Don Larsen was closing in on baseball immortality. And the more he homed in on what would be his legacy, the lonelier he became.
Larsen was a 27-year-old right-hander who just two years earlier led the league in losses (21) while pitching for the Baltimore Orioles. Larsen started 20 games for the Yankees in 1956 but was hardly considered a top-drawer pitcher, though he did sport a decent 3.26 ERA while winning 11 games.
In Game 2, just three days prior to Larsen's date with destiny, he could barely throw a strike. He lasted just 1.2 innings, walking four and surrendering four unearned runs as the Dodgers won a slugfest, 13–8.
There was no reason to believe that when Larsen toed the rubber for Game 5, with the series tied, 2–2, anything spectacular would happen from the Yankees starter.
But Larsen wasn't the same pitcher as he was in Game 2. Far from it.
Inning by inning, Larsen mowed down the Dodgers hitters. Through seven innings, Larsen had retired 21-straight Dodgers. He was perfect.
Larsen knew what was going on. He knew the enormity of the situation. He could see it on the scoreboard, and he could see it in his Yankees teammates, who distanced themselves from the pitcher the further the game went.
When the bottom of the seventh inning rolled around, with the Yankees in the dugout getting ready to hit, Larsen was totally ostracized.
No one sat next to him. No one spoke to him. No one wanted to have anything to do with him.
That was when Don Larsen stared right into the faces of the gods of superstition and spit.
He sought out Mickey Mantle, who had been avoiding Larsen, but who couldn't do it this time.
"Hey Mick," Larsen recalled years later on a TV special, saying to Mantle, "wouldn't it be something if I did it?"
The "it," of course, was pitching a perfect game in the freaking World Series.
Larsen said that Mantle looked at him like the pitcher had just landed from Mars.
Larsen defied, brazenly, the baseball adage about not mentioning a no-hitter in progress.
Despite breaking the hallowed rule, Larsen completed his gem by getting the final six outs without incident.
It spawned a famous story lede the next day: "The imperfect man pitched the perfect game."
Larsen's perfect game, twirled by a pitcher with a lifetime record of 81–91, is a prime example of baseball's fickle spotlight shining on the unsuspecting.
I used to be a superstitious person. But then a personal epiphany happened in my life, which opened my eyes to the futility of superstitions. I haven't been superstitious since, and nor do I believe in things like jinxes and curses.
But that's just me. Sometimes I think it really is just me.
In 1984, the Tigers' Jack Morris, never known for his lack of brazenness, thumbed his nose at the no-hitter "rule."
It was in Chicago, during his second start of the season. He was working on a no-hitter in the late innings against the White Sox when a leather lung fan behind the Tigers dugout began razzing Morris.
The fan kept reminding Morris that he had a no-no going every time he strode to the dugout after setting the Sox down the previous half inning. The fan's intent, of course, was to call upon the so-called no-hitter "jinx" to break up his flirtation.
Morris got the no-hitter, and he didn't forget the fan, who was still in his seat as the giddy Tigers bounced off the field.
Morris pointed at the ill-intentioned loudmouth and yelled some things, which are not printable here.
The no-hitter "jinx rule" is still alive and well.
Monday night, the Cubs Jake Arrieta held the Boston Red Sox hitless through seven innings at Fenway Park. The last time the Red Sox were no-hit at Fenway was when the Tigers Jim Bunning did it in 1958.
Social media had a field day with the no-hitter jinx rule as Arrieta went deeper into the game without surrendering a hit.
On Twitter, tweet after tweet mentioned Arrieta's flirtation without really mentioning it.
Users were careful not to use the term "no-hitter" or anything similar when tweeting out their observations of Arrieta's performance.
I didn't listen to any of the broadcasts of the game, but I'm sure that the announcers also observed the no-hitter jinx rule. Arrieta lost his gem in the eighth inning, despite all the careful compliance with the jinx rule, which should tell you something right there about the rule's futility.
Mario Impemba of FOX Sports Detroit is one who subscribes to the no-hitter jinx rule. Tigers pitchers over recent years have either thrown no-hitters (Justin Verlander, twice) or have come close (Verlander again, many times; Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister have gone deep as well). In all of those occasions, Impemba has zipped his lips when it comes to telling the viewers what they're seeing. Analyst Rod Allen has followed suit.
And it's all quite silly.
No one has any influence on whether a pitcher throws a no-hitter other than the pitcher and the hitter (or, in some rare cases, the official scorer).
If Don Larsen's case doesn't free you from the no-hitter jinx rule, then I don't know what will.
I watched Morris' no-hitter, which was broadcast as NBC's Game of the Week on that April Saturday. Announcer Vin Scully made several mentions of Morris' impending gem, as early as the sixth inning.
Vin wasn't doing it to be cheeky; he was being a play-by-play guy, which, unless I am mistaken, calls for the announcer to describe what is happening on the field.
Fie on jinxes!
The jinx rule doesn't only hold true to no-hitters. If something happens in a game that is in direct conflict with something an announcer said just prior, that announcer is accused of jinxing the action.
Example: "Ian Kinsler has gone 45 at-bats without striking out with a man in scoring position. That's quite a streak."
Moments later, STRIKE THREE!
Fans: "You jinxed him!"
Sigh. Eye roll.
But that's OK. Jinxes and curses are part of pro sports, and are very much a part of baseball history and lore. The game's colorful past would be less so without rich stories of so-called curses like that of the Bambino, the Billy Goat, and Rocky Colavito.
There are no such things as curses and jinxes, and no outside force has anything to do with whether a no-hitter gets thrown, but I will suffer those because they are part of what makes baseball the greatest of all the sports.
Talk amongst yourselves.