Shot Heard 'Round the World (baseball)

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The Shot Heard 'Round the World

In baseball, the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" is an epithet used to describe a game-winning home run by New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson off of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds in New York City on October 3, 1951, to win the National League (NL) pennant. Thomson's dramatic three-run homer came in the ninth inning of the decisive third game of a three-game play-off for the pennant in which the Giants trailed, 4 runs to 2.

The game—the first ever televised nationally—was seen by millions of viewers across America and heard by thousands of American servicemen stationed in Korea, listening on Armed Forces Radio. The classic drama of snatching victory from defeat to secure a championship was intensified by the epic cross-town rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers, and by a remarkable string of victories in the last weeks of the regular season by the Giants, who won 37 of their last 44 games to catch the first-place Dodgers and force a playoff series to decide the NL champion. The Giants' late-season rally and 2-to-1-game playoff victory, capped by Thomson's moment of triumph, are collectively known in baseball lore as the "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff."[1]

The phrase "shot heard 'round the world", from the poem "Concord Hymn" (1837) by Ralph Waldo Emerson, was originally a metaphor for the first clash of the American Revolutionary War, and has since been applied to other dramatic historical moments.[2]

Background[edit]

The National League (NL) race in the 1951 Major League Baseball season was projected to be a contest between the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies. Throughout the first half of the season, the Dodgers stayed in first place by a large margin. By August 10, they were 12 12 games ahead of the Giants and 14 12 games ahead of the Phillies, and as a result they were already looking ahead to facing the New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series. "Unless [the Dodgers] completely fold in their last 50 games," wrote an Associated Press writer, "they're in."[3] As the Phillies faded from contention, the Giants won 16 straight games from August 12 to August 27, cutting their deficit from 12 12 games to six.[4] By September 20, the Dodgers had ten games left to play while the Giants had seven.[5] Though the Dodgers' 4 12 game advantage appeared insurmountable, the Giants won all of their last seven games. When the Dodgers defeated the Phillies 9–8 in 14 innings on the final day, the Dodgers' and Giants' records stood at an identical 96-58.[6]

The NL used a three-game playoff at that time to break ties for the pennant. For game one at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, the Dodgers chose as their starting pitcher Ralph Branca, who had beaten the Giants twice in the regular season; the Giants chose Jim Hearn, who had likewise beaten the Dodgers twice that year.[7] The Giants won the first game, 3-1 thanks to home runs by Bobby Thomson and Monte Irvin.[8] For game two, also in Brooklyn, the Giants' Sheldon Jones faced the Dodgers' Clem Labine.[9] The Yankees were among those in attendance as spectators.[10] The Dodgers bounced back to win the second game, 10-0, with home runs by four separate players.[11] The 1-1 deadlock set up the deciding third game at the Polo Grounds.

The Game[edit]

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Brooklyn 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 4 8 0
New York 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 4 5 8 0
WP: Larry Jansen (23–11)   LP: Ralph Branca (13–12)
Home runs:
BKN: None
NYG: Bobby Thomson (32)

For game three Sal Maglie was on the mound for New York, while Brooklyn called on Don Newcombe; both pitchers had winning records against the opposing team heading into the matchup.[12] In the top of the first inning Jackie Robinson singled, driving in the game's first run when Pee Wee Reese crossed home plate. The game then became a pitcher's duel, with neither Maglie nor Newcombe allowing a run through the sixth inning.[13] In the seventh inning, Irvin led off with a double for the Giants. He was bunted over to third, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Thomson, tying the score at one run each.[13]

In the top of the eighth the Dodgers came back with three runs off Maglie. Reese and Duke Snider hit back-to-back singles, and Maglie threw a wild pitch, allowing Reese to score. After Robinson was walked, Andy Pafko hit a single to score Snider. Cox added another single to score Robinson, making the score 4-1 in favor of the Dodgers.[13] Newcombe set down the Giants in order in the bottom of the eighth, while Larry Jansen did the same in relief of Maglie in the top of the ninth.[14]

Newcombe had pitched a complete game the previous Saturday, then thrown 5⅔ innings in relief the next day in the last game of the regular season. Pitching on only two days' rest and tiring badly, he attempted to take himself out of the game, only to have Robinson talk him into trying to finish the ninth inning.

