Wednesday, August 18, 2010

RIP Bobby Thomson


The man who hit baseball's "shot heard 'round the world" has died.  Bobby Thomson was 86. For my money, there will never be a more dramatic home run hit, nor will there ever be a greater moment in sports.

Think about it.  Baseball was king of the world at that point.  The NFL was a distant second to college football.  The NBA was in its infancy, and the NHL was a niche.  Horse racing was still super-popular and boxing was huge but baseball was IT.  No other sports mattered (ah...what a wonderful world).

New York was the center of the baseball world in 1951.  The mighty Yankees awaited the winner of the three-game playoff between the Dodgers (of Brooklyn) and the Giants (of upper Manhattan).  The Giants were able to rally from a 13 game deficit in August to force the playoff with the Dodgers, the Boys of Summer, who had been cruising.

Of course, much evidence has come to light to indicate that the Giants had an elaborate cheating system, in which the team was stealing signs.  So a little gamesmanship was enforced?  Let's not let that get in the way of a great story.

But the Giants did force the playoff, and were on the verge of being eliminated in three games.  The Giants started that faithful ninth inning down 4-1.  Yet Don Newcombe was done - just finished, allowing singles to Alvin Dark and Don Mueller, and an RBI double to Whitey Lockman.  Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen brought on Ralph Branca to pitch to Thomson, and the two have been linked ever since.

Incidentally, it shouldn't surprise that I'm not a big fan of Russ Hodges' call that can be described "Gus Johnson-esque."  Still you can't top the enthusiasm of the moment.  There were four broadcasters on that day - October 3, 1951 - and I own three of them.  Hodges, of course, is the most famous.  Red Barber used his typical professional style, which would drive the modern-day fan nuts.  He was not excited by the moment.  Gordon McClendon, a DJ who started up the Liberty Network, did his call, and it was quite like Hodges, though not nearly as famous.  The fourth was the late Ernie Harwell, who did the call on NBC, and said that "only Mrs. Harwell knows what I said."  That's because the tape doesn't exist.

Oh, and if you don’t know what happened, well fate (and Karma) are often cruel and just.  The Giants may have won the pennant in 1951, but they got hammered by the Yankees in the World Series – the last hurrah for an old veteran named Joe DiMaggio, and the first Classic for a kid from Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle.

Some links for you - '>'>Joe Posnanski ranks the more famous home runs ever, and I like what he did.  He put Bill Mazeroski at number one, and put Thomson at HIGHER than number one!  I will put Thomson's Miracle at Coogan's Bluff at number one as well, with Mazeroski second.  We can go from there.  Joe Carter, Pudge Fisk, Kirk Gibson, Derek Jeter (or Tino Martinez or Scott Brosius), Kirby Puckett, and even the Great Bambino (and many others) fall well short of the magnitude and drama of the Thomson home run.

Kyle Rowland at Bleacher Report ranks the ten most dramatic play-by-play calls ever, with "The Shot" ranked at number four.  I'll spare you the buildup, as he puts Sean McDonough's call of the Sid Bream slide in the 92 NLCS at number one.  Yeah.  That’s about all I have to say about that.

Vin Scully was at the Polo Grounds in 1951, and Tom Hoffarth has his reaction and the reaction of others to Thomsons’ passing.

Lastly, the New York Daily News has the basic facts about Thomson, a very modest, seemingly nice man (I never personally met him) who handled his fame with great charm and class.

I'm out of here for a couple of days - off camping.  Looking forward to time with Sean, time with family, and anxiously waiting for Carrie to join us.

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