In a Blink of an Eye
He was tall and lanky with dark hair. He kind of reminded you of the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. He didn’t run as much as he loped along with a wide gait. He had never lost any speed because he never had any to begin with. He was 27 and had a large obvious nose. He was a good low ball hitter, who had grown up dirt poor on Staten Island. When being interviewed, he would stare at his feet like he had been caught stealing. He also had a long neck which had earned him the nickname “the Hawk.” He did have a perfect stance that some said looked just like Joe DiMaggio’s. “I never copied his stance,” he said.
His name was Bobby Thomson, the youngest of six kids. He was born October 25, 1923 in Glasgow, Scotland, and arrived in the U.S. with his family at the age of two. His father was a cabinetmaker who had come to America first and raised enough money to send for his family. Staten Island was a blue-collar neighborhood and home to lots of firemen and policemen. Bobby’s father knew nothing about this game called baseball but took his sons to see a Brooklyn Dodger game quite often. “My father always pulled for the underdog,” said Bobby.
Bobby became a star in high school and signed with the New York Giants for 100 dollars in 1940, at age of 17. He was called into the service in 1943 and joined the Air Force. He was released in 1946 and was called up by New York Giants’ Manager, Mel Ott, on September 9th. He hit his first two home runs, but his father never got to see him play as he had died earlier that year. His first full year with the Giants (1947) he hit 29 home runs and drove in 85 runs as an outfielder. He continued to get better each year. In 1951 the Dodgers were playing well and had a 13 1/2 game lead in August. The Giants responded with a 16-game win streak of their own and won 37 of their last 44 games, to tie the Dodgers on the last day of the season. This tie for the National League Pennant would require a three-game playoff. The Giants won the first game 3-1 and the Dodgers won game two 10-0. These two teams hated each other more than they hated the Yankees. “It was like going to war,” said Dodger centerfielder, Duke Snider.
So, the scene was set, The Pologrounds, Wednesday, October 3, 1951, for all the marbles. It was 3:58 EST bottom of the ninth, two outs, and the Giants trailing 4-2 with a man on second and third. Ralph Branca was pitching for the Dodgers, and Bobby Thomson was next to bat. Thomson had already hit a home run off Branca in Game One.
Kneeling in the on-deck circle was a 20-year-old kid named Willie Mays. “I began to pray, please don’t let it be me. Don’t make me come to bat now, God,” said Mays afterward. As Thomson approached home plate, Giants’ Manager Leo Durocher placed his arm around Bobby and said, “If you ever hit one, hit one now.” The first pitch was a fastball right down the middle for a strike. The crowd moaned when Thomson let it go by. The second pitch was also a fastball, but it was up and in. Bobby turned on that fastball and yanked it 315 feet down the left-field line for a three-run homerun. In a blink of an eye it was over. The Giants had won. Bobby Thomson had gone from a dime-a-dozen to a one-in-a-million.
As most of the Dodgers turned to leave the field, Jackie Robinson stood at his position and watched to make sure every Giant touched every base before he left the field. Hard feelings ran deep. It is interesting to note that at the end of Jackie’s career with the Dodgers, he was traded to the Giants. Jackie Robinson refused to sign with them and retired.
Russ Hodges, the New York Giants announcer screamed into the microphone “I BELIEVE THIS IS GOING TO BE! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT. THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT. Bobby Thomson has hit one into the lower deck of the left field stands. The Giants win the pennant and they’re going crazy, they’re going crazy.” The only reason we have a copy of Hodges’ call is because a Dodger fan named Lawrence Goldberg had recorded the end of the game for his father. Thomson was carried to the clubhouse on the shoulders of his teammates. A representative of the Perry Como show offered $500 to appear on his program that night. Thomson refused until the offer was increased to $1,000. “For a $1,000, the family can wait,” said Thomson. The Giants would lose the 1951 World Series to the New York Yankees in six games.
Thomson played with the Giants until 1953, when he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves in 1954. During his first spring training, Bobby broke his ankle and was replaced by a young rookie outfielder named Hank Aaron. Bobby would later be traded back to the Giants in 1957 and played in the last game at the Pologrounds, before the Giants moved to San Francisco.
You could find Thomson in Chicago with the Cubs in 1958 and in Boston and Baltimore by 1960. He was selected to the All-Star game in 1948, 1949, and 1952. Thomson worked for a paper company after baseball and teamed up with Branca to travel the autograph circuit.
Bobby Thomson died on August 16, 2010, in Savannah, Georgia. He was 86 years old. His historic home run has been commemorated by the United States Post office with a stamp entitled “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Neither Branca nor Thomson ever thought the attention would last, but it has. Russ Hodges sent the scorecard to the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is only one thing missing from this story. No one has ever come forward with the baseball hit by Thomson.
There is no telling what that ball would be worth today.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.