In the course of his baseball career, Don Larsen lost more games (91) than he won (81). He bounced between seven teams in 14 seasons. The only time he led the majors in any statistical category was in 1954—and that was for losing 21 games with the Baltimore Orioles. He might aptly be described as a journeyman, except that his journey went to one place that no pitcher has even been, before or since.
On October 8, 1956, Don Larsen threw the only perfect game ever in the World Series, pitching for the New York Yankees in Game 5 against the Brooklyn Dodgers. How unlikely was it that Larsen be the one to accomplish this feat? Consider that Larsen had also pitched in Game 2 of that year’s World Series, and he was pulled after giving up four runs in less than two innings.
But in Game 5 he was perfect, and after retiring all 27 batters he faced, suddenly everyone wanted to know about him. In its Oct. 22, 1956 issue, LIFE wrote about Larsen’s unexpected star turn in a story headlined “The Rewards of Pitching a Perfect Game.” In it Larsen marveled, “Last night I was a bum, and tonight everyone wants to meet me.”
The story talked about the rush of interviews and endorsements that were headed Larsen’s way. It also delved into his reputation as a player who loved to party, and mentioned how he had once crashed his car at five a.m. With his new success, LIFE wrote, “Instead of being off with a couple cronies at his favorite 57th street bar, he was the center of attention in a plush Broadway nightclub.'”
LIFE photographer George Silk, who shot Larsen’s perfect game for the magazine, was also along to document the fruits of his newfound success, such as the night that the 6’4″ Indiana native shared a corner booth with TV star Jackie Gleason at Toots Shor’s.
Larsen left baseball after 1967, but he continued to tell the story of his perfect World Series game to rapt audiences for decades to come. In a 1996 story for Sports Illustrated, looking back on his feat 40 years later, Larsen reflected, “People said I didn’t do enough in my career, and maybe they’re right. But I had one great day.”