Bobby Thomson

  • Born: October 25, 1923
  • Died: August 16, 2010
  • Location: Savannah, Georgia

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From left, New York Giants' Bobby Thomson, Larry Jansen and Sal Maglie celebrate their win over the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the National League pennant, at the Polo Grounds in New York.

Famed home run hitter dead at 86

BEN WALKER, The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — We've heard the frenzied call forever, echoing through baseball lore.

"The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

Bobby Thomson, the man immortalized with his "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951, died Monday night at his home in Savannah, Ga. He was 86 and had been in failing health for several years, the Fox & Weeks funeral home said Tuesday.

He was a good player, not a Hall of Famer. Yet on that October afternoon, with one swing, Thomson transformed a pennant race for one season into a baseball moment for the ages.

He hit perhaps the sport's most famous home run, connecting off Ralph Branca for a three-run drive in the bottom of the ninth inning that sent the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the decisive Game 3 of their National League playoff.

The drive into the left-field stands at the Polo Grounds and broadcaster Russ Hodges' ecstatic declaration — four times shouting "the Giants win the pennant!" — remain one of the signature moments in major league history.

"I never thought it was going to be that big. Hell, no," Branca told The Associated Press from his home in suburban New York. "When we went into the next season, I thought it'd be forgotten."

"I'll miss him," Branca said. "I mellowed over the years and we became good friends. I enjoyed being around him."

A three-time All-Star as an infielder and outfielder, Thomson hit .270 with 264 career home runs and 1,026 RBIs from 1946-60 with several teams. He led the league in a hitting category only once, and that was for triples.

But the fly ball that flew over the wall vaulted "The Flying Scot" to a place of almost mythic status. There have been plenty of historic home runs over the years — Bill Mazeroski, Kirk Gibson, Carlton Fisk and Joe Carter, to name a few — but Thomson's shot stands as the giant among them all.

The tall, lanky and self-effacing Thomson, however, was stunned that in a lineup that included future Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Monte Irvin, he would hit the pennant-winning homer. He called himself "the accidental hero."

Thomson never quite understood all the fuss the homer created. On its 40th anniversary in 1991, he said, "I can't believe we're still talking about it."

"Bobby Thomson will always hold a special place in our game for hitting one of the signature home runs in baseball history. 'The Shot Heard 'Round the World' will always remain a defining moment for our game, illustrating the timeless quality of the national pastime," commissioner Bud Selig said.

The home run decided one of the most memorable pennant races, and later led to one of its most-debated questions: Did he know Branca was going to throw the high-and-inside fastball that Thomson hit out of the park?

More than a half-century later, it was revealed the Giants during the season had used a buzzer-and-telescope system to steal signals from opposing catchers. Helped by the inside information, the Giants overcame a 13½-game deficit to the Dodgers, won 37 of their final 44 games and forced a playoff.

Thomson always insisted he did not know what pitch was coming when he connected. Branca was never quite so sure.

For years, Thomson and Branca appeared together at functions of all kinds, a modern-day Abbott & Costello act, their retelling of the moment filled with fine-tuned comic touches and playful jabs. Often, Branca would prompt Thomson to claim more of the credit.

Only one thing was missing from their act: the home run ball itself. The prize remains an elusive souvenir, with several people claiming to have it but no one able to prove.

"We did award shows, dinners, autograph shows, golf outings, maybe five or six a year," Branca said.

Thomson moved south about five years ago to be closer to one of his daughters. Branca said he hadn't seen him for a couple of years.

Long after the Giants and Dodgers left town and moved west, Thomson remained a recognized figure on New York streets. Taxi drivers, office workers and pedestrians of a certain age would stop him or call out his name — the old Giants fans cheered, the Dodgers crowd, not so much.

Thomson hit a career-high 32 home runs in 1951, and his shot on Oct. 3 sent the Giants into the World Series the next day. He hit a mere .238 without a home run as his team lost in six games to the crosstown New York Yankees, who were in the midst of winning a record five straight crowns.

The luster from Thomson's shot, though, never dimmed. There was even a funny postscript, provided by the great Yogi Berra.

Berra and some of his Yankees teammates attended Game 3 of the Dodgers-Giants playoff, eager to see which team they would face. But after Brooklyn scored three times in the eighth inning for a 4-1 lead, Berra decided he'd seen enough and wanted to beat the late-afternoon traffic.

