Shot Heard 'Round the World (baseball)
In baseball, the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" is an epithet used to describe a game-winning home run by New York Giants outfielder and third baseman Bobby Thomson off 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 playoff for the pennant in which the Giants trailed, 4-2.
The game—the first ever televised nationally—was seen by millions of viewers across America and heard on radio by millions more, including thousands of American servicemen stationed in Korea, listening on Armed Forces Radio. The classic drama of snatching victory from defeat to secure a pennant 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", a descriptor coined by the legendary sports columnist Red Smith.
The phrase "shot heard 'round the world" is from the poem "Concord Hymn" (1837) by Ralph Waldo Emerson about the first clash of the American Revolutionary War. It later became popularly associated with Thomson's homer and several other dramatic historical moments.
The principal National League (NL) contenders in 1951 were the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies. The Dodgers quickly pulled into first place, and widened their lead as the season progressed. On August 11, with a 13 1⁄2-game lead over the second-place Giants, they appeared certain to face the New York Yankees in the World Series. "Unless [the Dodgers] completely fold in their last 50 games", wrote an Associated Press writer, "they're in." The Phillies, 14 1⁄2 games back, faded from contention; but the Giants won 16 straight games from August 12 to August 27, cutting the Dodgers' lead to six games. By September 20, they had pulled to within 4 1⁄2 games, still a prohibitive margin with only ten days remaining in the season; but the Giants won all of their final seven games, while the Dodgers lost six of their last ten. The two teams concluded the regular season deadlocked with 96–58 records.
The NL used a three-game playoff at that time to break ties for the pennant. The Dodgers won the coin toss to determine the playoff schedule; they elected to play the first game at home and the second (and third if needed) at the Polo Grounds, reasoning that after a likely win in Brooklyn, they would need to win only one of two at the Giants' park. Nevertheless, in game one at Ebbets Field, the Giants, with Jim Hearn on the mound, defeated the Dodgers' Ralph Branca 3-1, thanks to home runs by Bobby Thomson and Monte Irvin. In game two at the Polo Grounds, with the Yankees team in attendance as spectators, the Dodgers tied the series, winning 10-0 on home runs by Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Andy Pafko, and Rube Walker, who was catching in place of an injured Roy Campanella. Clem Labine pitched a six-hit shutout against Sheldon Jones. The 1-1 deadlock set up the deciding third game at the Polo Grounds on October 3.
| WP: Larry Jansen (23–11) LP: Ralph Branca (13–12)|
NYG: Bobby Thomson (32)
For game three, Sal Maglie was on the mound for New York, while Brooklyn called on Don Newcombe. In the first inning, Robinson singled in Pee Wee Reese for the game's first run. A Giants rally in the second inning, initiated by Whitey Lockman's single, fizzled when Thomson, trying to stretch a single into a double, failed to notice that Lockman had not advanced to third base, and was tagged out by Robinson. The score remained 1-0 through the sixth inning. 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.
In the top of the eighth, the Dodgers came back with three runs. With Reese and Duke Snider on third and first after back-to-back singles, a Maglie wild pitch allowed Reese to score and Snider to advance to second. Robinson was walked intentionally to set up a double play, but Pafko's ground ball to third bounced off the heel of Thomson's glove; Snider scored and Robinson took third. Billy Cox added another single to score Robinson, making the score 4-1 in favor of the Dodgers. 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.
Newcombe had pitched a complete game on September 29, four days earlier, in Philadelphia, followed by 5⅔ innings in relief the following day during the last game of the regular season. According to some accounts, after eight innings on only two days' rest he attempted to take himself out of the game, but Robinson demanded that he continue: "You go out there and pitch until your arm falls off!" Newcombe himself insisted that he never asked to be relieved—a version corroborated by Snider and Pafko.
Giants shortstop Alvin Dark singled off Newcombe to start the bottom-ninth rally. At that point, 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 behind Dark—apparently guarding against a highly unlikely steal attempt—leaving a large gap on the right side of the infield. Don Mueller, batting left-handed, hit a single through that gap, advancing Dark from first to third. Instead of a rally-killing double play, the Dodgers found themselves facing the potential tying run at the plate with two runners on base, nobody out, and Irvin—with 121 regular-season RBIs—at bat; but Newcombe got Irvin to chase an outside pitch and foul out to Hodges. (Sportswriter Bud Greenspan and others have 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.)
Lockman followed with a double down the left field line, driving in Dark and advancing Mueller to third. Mueller slid awkwardly into the base, injuring his ankle, and was replaced by pinch runner Clint Hartung. With Thomson coming up, Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen finally pulled the exhausted Newcombe. In the bullpen, where Branca and Carl Erskine were warming up, coach Clyde Sukeforth noticed that Erskine—who had been troubled by arm problems all season—was bouncing his curve balls short of the plate, and advised Dressen to use Branca in relief. That decision has been continually second-guessed by fans, sportswriters, and baseball historians: Branca had lost six of his last seven decisions, and gave up a game-winning home run to Thomson in the first playoff game. Dressen's options, however, were severely limited: The only other available pitchers with crucial-situation experience were Clyde King, who was sidelined with tendonitis; Preacher Roe, who was left-handed; and Labine, who had pitched a complete game the day before. Nevertheless, it was the second questionable decision that inning by Dressen.
