Baseball great Bobby Thomson died yesterday at the age of 86 at his home in Savannah Georgia after a long illness. Thomson was immortalized when he hit the “Shot heard round the World” for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 3rd 1951 to cap an epic comeback in the final game of a playoff to see which team would face the New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series.
Baseball has many memorable moments but few are more memorable than the home run hit by Bobby Thomson to clinch the 1951 National League Pennant for the New York Giants, before they were the San Francisco Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 3rd 1951.
As anyone who reads this site knows Padre Steve is a Giants fan and believes that the Dodgers and about everything associated with them are evil. I cannot call myself a “Dodger hater” for in spite of all I admire the history of the franchise and many of the players that played for or managed the team that I call the “Evil Dodgers.” Given a choice if the Dodgers were in the World’s series against anyone other than the A’s, Angels or possible the Yankees, Rangers or Rays I would probably hope that they won. I must add the caveat that this would be condition if I felt that the Dodgers had won the National League Pennant by some underhanded means or that the Giants really deserved to be in the series. It would be as painful for me to cheer them on as it would for me as a UCLA Bruin (ROTC) alum to root for Troy Tech (USC) when they against the Ohio State University Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl. It would be painful but there are exceptions to every rule.
For a baseball fan, any baseball fan what the Giants did in 1951 and Thomson’s roll in that final game of a 3 game playoff after a dramatic end to the regular season that left the teams tied was and is an epic story. It is considered the most famous home run ever hit and is called “the shot heard ‘round the world.” The Giants trailed the Dodgers in the pennant race by 13 ½ games on August 11th but went 37-7 to force a playoff against their blood rivals from Brooklyn. In the final game of the series the Dodgers were up 4-1 in the 9th inning and things looked bleak for the Giants who had not generated much offense against Dodger’s pitchers during the game. Thomson’s 3 run homer off reliever Ralph Branca with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th to left field just above the 315’ marker at the Polo Grounds capped a 4 run rally to give the Giants one of the most fabled victories in all of sports history.
The rally was in keeping with the season for the Giants. The rally started with a single by Alvin Dark who was followed by Don Mueller who singled to send Dark to third. Monte Ervin who had led the league with 121 RBIs popped out. Whitely Lockman doubled to score Dark and put runners on second and third with 1 out. Dodgers’ starting pitcher Don Newcombe who was showing signs of overuse in the closing days of the season was pulled from the game obviously spent. He was replaced by Ralph Branca who had given up a game winning home run to Thomson in game one of the series and surrendered several others to him in the regular season. Branca was picked because Dodgers’ bullpen coach Clyde Sukeforth saw Carl Erskine bouncing his curveball in front of the plate and instructed manager Charlie Dressen to send in Branca. The move would cost Sukeforth his job shortly after the season ended.
Branca’s first pitch was a fastball down the middle that Thomson took for a strike. Branca came back with another fastball up and in and Thomson ripped a line drive that cleared the wall just above the 315’ marker in left. Andy Pafko chase the ball to the wall hoping that it would not clear it and as Thomson hopped and skipped around the bases with only Jackie Robinson remaining on the field for the Dodgers making sure that Thomson touched all the bases. Waiting on deck was another legendary Giant named Willie Mays who with the rest of the team mobbed Thomson as he touched home plate.
Giants’ radio Broadcaster Russ Hodges calling the game on WMCA-AM radio immortalized the hit:
“Bobby Thomson… up there swingin’… He’s had two out of three, a single and a double, and Billy Cox is playing him right on the third-base line… One out, last of the ninth… Branca pitches… Bobby Thomson takes a strike called on the inside corner… Bobby hitting at .292… He’s had a single and a double and he drove in the Giants’ first run with a long fly to center… Brooklyn leads it 4-2…Hartung down the line at third not taking any chances… Lockman with not too big of a lead at second, but he’ll be runnin’ like the wind if Thomson hits one… Branca throws… [audible sound of bat meeting ball]
There’s a long drive… it’s gonna be, I believe…THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!” [ten-second pause for crowd noise]
I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson… hit a line drive… into the lower deck… of the left-field stands… and this blame place is goin’ crazy! The Giants! Horace Stoneham has got a winner! The Giants won it… by a score of 5 to 4… and they’re pickin’ Bobby Thomson up… and carryin’ him off the field!”
Legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell called the game and the shot on WPIX-TV which was being telecast nationally. It has been immortalized in various cultural and entertainment venues, I remember it in the TV series M*A*S*H episode “A War for All Seasons” where Corporal Klinger (Jamie Farr) persuades the non-baseball fan Major Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers)to bet heavily on the Dodgers winning the pennant and with the unit watching the game film with Hodges’ recorded commentary Winchester cut his way through the screen shouting “Where is that Lebanese Mongoose?”
The Giants would go on the World Series against the Yankees losing in 6 games to the Bronx Bombers but that series has been overshadowed in history by the “Shot heard round the world.”
In 2001 Wall Street Journal reporter Joshua Prager reported that the Giants had been stealing signs enabling batters to know what pitch was coming. While this was confirmed by a number of Giant’s players Thomson himself said that he had no foreknowledge of the pitch. Sign stealing was a common practice by many teams since the inception of the sport and has never been outlawed by Major League Baseball. The ball itself has never been found with one writer determining that a Franciscan nun recovered the ball and kept it in a shoebox until her death bequeathing it to her sister who deposited the box in a landfill. Obviously the sister was a Dodgers’ fan.
Thomson was born in Glasgow Scotland and immigrated to the US with his parents when he was 2 years old growing up in Staten Island and served in the Army Air Force in the Second World War. He played 14 years in the Major Leagues and after retirement worked for a paper company. He would remain a lifelong friend of Ralph Branca appearing at card shows and other baseball events. Thomson retired in 1960 finishing his final season in Major League Baseball with the Baltimore Orioles but would play one last season in 1963 with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. He hit .270 for his career with 264 home runs and 1026 RBIs and was elected to 3 All-Star teams. A Scottish baseball team the Edinburgh Diamond Devils named their field “Bobby Thomson Field” in 2003 when he was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.
As for Branca he remembered the shot as well and the long walk to his car where his wife waited. “I remember going out to the parking lot. Ann was in the car with a friend of ours, Father Paul Rowley from Fordham. And I said to Father Rowley, ‘Why me? Why did this have to happen to me?’ And Father Rowley said, ‘God gave you this cross to bear because you’re strong enough to bear it.’”
For me the timeless memorial of this event, besides the Giants defeating the Evil Dodgers is the testament to friendship and the understanding that things are never over until they are over. Ask the 1951 Giants.