Yep, it's true. The man who coined the phrase "it ain't over till it's over" thought it was over and actually left the Polo Grounds and was driving home when Thomson homered.

"Bobby was a heck of a guy," Berra said Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

Moments of silence for Thomson were held at Yankee Stadium, where the grainy, black-and-white clip of his homer was shown on the videoboard, and Fenway Park.

Thomson's home run came during an era that baseball fondly calls "The Golden Age," a time when the sport was No. 1 in America and New York was its epicenter. The pennant race between those longtime rivals, the Giants and Dodgers, only heightened the tension.

New York won Game 1 of the playoff as Thomson homered against Branca in what turned out to be an eerie precursor. Brooklyn won Game 2 in a rout, setting up a winner-take-all rematch.

Down 4-1 in the ninth, the Giants began to rally when Alvin Dark and Don Mueller led off with singles against Don Newcombe. After Irvin fouled out, Whitey Lockman hit an RBI double that made it 4-2.

Mueller broke his ankle sliding into third and was replaced by pinch-runner Clint Hartung — in fact, a little more than a month ago, Hartung died.

Branca then relieved Newcombe and on an 0-1 pitch, Thomson connected. And the rest, really, was history.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Thomson was named after an uncle who was killed in World War I. He came to the United States in 1926 when he was 3 years old and the family settled in Staten Island, N.Y., where he played high school and semipro ball. He worked out for both the Giants and Dodgers and after signing a contract with the Giants in 1942, he spent three years in the military during World War II.

When Thomson came to the major leagues in 1947, he was a fleet center fielder, often called "The Staten Island Scot," and lauded for his speed, but he was an anomaly in a lineup of slow-footed sluggers.

The Giants hit 221 homers in Thomson's rookie season and he had 29 of them. By 1949, Thomson was a prominent hitter in the lineup, batting .309 with 27 homers and 109 RBIs.

The rivalry with the Dodgers was as intense as any in sports, two teams in the same city, playing in the same league. There seemed a genuine dislike for each other by the players and sometimes it overshadowed the games.

When he hit the homer, Thomson recalled the emotion of the moment. "I remember thinking, 'We beat the Dodgers! We beat the Dodgers!'" Then, almost as an afterthought, "We won the pennant!"

The home run made him an immediate New York icon. There were television appearances, banquet speeches, the whole range of spoils for a low-profile outfielder who won a pennant with one dramatic swing.

But sentiment goes only so far in baseball front offices and in February 1954, the Giants traded Thomson to the Milwaukee Braves for four players and cash.

In a spring training exhibition game, Thomson broke his ankle trying to break up a double play. His roster spot went to a rookie who would fill in admirably for the Braves. Hank Aaron went on to set a record with 755 home runs.

Thomson spent two seasons with the Braves and then was traded back to the Giants in 1957, their last season in New York. Then there were cameo appearances with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.

Thomson was a businessman after he retired and stayed around the New York area for many years.

"He was a real gentleman and I think he handled his role well, too, being the hero of that series," said former Brooklyn pitcher Carl Erskine, who was warming up in the bullpen when Branca was summoned. "I think he and Branca turned that incident into two real pros who handled that in a real class way."

Thomson joined other members of the 1951 Giants team at AT&T Park in San Francisco for a celebration in July 2002.

"Many of us in the organization had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Bobby and for that we will be forever grateful," Giants managing partner Bill Neukom said.

Thomson's survivors include two daughters, Megan and Nancy.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed to this report.

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Reactions to the death of Bobby Thomson

The Associated Press, The Associated Press

Quotes on the death of Bobby Thomson, who hit the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" off Brooklyn's Ralph Branca to decide Game 3 of the 1951 National League pennant playoff between the New York Giants and Dodgers:

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"Bobby fulfilled his dream, more so because he wound up being a hero, forever and ever. Amen. And baseball thrives I hope — on heroes. Not on goats. On heroes. So I think it's a moment to look back on with great joy for Bobby, and tremendous respect and admiration for Ralph Branca. ... When I think of Bobby Thomson, I think of Ralph Branca. You see, the two names are like the two sides of a coin. One cannot exist without the other." — Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. The Hall of Fame announcer was in the booth working for the Dodgers when Thomson homered, but was not on the air that day.