Giants shortstop Alvin Dark singled to start the rally. At that point, as Bud Greenspan explained in Play It Again, Bud,[15] the Dodgers made a crucial defensive mistake: With no outs, a runner on first, and a 3-run lead, the normal strategy would be to position the infield for a possible double play; but first baseman Gil Hodges played close to the base to hold the runner, leaving a large gap on the right side of the infield. Don Mueller hit a single through that gap, past the diving Hodges, and Dark advanced from first to third. Instead of a possible rally-killing double play, the Dodgers found themselves facing the potential tying run at the plate with two runners on base and nobody out. Irvin then chased the first pitch and popped out. (Greenspan argued that had the Dodger infield played Mueller at double-play depth, Irvin's pop-up would in all likelihood have been the season-ending third out.)

Whitey Lockman followed with a double down the left field line, driving in Dark and advancing Mueller to third. Mueller slid awkwardly into the bag and broke his ankle, forcing the Giants to send in Clint Hartung to pinch run for him. This brought up Thomson, with first base open, but Willie Mays (soon to be named the NL Rookie of the Year) on deck. As Thomson later recalled, Giants manager Leo Durocher turned to him and said, "If you ever hit one, hit it now."[16]

Dodger manager Chuck Dressen finally pulled the exhausted Newcombe and went to the bullpen, where Branca and Carl Erskine were warming up. Bullpen coach Clyde Sukeforth noticed that Erskine's curve balls were bouncing short of the plate, and advised Dressen to bring Branca into the game. That decision has continually bewildered baseball historians: Branca had pitched and lost the first game of the tiebreaker—on a Thomson home run—and had given up several of Thomson's 31 regular-season home runs as well. In Dressen's defense, few rested pitchers were available; the Dodgers had used seven in the last regular season game alone. Nevertheless, it was the second questionable decision by Dressen that inning.

Branca's first pitch was a called strike on the inside corner. His second was a fastball up and in to Thomson, intended as a setup for his next, a breaking ball down and away. But Thomson pulled the fastball down the left-field line. The ball disappeared into the lower-deck stands near the left field foul line for a game-ending three-run home run. Thomson ran the bases, then disappeared into a mob of jubilant teammates gathered at home plate. The stunned Dodger players all left the field except Robinson; recalling "Merkle's Boner" 43 years earlier, he stayed and watched to be sure Thomson touched every base before he, too, headed for the clubhouse.

The broadcasts[edit]

Several television and radio broadcasters captured the moment for baseball fans in the New York City area and nationwide.[17]

Russ Hodges[edit]

The best known live description, "arguably the most famous call in sports",[18] was delivered by Russ Hodges, who was broadcasting the game on WMCA-AM radio for Giants fans. His call captured the suddenness and exultation of the home run:

Broadcasts were not routinely taped in 1951, and no one at any of the local radio or television stations was recording the game. The WMCA call survives only because a Brooklyn-based fan named Lawrence Goldberg asked his mother to tape-record the last half-inning of the radio broadcast while he was at work.[19] In later years, Hodges told interviewers that Goldberg was a Dodger fan who made the tape "so he could hear the voice of the Giants weep when Brooklyn won". In fact, Goldberg had been a Giants fan since childhood.[19][20]

Ernie Harwell[edit]

Hodges' broadcast partner, Ernie Harwell, called the game for the Giants' television flagship WPIX; the independent station's broadcast was carried nationally on the NBC network, the first coast-to-coast live telecast of a Major League Baseball game. His description was not recorded; he later recalled saying simply, "It's gone!" almost at the moment Thomson's bat struck the ball. Harwell later admitted worrying that he had called the home run "too soon", because "...it was unusual for a home run to go into the lower deck." "And then," Harwell recalled, "the pictures took over."[21]

Red Barber[edit]

