Story of the Week
THE SHOT HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD
They were joined at the hip on October 3, 1951. When you think of one, you instinctively think of the other. They orchestrated "The Shot Heard ‘Round The World." They are Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca.
The drama actually began in August of that year. At that time, the Brooklyn Dodgers had a comfortable lead in the NL pennant race. Their cross-town rivals, the New York Giants, were virtually counted out of the race. The "Bums" had a 13½ game lead with just 44 games to go. It seemed impossible for the Giants to catch them.
But after August 11, the Giants won 37 of their remaining 44 games, rivaling the Dodgers’ 24 wins. Near the end of the season, the Giants actually caught and passed the Dodgers, but only for a matter of hours. The Giants won an afternoon contest, and went up a half game, but the Dodgers won their night game.
On the very last day of the regular season, the Giants again went up a half game, and were awaiting the outcome of the Dodgers-Phillies game. On a home run by Jackie Robinson in the 14th. inning of that game, the fabled 1951 playoffs were set in motion.
The NL best-of-three playoffs began at Ebbets Field, the Dodgers’ home park. The Giants won that game, 3-1. The second game was at the Polo Grounds, home of the Giants. The Dodgers returned the compliment by hammering the Giants, 10-0. The series was tied. The deciding game would be played at the Polo Grounds.
That game was tied at 1 into the 8th. inning. Brooklyn scored three runs in the 8th., and took a commanding 4-1 lead into the last half of the 9th. With Brooklyn ace, Don Newcombe, on the mound, the series appeared all but formally finished. But the Giants’ Alvin Dark singled, as did Don Mueller. With one out, Whitey Lockman doubled home Dark. Mueller injured his ankle on his slide into third base; Clint Hartung ran for him.
With the Giants now posing a serious threat, Dodgers’ manager, Charley Dressen, pulled Newcombe in favor of Ralph Branca to pitch to Bobby Thomson, the latter representing the winning run. Branca’s first pitch was taken for a strike. And then all hell broke loose! Branca threw, and Thomson hit a low line drive toward the left field seats. It cleared left fielder Andy Pafko’s glove, and flew over the wall for a home run and victory. The rest, as they say, is history. Giants’ announcer, Russ Hodges, hysterical at the very least, screamed into the microphone repeatedly the simple declarative sentence, "The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant." It was a mob scene at the Polo Grounds.
Much has been made of Dressen’s choice of Branca as the reliever in that situation; I could as well, but that alone is food for a future article. I will state that a team with a 13½ game lead in mid-August should win the pennant, and I totally fault Dressen for permitting his team’s dramatic slide. Conversely, the greatest job of managing a team ever was that of the Giants’ manager, Leo Durocher. He refused to permit his team to accept defeat during that 1951 season, and turned in the managing job for the ages.
Any fan who remembers or knows of that storied day in 1951 knows who pitched the pitch and who hit the homer. And as a result of "The Shot Heard ‘Round The World," Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca became one in the minds of baseball fans forever as they produced one of the most dramatic last-minute episodes in sports history.
Last Week’s Trivia
Napoleon McCallum was the fine running back of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Raiders.
Trivia Question of the Week
Name the men who have managed both the Yankees and the Mets. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.