blue eyes again met mine as he spoke those three distinct words. His fierce look seem to caution me to ask no more.

“Here. Goes. Nothing.”

It was nothing, alright. The kind of big nothing that will be the big something we shall always use as our legacy memory of Don Larsen – along with the dance that he and Berra pulled off just after the last out.

____________________

eagle-0rangeBill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

https://bill37mccurdy.com/

 

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5 Responses to “Was Last Out Strike 3 in WS Perfecto a Swing?”

  1. stanfromtacoma Says:

    No question. It would be ruled a swinging strike today. There were more check swings not ruled as strikes when I was growing up. I have watched tapes of the 1965 WS and seen what looked like almost full swings called balls when the hitter tried to hold up at the last second.

    It was a strike because the umpire ruled it was a strike back in 1956. Luckily back then no one had the wildest dream about video review. I wish the same was true today in all sports not just baseball

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    If you stop the film and advance it frame by frame, it’s obvious that Dale Mitchell went around for a swinging third strike.

  3. gregclucas Says:

    The Mitchell strikeout was not often a strike as called back in the day. The bat moved and even crossed a plane that is now a swinging strike. But until the last 30 or 40 years it would have not been ruled a swing due to the lack of velocity of the swing and the fact the hitter had really even given up on the swing well before the bat crossed that barrier. Having to “judge” those things is essentially why baseball started to allow base umpires to give aid when requested and why “intent” of the hitter was replaced by geographic location of the bat. While not fool proof it is a much more consistent way to judge. Today, it obviously was a strike based on all the current guidelines for defining a swing. (I have often wondered how many more strikeouts some all time greats like Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron would have had under the current rules. Both were famed for the ability to use their strong wrists and forearms to hold up on swings at the last moment—but did they really?)

  4. Cliff Blau Says:

    Mitchell didn’t have three balls on him, did he? I seem to recall Larsen went to three balls on only one hitter, Reese.

  5. Anthnony Cavender Says:

    Don Larsen also won a very big game for the Yankees in the 1958 Series, when they were facing another defeat by the Braves.

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