Dodgers announcer Red Barber, calling the game for WMGM-AM, straightforwardly said, "Branca pumps, delivers - a curve, swung on and belted, deep shot to left field—it is—a home run! And the New York Giants win the National League pennant and the Polo Grounds goes wild!" Barber was openly critical of Hodges' famous call, labeling it "unprofessional".[22]

Gordon McLendon[edit]

Only local Giants fans heard the famous Hodges call live. Most listeners heard Gordon McLendon's call on the Liberty Broadcasting System, which carried the game nationally. McLendon's account (complete with a similarly enthusiastic yell of "The Giants win the pennant!")—preserved on Harwell's "Audio Scrapbook"—remains the only professionally recorded broadcast account of the entire third game.[23]

Additional radio calls were broadcast by Al Helfer for the Mutual network, by Buck Canel and Felo Ramírez for a Spanish language network, and by Nat Allbright in a studio re-creation for the Dodgers' secondary network in the South. Harry Caray, who had called St. Louis Cardinals games during the season, was in the WMCA booth with Hodges and may have also participated in the broadcast.[24][25]

Aftermath[edit]

An article recapping the game in the New York Daily News on October 4 was accompanied by the headline, "The Shot Heard 'Round the Baseball World".[26] The phrase quickly spread to other media, and soon became a widely-recognized slogan for Thomson's homer.

Sportswriter Red Smith opened his recap of the game for the New York Herald Tribune with the following lead:

Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.[27]

The official attendance of the third game was 34,320, a low number considering the importance of the game, the location of the opposing team (just a 45-minute subway ride from the Polo Grounds), and the bitter rivalry between the two teams. Most historians agree, however, that this figure represents only the number of tickets sold before the game, and does not account for the New Yorkers and Brooklynites who left work early to attend. Photographs and film of the event show that the 56,000-seat stadium was nearly full, and McLendon remarked more than once during his live broadcast that the Polo Grounds was "packed".

The win advanced the Giants to the 1951 World Series, where they lost to the New York Yankees in six games.

Sukeforth resigned at the end of the season after 19 years with the Dodgers. He denied, at the time, that his role in the final inning of the game had any bearing on his decision to leave.[28] Some historians have since speculated otherwise, based on Dressen's post-game reply to why he brought in Branca: "Sukeforth said he was ready."[29] Sukeforth, however, told a journalist in 2000—the last year of his life—that "everybody knows the manager is responsible for decisions." He added, "It didn't matter what anybody said ... Branca was the only one who could come in when that big guy [Newcombe] couldn't go any further."[30]

In 2001, surviving members of the 1951 Giants and Dodgers, including Thomson and Branca, met at Coogan's Bluff for the 50th anniversary of the game.[31]

Individual recollections of Thomson's home run continued to emerge decades after the event. In the 1990s Thomson received a letter from a Marine who was stationed in Korea in 1951:

I was in a bunker in the front line with my buddy listening to the radio. It was contrary to orders, but he was a Giants fanatic. He never made it home and I promised him if I ever got back I'd write and tell you about the happiest moment of his life. It's taken me this long to put my feelings into words. On behalf of my buddy, thanks, Bobby.[32]

Thomson's baseball legacy rests almost completely on the Shot, despite his other notable accomplishments, such as eight 20-home run seasons and three All Star selections. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me," he told a reporter toward the end of his life. "It may have been the best thing that ever happened to anybody."[33]

Controversy[edit]

Longstanding rumors that the 1951 Giants engaged in systematic sign stealing during the second half of the season were confirmed in 2001. Several players told the Wall Street Journal that beginning on July 20, the team used a telescope, manned by coach Herman Franks in the Giants clubhouse behind center field, to steal the finger signals of those opposing catchers who left their signs unprotected. Stolen signs were relayed to the Giants dugout via a buzzer wire.[34] Joshua Prager, the author of the Journal article, outlined the evidence in greater detail in a 2008 book.[35]

Although Thomson always insisted that he had no foreknowledge of Branca's pitch, Sal Yvars told Prager that he relayed Rube Walker's fastball sign to Thomson. Branca was privately skeptical of Thomson's denials but made no public comment. Later he told The New York Times, "I didn't want to diminish a legendary moment in baseball. And even if Bobby knew what was coming, he had to hit it ... Knowing the pitch doesn't always help."[36] Whether the telescope-and-buzzer system contributed significantly to the Giants' late-season 37–7 win streak remains a subject of debate.[37] Prager notes in his book that sign stealing, then as now, is not specifically forbidden by MLB rules and, moral issues aside, "...has been a part of baseball since its inception".[38]

