Making the “Impossible” Perfect Game Possible

The 1956 World Series between the New York Yankees and the old Brooklyn Dodgers would go the full seven games, with the Yankees ultimately coming out on top.  But the game that would forever stand out was Game 5.  The series was tied, two games apiece, making the fifth game a pivotal tiebreak affair, which would give the winner a decided edge in the series.  It was October 8, 1956, at the old Yankee Stadium.  And the Yankees trotted out Don Larsen as their starting pitcher.

All he did was pitch the first and, to this day, the only perfect game in World Series history.  He faced twenty-seven batters, and each time, they failed to reach base.  The performance was remarkable for a number of reasons.  For one thing, the Dodgers fielded one of baseball’s most feared lineups.  Their scorecard was full of famous names and future Hall of Famers, from Pee Wee Reese to Jackie Robinson to Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges.  The likelihood that anyone would throw a perfect game against that group seemed near-impossible.  That it was Don Larsen who threw it?

Well, that was impossible.

Larsen was the very definition of a journeyman pitcher.  Look up “mediocre” in the dictionary, and you might just find a smiling Larsen looking back at you.  He never topped 11 wins in a single season, and his career record of 81-91 won’t win him many prizes.  But on that October day in 1956, he was unhittable.

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They say that truth is often stranger than fiction, and in the case of Don Larsen’s perfect game, this is certainly the case.  If you were to write this as a piece of fiction, no one would believe it.  There was nothing about Larsen’s history that would have suggested such a performance possible, especially against such a powerful opponent.  Even Larsen’s manager, Casey Stengel, once said about his night-owl pitcher:  “The only thing he fears is sleep!”

So imagine, if you will, creating a character like Don Larsen in a novel.  He’s a fun-loving guy, not a bad pitcher, but far from a great one.  He’s just one of the guys.  And on the biggest stage in sports, against the best team in the league, in a pivotal game in a tie series, he pitches the greatest game in baseball history?  Readers would toss the book across the room.  “Nonsense,” they’d say.  “This kind of thing could never happen.”  “Leave that kind of corny stuff to Stallone!”

In fiction, even when a character does an about-face, when he or she rises to a challenge unexpectedly, there has to be something, some hint, some trait, that the reader can at least refer back to and say, “Okay.  I can buy it.  I can see the seeds of this big scene taking shape back in chapter five. . . .”

In The Eye-Dancers, the main characters all must come to terms with themselves, overcome something about themselves if they want to survive.  One of the most tense moments in the book, in fact, is when Ryan Swinton confronts Joe Marma.  Ryan has always been the follower, Joe the tough-guy leader.  They’ve known each other their entire lives, and Joe has always been in charge.  So when Ryan stands up to him in a difficult situation, late in the book, it has to come off as believable.  It can’t come out of nowhere, a character deus ex machina just to help propel the plot forward.  It has to be earnestly won, with foreshadowing and indications earlier in the story that Ryan has it in him to stand up to his take-charge but impulsive friend.  And hopefully those signs are there, and his moment of truth comes off as genuine.

Because if it comes off too much like Larsen’s perfect game, completely out-of-the-blue, then it won’t work. That kind of thing can’t happen in fantasy.

Only in reality.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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