Thomson was now at bat, with first base open and Willie Mays (soon to be named the NL Rookie of the Year) on deck. Mays had gone 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Branca in the first playoff game, but Dressen was unwilling to put the winning run on base, and worried that a veteran pinch hitter might be brought in to bat for Mays if he did so. In a third controversial decision, he elected to pitch to Thomson rather than walk him intentionally. Thomson later recalled that as he left the on-deck circle, Giants manager Leo Durocher turned to him and said, "If you ever hit one, hit it now."
Branca's first pitch was a called strike on the inside corner. His second was a fastball high and inside, 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 began the long walk toward the visitors' clubhouse under the center field bleachers; Robinson turned to watch Thomson, making certain that he touched every base, before following his teammates off the field.
Later, after the celebrations had calmed down, a delegation of Dodgers—Reese, Snider, Roe, and Robinson—visited the Giants' locker room to offer their congratulations. "I just want you to know that we didn't lose the pennant," Robinson told them. "You guys won it."
The best known live description—"arguably the most famous call in sports"—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:
|“|| There's a long drive ... it's gonna be, I believe ... The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they're going crazy! They're going crazy!
I don't believe it! I don't believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson hit a line drive into the lower deck of the left-field stands and this blame place is going crazy! The Giants! Horace Stoneham has got a winner! The Giants won it by a score of 5 to 4, and they're picking Bobby Thomson up, and carrying him off the field!
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. In later years, Hodges told interviewers that Goldberg was a Dodgers 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.
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—and then watching in dismay as the ball began to sink. "I said to myself, 'If that ball drops into Pafko's glove, I'm in deep trouble.' " As the ball disappeared into the lower deck, he recalled, no further commentary was necessary. "The pictures took over."
Dodgers announcer Red Barber, calling the game for WMGM-AM radio, 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".
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.
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.
On October 4, the New York Daily News ran a front-page game recap under the headline, "The Shot Heard 'Round the Baseball World". The phrase quickly spread to other media, and "Shot Heard 'Round the World" soon became the most popular epithet for Thomson's homer.
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.
The Giants lost the ensuing World Series to the Yankees in six games.
Sukeforth resigned his position as bullpen coach in January 1952, after 19 years with the Dodgers. He denied that his role in the final inning of the Shot game had any bearing on his decision to leave. Some historians have since speculated otherwise, based on Dressen's post-game reply to why he brought in Branca: "Sukeforth said he was ready." Sukeforth 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."
- "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."
In the fall of 2001, surviving members of the 1951 Giants and Dodgers, including Thomson and Branca, met at Coogan's Bluff, overlooking the site of the long since demolished ballpark, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the game.
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."
In ensuing years, rumors began to circulate that during the second half of the 1951 season, the Giants engaged in the systematic stealing of signs—the finger signals transmitted from catcher to pitcher that determine the pitch to be thrown. The Associated Press reported the rumor in 1962, but with no specifics, and based on an anonymous source. In 2001, many of the 21 Giants players still alive at the time, and one surviving coach, told the Wall Street Journal that beginning on July 20, the team used a telescope in the Giants clubhouse behind center field, manned by infielder Hank Schenz and later by coach Herman Franks, to steal the finger signals of opposing catchers. Stolen signs were relayed via a buzzer wire connected from the clubhouse to telephones in the Giants dugout and bullpen—one buzz for a fastball, two for an off-speed pitch. "Every hitter knew what was coming," said pitcher Al Gettel. "Made a big difference." Joshua Prager, the author of the Journal article, outlined the evidence in greater detail in a 2006 book.
Although backup catcher Sal Yvars told Prager that he relayed Rube Walker's fastball sign to Thomson from the bullpen, Thomson repeatedly insisted that he was concentrating on the situation, and did not take the sign. Branca made no public comment at the time. "I made a decision not to speak about it," he said. "I didn't want to look like I was crying over spilled milk." 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." In another interview, Branca pointed out that luck and circumstance were involved as well; had the coin toss gone the other way, Thomson's Shot would not have been a home run at Ebbets Field—nor would the game-winner he hit in the first playoff game have been a homer at the Polo Grounds.
Whether the telescope-and-buzzer system contributed significantly to the Giants' late-season 37–7 win streak remains a subject of debate. Prager notes in his book that sign stealing was not specifically forbidden by MLB rules at the time and, moral issues aside, "...has been a part of baseball since its inception". Sign stealing using optical or other mechanical aids was outlawed by MLB in 1961.
Some of the artifacts from the historic moment have been preserved. Thomson's game bat and shoes are the centerpieces of an exhibit dedicated to the Shot at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The exhibit is one of the Hall's most popular attractions, according to curators.
Thomson's 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 numbers, 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.
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 had purchased at a thrift store for four dollars, and 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.
In popular culture
Don DeLillo's 1997 novel Underworld opens with a prologue set during the Shot game. Thomson's home run sets the story's events into motion, and connects successive plot lines as the Shot baseball passes from one protagonist to the next.
The Shot game placed second on ESPN's SportsCentury ranking of the Ten Greatest Games of the 20th Century, behind the 1958 NFL Championship Game. Sports Illustrated ranked Thomson's home run fifteenth on its list of the 100 Greatest Moments in Sports History.
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