Artifacts[edit]

Some of the artifacts from the historic moment have been preserved. The Hall of Fame has an exhibit dedicated to the Shot; according to curators, a majority of the visitors to the Hall ask specifically about the location of that exhibit.[39]

  • Thomson's game bat and shoes are on display at the Hall exhibit.[40]
  • The Shot game jersey is most likely in the collection of Dan Scheinman, a collector who owns a small minority stake in the Giants. In 2005 he bought two 1951 jerseys—one home and one road—from Thomson, who told him that he had worn them in the World Series, but could not remember whether he had worn the home jersey for the Shot game. Scheinman has said that he is "about 90 percent" confident that the home jersey is indeed the one Thomson was wearing when he hit the Shot: The Giants almost certainly wore the same uniforms for the Series—which began the day after the Shot game—that they used during the second half of the season (as did the Yankees), and Scheinman's jersey displays distinct puckering around the number, probably as a result of steam pressing, that is visible in photos of Thomson taken during and immediately after the Shot game. According to a professional textile conservator, such puckering cannot be mimicked or reproduced, and would not repeat itself in exactly the same pattern on a different jersey.[40]
  • The location of the ball is unknown. Documentary filmmaker and author Brian Biegel attempted unsuccessfully to authenticate a vintage baseball autographed by several 1951 Giants that his father—who had purchased it at a thrift store for four dollars—believed to be Thomson's home run ball. He chronicled the project in his 2011 book Miracle Ball, followed by a documentary film of the same name.[39]

