The MLB Network Tuesday night marked its 10th anniversary with a rebroadcast of its first program, a special on New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen's perfect game over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.
First aired on Jan. 1, 2009, the show replayed the original TV broadcast of the game, preserved on a grainy kinescope discovered in 2006 with all but the first inning intact. The MLK Network launch was the first televising of the game since the NBC telecast 52 years before, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Accompanying the historic broadcast, the network's Bob Costas interviewed Larsen and Hall of Fame Yankees catcher Yogi Berra about the only perfect game and no-hitter in World Series history.
Larsen and Berra recall with undiminished amazement that the journeyman pitcher found himself with uncanny control during the game.
Berra, who leaped into Larsen's arms following the stunning performance, says that Larsen could put each pitch exactly where Berra wanted it. Berra, who died in 2015, displays a quiet professionalism and articulateness that contrast with his zany reputation.
Offering the original primitive commercials and restrained reporting by announcers Mel Allen of the Yankees and the young Vin Scully of the Dodgers, the kinescope shows how far baseball has deteriorated over the years.
The game was much faster and thrilling during the 1950s, when the Dodgers and Yankees battled in the World Series nearly every year. The broadcast from Oct. 8, 1956, unfolds at a brisk pace, with none of the snarls of today's game.
Larsen and Dodgers pitcher Sal Maglie, who allowed only five hits in a complete game, take little time between pitches. Dodgers and Yankees hitters rarely leave the batters' box, although the Dodgers' Jackie Robinson does walk away for a couple of seconds in what appears to be gamesmanship.
Berra never goes to the mound to talk to Larsen, and Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella briefly consults with Maglie once. The game remains unburdened by those absurdly lengthy conferences in which the pitching coach, catcher and all of the infielders converge upon the pitcher as if discussing brain surgery.
The pitchers don't delay the game by frequently shaking off their catchers' signals Larsen tells Costas that he had complete faith in Berra calling the right pitches. Unlike today when pitchers are taken out even when doing well, frequent pitching changes are not part of the managers' strategy.
Strikeouts don't deaden the action, and the the ball is often put into play. Larsen's pitching masterpiece depended upon fly balls and grounders; he registered seven strikeouts, including home plate umpire Babe Pirelli's called third strike against Dodgers pinch hitter Dale Mitchell to end the game. Maglie rang up five strikeouts.
Now baseball has turned into an hours-long ordeal of frequent pitching changes and strikeouts, little action and numbing delays by batters and conferences with pitchers. Even in washed-out black and white, Larsen's 1956 masterpiece illuminates the game's lost beauty.