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 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 playoff 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 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."
The phrase "shot heard 'round the world", from the poem "Concord Hymn" (1837) by Ralph Waldo Emerson, originally a metaphor for the first clash of the American Revolutionary War, later became popularly associated with Thomson's homer and several other dramatic historical moments.
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 1⁄2 games ahead of the Giants and 14 1⁄2 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." As the Phillies faded from contention, the Giants won 16 straight games from August 12 to August 27, cutting their deficit from 12 1⁄2 games to six. By September 20, the Dodgers had ten games left to play while the Giants had seven. Though the Dodgers' 4 1⁄2 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.
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. The Giants won the first game, 3-1 thanks to home runs by Bobby Thomson and Monte Irvin. For game two, also in Brooklyn, the Giants' Sheldon Jones faced the Dodgers' Clem Labine. The Yankees were among those in attendance as spectators. The Dodgers bounced back to win the second game, 10-0, with home runs by four separate players. The 1-1 deadlock set up the deciding third game at the Polo Grounds.
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. 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. 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. Robinson was walked intentionally to set up a double play, but Andy Pafko's ground ball to third bounced off the heel of Thomson's glove; Snider scored and Robinson took third. 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 the previous Saturday in Philadelphia, followed by 5⅔ innings in relief the next day, in 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 contended that he never asked to be relieved—a version corroborated by Snider and Pafko.
Giants shortstop Alvin Dark singled off of Newcombe to start the bottom-ninth rally. At that point, as Bud Greenspan explained in Play It Again, Bud, 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. With Thomson coming up, Dodgers 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—who had been troubled by arm problems all season—was bouncing his curve balls short of the plate, and advised Dressen to bring Branca into the game to face Thomson. That decision has continually bewildered baseball historians: Branca had lost six of his last seven decisions, including 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. 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 by Dressen that inning.
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 opening game, but Dressen was unwilling to put the winning run on base; in a third controversial decision, he elected to pitch to Thomson rather than walk him. As Thomson later recalled, 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 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 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 goin' crazy, they're goin' 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 goin' crazy! The Giants! Horace Stoneham has got a winner! The Giants won it by a score of 5 to 4, and they're pickin' Bobby Thomson up, and carryin' 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. 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," 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.
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". The phrase quickly spread to other media, and "Shot Heard 'Round the World" soon became a widely-recognized 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 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".
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. 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, 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."
- 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.
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."
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. Joshua Prager, the author of the Journal article, outlined the evidence in greater detail in a 2008 book.
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." 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, then as now, is not specifically forbidden by MLB rules and, moral issues aside, "...has been a part of baseball since its inception".
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.
- Thomson's game bat and shoes are on display at the Hall exhibit.
- 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.
- 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.
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