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Pitch Perfect

Larsen shines again

THE IMAGES OF Don Larsen's World Series perfect game on Oct. 8, 1956, are iconic—and black and white. The famous photographs of Larsen's last pitch and Yogi Berra's joyous leap into his arms, as well as the kinescope of the NBC game telecast discovered in 2006, are eternal and eternally monochromatic.

But there are color photos of the only perfect game in World Series history, a 2--0 Yankees win that gave them a 3--2 series lead over the Dodgers. In 1999 an unidentified woman walked into a Florida hotel in response to a newspaper ad from a memorabilia dealer. She brought her late husband's 1956 World Series Game 5 ticket stub and program (incongruously autographed by Ed Sullivan). And, almost as an afterthought, she said she had a box of slides he'd taken that day while trying out his brand new color camera.

The treasures were the program and the stub, each quickly sold to eager collectors. The slides? I bought them five years ago, intending to publish them in the right venue.

The problem is that even though the slides show Larsen's masterpiece in color, they don't show much of it. The photographer had no particular skill, nor did he have anything resembling a long lens. Shot from the bleachers, more than 400 feet from the batter's box, Don Larsen is a discernible but indistinct figure. There's a decent image of Mickey Mantle, back to the camera (top), but while the photographer had six pictures left to take as Larsen completed history, he used none of them on the last pitch, or Berra's leap, or the Yankees' celebration. He saved these slides for two shots of the scoreboard, two of the Yankee Stadium monuments and two of Sullivan signing those autographs (left).

Yet the anonymous fan gives us what the professionals did not: the verdant, smoky glare of the ballpark on a perfect October afternoon 60 years ago. Somewhere in the stands is 16-year-old Joe Torre. Somewhere in the almost imperceptible press box is 28-year-old Vin Scully. And this is to say nothing of the hope our fan-with-camera gives us that somewhere there is another small box full of color pictures taken by another fan—hopefully one who had better seats.