Larry Sherry, the unlikely most valuable player of the Dodgers’ 1959 World Series triumph -- the relief pitcher closed out all four of the team’s victories over the Chicago White Sox -- died at his Mission Viejo home Sunday morning after a long battle with cancer. He was 71.
Sherry had battled several forms of cancer for almost 12 years, and recently suffered from kidney failure, said his brother Norm, a former Dodgers catcher and his brother’s battery mate for several years.
Sherry went 2-0 with two saves and a 0.71 earned-run average in the ’59 World Series, a meteoric ascent to stardom for a 24-year-old rookie right-hander who had been pitching in the minor leagues only three months earlier.
“I’m looking at my little brother, who had struggled, and I’m saying, ‘God, could this be my little brother?’ ” Norm Sherry told The Times on Monday. “I was prouder than hell.”
At the time of his call-up in July 1959, Sherry had a 6-7 record with the Dodgers’ St. Paul, Minn., farm team but led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts.
Sherry primarily had been a starting pitcher before Dodgers bench coach Charlie Dressen persuaded Manager Walter Alston to move Sherry into the bullpen -- the day after Sherry pitched his only major league shutout, a 6-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Aug. 31.
Sherry quickly became a trusted reliever who allowed only one run in 12 2/3 innings in the World Series.
In the Dodgers’ series-clinching Game 6 triumph, Sherry relieved starter Johnny Podres and threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings for the victory that gave the Dodgers, who had moved from Brooklyn the previous season, their first championship on the West Coast.
“He was just superb. They couldn’t touch him,” said Chuck Essegian, a Dodgers outfielder in 1959 and 1960.
Sherry told The Times in 1960 that he was twice on the verge of quitting baseball in the midst of a middling minor league career but that his brother Norm persuaded him to stick with it both times.
Sherry was a bust during a short stint with the Dodgers in 1958, compiling a 12.46 ERA in five games before being demoted to the minors. Then, during winter ball in Venezuela before the 1959 season, he developed a slider to go with his fastball and curveball.
“That’s what made the difference,” Norm Sherry said. “That slider -- you get the feel of that thing and you can throw strikes when you’re behind in the count.”
One of the first star Jewish athletes in Los Angeles, Sherry began his baseball career as a second baseman at Fairfax High School. He was on the small side and born with clubfeet that required surgery as an infant.
“Until about the 11th grade, my mother asked the doctor, ‘What’s wrong with my boy? He’s the littlest kid on the block,’ ” Norm Sherry recalled. “Then he grew to be 6 foot 3.”
Sherry spent six of his 11 major league seasons with the Dodgers, going 53-44 with 82 saves and a 3.67 ERA in his career. He spent his last season in 1968 with the Angels, appearing in only three games.
“He had some good years after that,” Essegian said of Sherry’s World Series heroics, “but the trouble is, when you do something so outstanding in one big event, that’s the way people happen to remember you. It certainly wasn’t the only thing he did in his career.”
After his playing career ended, Sherry was a pitching coach for Pittsburgh and the Angels and a minor league pitching instructor for the Dodgers before becoming a private pitching instructor.
In addition to his brother, Norm, Sherry is survived by his son, Scott; a daughter, Susie; two other brothers; and five grandchildren. Sherry’s wife, Sally, died several years ago.
Funeral services were pending.