Bobby Thomson, the New York Giants third baseman who clinched his team a spot in the 1951 World Series because of famous "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," died at home in Savannah Monday night. Thomson was 86 and, according to his daughter, died peacefully after a long illness.
Thomson spent parts of nine seasons with the Giants in the 1940s and 1950s. He played 15 seasons overall and finished with a .270 batting average and 264 career home runs. One of those home runs earned Thomson a permanent place in baseball lore.
It's hard to pinpoint many dates that can adequately sum up why baseball has such a valued place in American cultural history but October 3rd, 1951 certainly qualifies.
It was the day the Dodgers and the Giants met at the Polo Grounds for the rubber match of a three-game series to determine who would face the Yankees in the World Series. The game was only necessary because the Giants had chased down the Dodgers with a furious 37-7 stretch run to end the regular season in a tie.
Dramatic backstories give birth to dramatic games. The Dodgers led their rivals 4-2 with one out and two on in the bottom of the ninth when the game was delayed because of an injury to a Giants baserunner. The Dodgers decided to pull pitcher Don Newcombe to set up a battle between the Thomson and Dodgers reliever Ralph Branca. On the second pitch Thomson connected with a home run and the Giants won the pennant.
Russ Hodges did a little bit better job of explaining what happened and his radio call is part of the reason that a man born in 1976 can recite chapter and verse about a game his father was barely old enough to see. The game has long captivated anyone with a love for baseball and enough of the prominent ones have shared their memories of the game over the last 60 years that it hasn't faded from memory at all.
The most notable memory is the allegation that the Giants were stealing signs throughout their run to the World Series, the inspiration for a wonderful book by Joshua Prager. The game also inspired a piece called "Pafko at the Wall" by Don DeLillo that can be enjoyed on its own or as the prologue (and best part) of his epic novel "Underworld."
It also granted Thomson and Branca baseball immortality.
That's not bad for one game on one afternoon many years ago.