Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Bobby Thomson. Thomson was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1923 and his family moved to New York City in 1925. When he was 18 he signed with the New York Giants – a disappointing thing for his father, who was a Dodgers fan. After serving in World War II he made his major league debut in September of 1946, goint 2-4 with two RBI. In 1948 he made his first of three All-Star teams. After the 1953 season he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. Midway through the 1957 season he was traded back to the Giants for future Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst. He bounced around for a couple of more seasons, eventually retiring with the Baltimore Orioles in 1960. But we all know what his career is remembered for.
On the morning of August 13, 1951 the Dodgers had a record of 71-36 and a 12 ½ game lead over the crosstown rival Giants. But the Giants caught fire, going 37-8 the rest of the way, and eventually catching the Dodgers on the next to last day of the season. This led to a best-of-three playoff for the National League pennant. Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen was in full panic. He had worn out his pitching staff, basically using just five guys down the stretch.*
*-Key player in the moment we’re getting to, Ralph Branca, once said of Dressen, “What he knows about pitching you could put on the head of a pin in the boldest print in the world and then still have enough room for the Constitution on it.” Well then.
The Dodgers won the coin flip to determine the schedule, but Dressen chose to play Game 1 at home and the next two on the road – Oh, what a blast it would have been to question Dressen on a daily basis. Game 1 was won by the Giants 3-1, the key blow being a two-run homer by Thomson off of Ralph Branca in the fourth. Game 2 was a laugher Clem Labine threw a complete game shutout while the Dodgers beat up the Giants to the tune of 10-0. That set up the classic.
The Dodgers had taken a 4-1 lead in the eighth with Don Newcombe cruising. He had Alvin Dark 0-2 and tried to waste one. But Dark got enough of it and Gil Hodges couldn’t field it cleanly for an infield single. Then, with Hodges inexplicably playing the bag and not behind the runner, Don Mueller hit a single in the hole to put runners on the corners. After Monte Irvin fouled out, Whitey Lockman to left-center, scoring one and sending Mueller to third. Mueller hurt his ankle sliding into third, and while he was being attended to, Dressen made the fateful decision to bring in Ralph Branca to pitch. Thomson stepped up and took a first pitch fastball for a strike. The second pitch was another fastball, but high. Thomson connected and launched it into the left field seats for a game winning three-run homer, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”.
The famous call of “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!!” by Giants play-by-play man Russ Hodges remains imbedded in our minds, not because we all heard it (it was a national telecast and most of the country didn’t hear it), but because a Dodgers fan had a tape recorder and wanted to record Hodges “have to cry” as the Giants lost, so instead of listening to Red Barber, he tuned the radio to the Giants call and recorded his instead.
Over the years things have come out about several things. First, it became discovered that a utility infielder named Hank Schenz (8 games, 0 plate appearances for the 1951 Giants) had developed a system from Leo Durocher’s office in an attempt to steal the catcher’s signs and relay them to the hitters. While the evidence isn’t exactly conclusive (the Giants hit .260 both at home and on the road, and though they hit 51 more homers at home than on the road, splits like that weren’t uncommon in the Polo Grounds), some suspicion still remains about the legitimacy of their pennant run. Also, Branca and Thomson learned to turn it into a financial success, touring the country together for various signings until Thomson’s death in 2010. Even now, 65 years later, Thomson’s homerun still resonates with baseball fans of all ages and Hodges’ call remains on the short list of the greatest calls in American sports history.