The New York Times

TV Sports

Still Perfect After All Those Years


Published: February 25, 2007


For the 100 fans at the Yogi Berra Museum Theater Friday night on the campus of Montclair State University, it was Oct. 8, 1956, all over again.


They cheered at the critical moments in Don Larsen’s perfect game as they watched what may be the only known copy of NBC’s broadcast of Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.


They clapped when Yankees third baseman Andy Carey caught Gil Hodges’s line drive, as they had three innings earlier when Mickey Mantle backhanded Hodges’s fly ball to left-center in the fifth. They whooped when Vin Scully told NBC viewers that Larsen had set down 24 Dodgers in a row.


They joined in with the ovation for Larsen from the 64,519 at Yankee Stadium that Monday afternoon when he came to bat in the eighth inning.


And when it was over, after the umpire Babe Pinelli had called a third strike on pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell and Yogi had propelled himself into Larsen’s arms, the crowd in the stadium-themed theater erupted one final time.


Sitting in the theater, Larsen applauded himself politely.


And Yogi, who stood the whole time, smiled.


“I don’t think you or I shall see such a thing again,” the announcer Mel Allen told Scully afterward, as they tried to make sense of the first — and still only — perfect game in World Series history.


“I think,” Scully said, “we can both just go now.”


In the theater, one fan told Larsen, “Way to go, Don.”


“Great game,” another said.


“Thanks,” said Larsen, who, like Berra had never seen it before.



For the two men, the screening served as baseball enlightenment (at least to an older demographic) and a way to raise money. Larsen’s foundation supports several charities, and Berra is building a $7.5 million endowment to double the size of the museum.


The experience of watching a game from the 1950s is a rare event because our memories are restricted largely to highlights from newsreels. (Larsen strikes out Mitchell; Yogi leaps into Larsen’s arms.) Preservation was not a primary concern a half-century ago, so few games survived. Only seers could have predicted that networks would televise classic games, mostly from the 1980s to the present, with some exceptions.


But last year, Doak McKinley Ewing (a name that Bob Sheppard would probably love to pronounce) revealed that he had, 15 years earlier, purchased reels of old baseball kinescopes that included the Larsen game.


He had acquired the kinescopes — films shot from television monitors — from an Oregon film dealer who had bought them from the son of a man who had served in the Armed Forces in Hawaii and had showed the old games on a projector to occupy his students at a school in Alaska without television.


NBC made a few kinescopes of the games expressly to show to soldiers serving overseas, but they were supposed to be destroyed, Ewing said.


Few have survived and still fewer are intact. The Larsen game is still missing the opening reel, which ends in the top of the second inning.


“I haven’t given up on finding it,” said Ewing, who owns Rare Sports Films in Naperville, Ill.


With the 50th anniversary of the perfect game last year, he began discussions with networks about licensing the game, but no deal was made.


“If we sell it, somebody will pay good money,” said Ewing, who added that he had no plans to sell the game on DVD or videotape. “But it won’t be special anymore.”


He insisted that there was no copyright, but John Filippelli, the president of production for the YES Network, said there was lingering ambiguity about whether Major League Baseball still owned the rights.


The black-and-white kinescope of Larsen’s perfect game is a revealing visual artifact. NBC shot the day game with only four cameras, two behind home plate, two along the bases. There was no center-field camera, an innovation that transformed baseball production a few years later. There were no replays, no graphics except for player names flashed on the screen, no fan-reaction shots, no close-ups into Larsen’s nostrils, no reliance on statistics.


There were no in-game interviews with Managers Casey Stengel and Walter Alston, and no NBC stars craving attention in the stands.


Commercial breaks lasted only one minute, and all the commercials, save one, were for Gillette. In a reminder of the time when announcers pitched beer, cigars and cigarettes live from the booth, Allen and Scully spouted player statistics primarily to hawk Gillette’s offer of a free vest-pocket Encyclopedia of Baseball with the purchase of a razor.


The simplicity of this old production is the very source of its appeal.


“The game was over in two hours,” Berra said. “That’s great. I wish they’d do that now.”


What also stood out was the lack of byplay between Allen and Scully. Allen called the first half of the game, Scully the second half. Even as they spoke solo, Allen and Scully frequently stayed silent during the action.



To add flavor to the game, Ewing replaced Scully’s voice in the top of the ninth with that of Bob Wolff, who called the game on radio and also attended the screening. “Man, oh man, how about that, a perfect game for Don Larsen,” he said excitedly once he caught his breath.


As he spoke, and when Allen and Scully returned for the happy recap, NBC showed fans spilling onto the field, moving in apparent slow motion, as if they could not believe what they had just seen.


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