Don Larsen's perfect-game World Series cap from 1956 heads to auction

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Don Larsen's perfect-game World Series cap from 1956 heads to auction
1956 Don Larsen World Series Perfect Game Worn New York Yankees Cap with Extraordinary Provenance. Estimate: $100,000 - up.

DALLAS, TX.- The pitcher, a lean 26-year-old from Michigan City, Indiana, tugged at the bill of his New York Yankees cap, then wiped his right hand along his pants leg. He leaned forward, slightly, and placed the baseball into the glove on his left hand. He stared toward home plate, rocked back and forth, then patted the ball into the mitt once more before going into his windup and delivering the final pitch of one of baseball's most immortal performances.

That seeming eternity took only eight seconds until the ump called a third strike on Dale Mitchell, the Brooklyn Dodger with the .312 lifetime batting average. Don Larsen, the small-town boy on the Yankee Stadium mound, had won Game 5 of the World Series on Oct. 8, 1956 by a score of 2-0.

He'd thrown a perfect game. The perfect game. "The miracle of baseball," as the Newark Star-Ledger would call it the next morning, in a giant headline splashed across the front page. Larsen, who had kept such immortals as Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider and Roy Campanella from reaching base that day, would later claim he had no idea he was pitching with history pressing upon his shoulders.

It took but eight seconds for Larsen to deliver that final out — and eight seconds more for The Perfect Yankee to lose the cap he wore the day he pitched a miracle.

That very cap hits the auction block August 29-30, during Heritage Auctions' Summer Platinum Night Sports Collectibles Catalog event, where It's but one of hundreds of Hall of Fame-worthy highlights. The hat, which is in extraordinary condition after decades of being cared for, has never before been offered at auction. It is estimated to sell for $100,000 or more.

"When you think about the greatest postseason performances, Don Larsen's perfect game is at the top of every list," Heritage Sports Auctions Director Chris Ivy said. "What he accomplished that day has never been duplicated in the history of the game, making this hat a singular relic without peer. Whoever wins it will have as unique a treasure as there is in sports collecting."

Sixty-four years later, it's what happened in those few seconds after the game's final out that grabs our attention. Because what occurred after that called third strike led, for a time, to one of baseball's great mysteries: What happened to Don Larsen's cap?

Larsen is seen wearing it in one of the most iconic sports photos ever taken as Yogi Berra, Larsen's diminutive catcher, leaps into the pitcher's arms following that final out. And he's wearing it as his Yankees teammates mob him on the field. But it's suddenly, strikingly absent as Larsen makes his way back to the dugout.

In old game footage, it looks as though one of Larsen's teammates reaches out to pat the pitcher on the head, inadvertently knocking it off his head in the hubbub. No one seemed to notice. Or care. Except for one person: Joseph Marcello of Boonton, N.J., owner of Marcello Brothers Sports Center.

Because he was in sporting goods, Marcello snared tickets closed to the Yanks' dugout. He was so close, in fact, that after Larsen recorded the final out, Marcello climbed over the seats, stood on the dugout and hopped on the field to join in the post-game furor. He got close enough to become part of the Yankees' celebratory scrum, appearing in nationwide newspaper photos snapped in the seconds that followed the Game 5 win.

A decade later, Marcello told The Herald-News of Passaic, N.J., that he didn't snatch the cap off Larsen's head. "Really, I didn't," he insisted.

"With all the pushing and shoving and a lot of people just being satisfied to touch him, his baseball cap fell to the ground," Marcello said. "So, I picked it up and held on to it."

As the Daily Record of Morristown, N.J., revealed in a photo taken in the fall of 1956, Marcello had put the size 7-1/8 hat in a locked glass case, which he displayed in the sporting goods store. A decade later the Herald-News reporter asked if he had ever considered giving it back to Larsen. Marcello said no, because the pitcher never asked.

Marcello said he would return it under one condition: "Larsen would have had to come to my store for it."

That visit never happened — though Berra made two appearances at the store over the years.

Larsen, who died the first day of 2020 at the age of 90, actually auctioned off his entire uniform in 2012, with the pants and jersey realizing more than $750,000. And Marcello, who collected baseball memorabilia and was friends with some of the Yankees, had once contemplated auctioning the hat to provide a cushion following his retirement. But for decades he and wife Alice rebuffed all offers.

It would take decades before the Marcello family let the cap out of their sight — and only because one of baseball's most hallowed halls asked to include it in its World Series exhibit, which, of course, featured a section devoted to Larsen's perfect game. In 1994, a year after Marcello's death at 74, his family let the cap reside in upstate New York for a spell.

"This is what Dad really wanted," Joseph's son Gary told the Daily Record in May 1994.

After its time on display the family has finally decided to part with Don Larsen's cap, one of baseball's greatest keepsakes. It's even being sold with a ticket stub from that game, that miracle.

How, well, perfect.

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