The game was ranked #2 on ESPN's SportsCentury list of the Ten Greatest Games of the 20th Century, behind the 1958 NFL Championship Game.[41]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Regan, Becky (August 9, 2007). "No. 756 takes Giants back to 1951". MLB.com. 
  2. ^ Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson. poetryfoundation.org archive. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  3. ^ "Brooklyn Seeking Info On Opponent". Lawrence Journal-World. August 10, 1951. p. 10. Retrieved June 24, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Robinson Hits Homer, Keeps Team In Race". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. October 1, 1951. p. 1. Retrieved June 24, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Reds Defeat Polo Grounders, 3-1, Routing Hearn in 3-Run Eighth". The New York Times. September 21, 1951. p. 38. 
  6. ^ Reichler, Joe (October 1, 1951). "Larry Jansen Fires 3-2 Win For Amazing Giants". Lewiston Daily Sun. p. 12. Retrieved June 24, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Giants Meet Brooklyn in 1st Playoff". Youngstown Vindicator. October 1, 1951. p. 1. Retrieved June 24, 2012. 
  8. ^ "October 1, 1951: New York Giants at Brooklyn Dodgers Box Score and Play by Play". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Sheldon Jones To Go Against Clem Labine". The Portsmouth Times. October 2, 1951. p. 1. 
  10. ^ "Idle Yankees Watch Rivals Clash Today". The Altus Times-Democrat. Associated Press. October 2, 1951. p. 4. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  11. ^ "October 2, 1951: Brooklyn Dodgers at New York Giants Box Score and Play by Play". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  12. ^ Reichler, Joe (October 4, 1951). "Maglie And Newcombe In Last Of Playoffs Today". Times Daily. p. 14. 
  13. ^ a b c "Retrosheet Boxscore: New York Giants 5, Brooklyn Dodgers 4". Retrosheet. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  14. ^ "October 3, 1951: Brooklyn Dodgers at New York Giants Box Score and Play by Play". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  15. ^ Greenspan, B. Play It Again, Bud! New York, Ballantine Books (1974), pp. 78-83. ISBN 0345241967
  16. ^ Regan, B. (August 9, 2007). No. 756 takes Giants back to 1951. MLB.com archive. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  17. ^ Bobby Thomson launches "The Shot Heard 'Round The World" & "The Giants Win The Pennant!"
  18. ^ Halberstam, D. (October 3, 2001). Called Shot May Have Set Tone for the Future. Los Angeles Times archive. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  19. ^ a b Sandomir, Richard (2001-10-01). "THE SHOT HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD; A Call Is Born, And Saved By a Mom". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-17. 
  20. ^ Goldberg, Steve (2010-08-19). "The man who tapes baseball's 'shot heard 'round the world'". CNN.com. Retrieved 2010-08-21. 
  21. ^ Longtime Tigers broadcaster Harwell dies at 92. (May 4, 2010) [1]
  22. ^ Halberstam, D. (October 3, 2001). Called Shot May Have Set Tone for the Future. [Los Angeles Times archive]. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  23. ^ Ernie Harwell's Audio Scrapbook
  24. ^ Prager, Joshua (2006). The Echoing Green. Pantheon Books. pp. 195–196. ISBN 0-375-42154-8. 
  25. ^ Heller, Dick (2003-03-10). "Nat Allbright was the Dodgers to many fans in the '50s". Washington Times. 
  26. ^ Prager (2006), p. 251
  27. ^ Petchesky, Barry (August 17, 2010). "Stories That Don't Suck: The Shot Heard 'Round The World And The Greatest Lede Ever Written". Deadspin.com. 
  28. ^ "Sukeforth Quits as Dodger Coach in Surprise Move." Nashua Telegraph, January 10, 1952. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  29. ^ Greenspan, B. Play It Again, Bud! New York, Ballantine Books (1974), p. 83. ISBN 0345241967
  30. ^ "Late Shot: Brooklyn Bullpen Coach Sukeforth May Not Have Deserved the Heat" October 3, 2001. Los Angeles Times archive Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  31. ^ Prager, Joshua Harris (January 31, 2001). "Inside Baseball: Giants' 1951 Comeback, The Sport's Greatest, Wasn't All It Seemed". Wall Street Journal. p. A1. 
  32. ^ Bobby Thomson obituary (August 19, 2010). telegraph.co.uk archive. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  33. ^ Sports Illustrated, Volume 133, No. 24 (December 27, 2010). Page 70.
  34. ^ Prager, Joshua Harris (January 31, 2001). "Inside Baseball: Giants' 1951 Comeback, The Sport's Greatest, Wasn't All It Seemed". Wall Street Journal. 
  35. ^ Prager, J: The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and The Shot Heard Round the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2008. ISBN 0375713077.
  36. ^ http://poststar.com/sports/f9840904-aa7a-11df-93d9-001cc4c03286.html
  37. ^ "Bobby Thomson". The Daily Telegraph (London). August 19, 2010. 
  38. ^ Prager (2006), p. 162
  39. ^ a b Wilkie, Jim (July 17, 2009). "Passionate quest for 'Miracle Ball'". ESPN.com. Retrieved September 23, 2011. 
  40. ^ a b Lukas, Paul (September 21, 2011). "Did collector unearth Thomson history?". Page 2. ESPN.com. Retrieved September 23, 2011. 
  41. ^ MacCambridge, Michael (ed.). ESPN SportsCentury [1951 National League Playoff]. New York: Hyperion ESPN Books. p. 171. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Biegel, Brian, with Peter Thomas Fornatale. (2009). Miracle Ball: My Hunt for the Shot Heard 'Round the World. New York: Crown Publishing. ISBN 0-307-45268-9.
  • Branca, Ralph, with David Ritz. (2011). A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace. New York: Scribner. ISBN 1-451-63687-3.
  • Kahn, Roger. (1972). The Boys of Summer. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-060-12239-0.
  • Prager, Joshua. (2006). The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42154-8.
  • Robinson, Ray. (2011). The Home Run Heard 'Round the World: The Dramatic Story of the 1951 Giants-Dodgers Pennant Race. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-48058-5.
  • Thomson, Bobby, with Lee Heiman and Bill Gutman. (1991). "The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant!": The Amazing 1951 National League Season and the Home Run that Won It All. New York: Zebra Books. ISBN 0-821-73437-7.

External links[edit]