The Shot Heard 'Round the World ... Except in New York
Sixty years ago today, in the third game of a best-of-three playoff between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Giants, who had been 13 games out of first place in August but came storming back in September to tie the Giants on the last day of the season, were down 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth when Alvin Dark singled off starter Don Newcombe. Then Don Mueller singled. Monte Irvin fouled out but Whitey Lockman doubled to score Dark, send Mueller to third, and put the tying run, himself, in scoring position. A well-placed single would now tie the game. Which is when Brooklyn manager X called for reliever Ralph Branca to face Bobby Thomson, who was, by modern stats (OPS: .948), the best hitter for the Giants that year. Branca threw two pitches. The first was a strike on the inside corner. The second was the shot heard 'round the world:
That's Russ Hodges' voice. I have a clip of it, from the Ken Burns' “Baseball” soundtrack, and I used to include it at the end of mixed tapes I made for friends, even if they weren't baseball fans. There was just such joy in his voice. I wanted to share it.
I first remember hearing about the Thomson homerun when I was 10. It was the summer of 1973, and as part of our almost annual trip from Minneapolis to the east coast—to visit friends in New Jersey, dad's parents in Philadelphia, Mom's mom in Finksburg, Maryland, and Rehoboth Beach, Del., for fun—we spent a few days at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Was it a way for Dad to extend his vacation? Because it was work. He was writing a feature on Ken Smith, the director of the Hall of Fame, for the The Minneapolis Tribune. I believe we even stayed in Ken Smith's house.
From Ken Smith, my older brother Chris and I got a transcript of Abbott and Costello's “Who's on First?,” which we then memorized and performed (me as Abbott, he as Costello) for several years thereafter. I still remember most of the dialogue.
My father got a great anecdote, which went something like this. Ken Smith was at the Thomson game as a sports reporter, but he had to leave early to visit someone in the hospital. Was it his wife? Was she having a baby? As he rushed to get there, as he rushed inside, he asked passersby, New Yorkers all, about the game. And everyone had the same answer: The Dodgers won. None of the people he asked knew the true outcome of the game. Thus the so-called “shot heard 'round the world” wasn't even heard in the city where it took place.
That anecdote might be hard to believe; but it's a lot less hard to believe than Bobby Thomson's actual homerun. We'll give it a pass.