The New York Yankees finished third in 1959. It was the first time since 1954 that the Yankees didn’t win the pennant, but while the 1954 team won 103 games, the 1959 team finished a dismal third, 15 games behind the pennant-winning Chicago White Sox.
It was clear that the Yankees needed help. The Kansas City A’s usually provided that help.
On Dec. 11, 1959, general manager George Weiss sent an aging Hank Bauer, promising youngsters Norm Seibern and Marv Throneberry and the only pitcher to hurl a perfect World Series game, Don Larsen to their Kansas City friends in exchange for Kent Hadley, Joe DeMaestri, and Roger Maris.
In 1957, the season following his perfect game, Larsen started only 20 games. He had a decent season, going 10-4 with a 3.74 ERA, which translates to a mediocre 97 ERA+.
Nineteen fifty-eight was similar. Larsen was 9-6 with a 3.07 ERA and a 116 ERA+, but in the World Series, the Yankees were down, two games to none, to the Milwaukee Braves.
Larsen rose to the occasion, shutting out the defending World Champions for seven innings. Ryne Duren completed the shutout as Hank Bauer drove in all four Yankees’ runs with a two-run single and a two-run home run. The game was every bit as important as Larsen’s perfect game.
Larsen dropped to 6-7 in 1959, with a 4.33 ERA and an 84 ERA+.
Roger Maris won the MVP award in his first season with the Yankees, batting .283, driving in a league-leading 112 runs, and hitting 39 home runs. Along with Mickey Mantle, Roger gave the Yankees a lethal one-two punch.
The next season, Roger broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run mark, hitting 61, but Roger would suffer a similar fate as Don Larsen.
A combination of injuries, fan resentment of his $70,000 salary, and a newly developed loyalty to Mickey Mantle resulted in a series of relatively mediocre seasons.
In 1962, Roger hit 33 home runs and drove in 100 runs, but he never again hit more than 26 home runs or drove in more than 71 runs.
Following the 1964 season, the Yankees paid the price for allowing their farm system to dry up. In 1965, the once-proud team finished sixth, 25 games behind the Minnesota Twins.
Roger hit .239 with eight home runs in 1965, and followed that with a dismal .233 batting average, 13 home runs, and 43 RBIs in 1966. Roger, like Don Larsen, was gone.
In early Dec. 1966, Roger was traded to St. Louis for journeyman infielder Charlie Smith.
The Yankees had traded the only pitcher to pitch a perfect World Series game for the player who would break the single season home run mark.
A few years later, the player who set the single season home run record was traded.
Don Larsen had a day of glory that has lasted a lifetime. Roger Maris had a season that is one of the most memorable in baseball history, yet the Yankees traded both a few short seasons after their feats.
The great Branch Rickey used to say that luck is the residue of design. Sometimes luck is just luck.