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"If Thomson was going to hit that home run, you could have brought Cy Young in and he would have hit it. Nobody expected Thomson to hit that shattering home run." — Former Brooklyn pitcher Carl Erskine, who was warming in the bullpen when Branca was summoned.

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"I never thought it was going to be that big. Hell, no. When we went into the next season, I thought it'd be forgotten." — Branca.

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"It lasted forever because it happened in New York. I've often thought, in retrospect, there are a lot of home runs that were just as important, like Ozzie Smith's home run against the Dodgers in St. Louis, or Jack Clark's home run here, or Gabby Hartnett's homer for the Cubs in Pittsburgh, which they called the 'Homer in the Gloaming.' But they did not occur in New York. But because this one was in New York, it was pumped up year after year. And they've been fanning the embers since 1951." — Scully.

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"Bobby Thomson will always hold a special place in our game for hitting one of the signature home runs in baseball history. 'The Shot Heard 'Round the World' will always remain a defining moment for our game, illustrating the timeless quality of the national pastime.

"Bobby's baseball career was highlighted by that long drive at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 3, 1951, but 'The Flying Scot' was an accomplished, three-time All-Star in a 15-year major league career. A true gentleman, Bobby was a perfect choice to have earned one of the game's most memorable moments." — Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

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"I was sitting at home watching it on television, giving a play-by-play on the phone to my sister, who was at work. I screamed when Bobby hit the home run, and we got cut off — which really aggravated me because she worked for the telephone company. So that shouldn't have been the case. It was exciting for me that day because, living in Brooklyn and being a Giants fan, I was able to go out there and brag about it." — Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who was 11 years old when Thomson's home run broke hearts all over Brooklyn.

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"Bobby and I saw each other in later years at car shows and baseball reunions, a real gentleman and as much as I hated the Giants, or we did, we had great respect for each other, I think. We look at those orange and black uniforms, there was professional hatred going on then, but in real life there was great respect for people on the Giants and I think it was the same way." — Erskine.

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"While Bobby was so well known throughout the world as the man who hit the most famous home run in baseball history, he was also a true gentleman who showed the respect for the game and carried himself with dignity that is so important to baseball." — San Francisco Giants managing general partner Bill Neukom.

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"Bobby was a great ballplayer. And I think if anybody had a chance to enjoy the fame that he enjoyed, I'm glad it was Bobby Thomson." — Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, who started for Brooklyn on the day Thomson hit his famous home run.

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Broadcaster Russ Hodges' call on Thomson's homer

The Associated Press, The Associated Press

Russ Hodges was announcing Game 3 of the 1951 NL pennant playoff between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers on WMCA radio in New York. Hodges' exuberant call of Bobby Thomson's winning home run, the "Shot Heard 'Round the World":

"Hartung down the line at third, not taking any chances. Lockman without too big of a lead at second, but he'll be runnin' like the wind if Thomson hits one.

"Branca throws. 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!"


Condolence & Memory Journal

Kits for those are available.These are very hard to make. They look easy, but they are not. Basically, there are 2 cocduntors with a hollow insulating pipe in between. The bottom conductor is grounded to earth (usually through the AC power cord ground lead). The top conductor should be a smooth-surfaced dome.A felt band is run from the bottom to the top through the pipe. As the felt runs over the bottom pulley (made of a particular hard rubber), static charges separate from the friction and travel up the belt, where little conductive wire fingers pick up the charge and deposit it onto the dome. THe top pulley should be made of a different material that does not produce static when the felt belt runs over it (felt-lined wood or something). At the base, the rubber bearing and axle are attached to earth ground.The tricky part is getting the proper materials (pulley and belt), and the proper spacing for the pick-up-fingers at the top. It's hard to get it all properly aligned, and setup that's why a kit is a better choice..

Posted by Komar - BrqexJ4M, SD - AfO9eADdehB   June 14, 2015

Candle

I just recently learned the full story of "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" watching Ken Burns' awesome documentary, 'Baseball.' Baseball fans of any age can appreciate the triumph of that historic moment and what it meant to the people of New York and fans everywhere throughout the ages. Bobby will be remembered for a miraculous moment and a great career.

Posted by Kimmie G. - Beverly, MA   August 18, 2010


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This Oct. 3, 1951, file photo shows New York Giants baseball player Bobby Thomson, center, being hugged by New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham, left, and manager Leo Durocher in the dressing room after their championship playoff victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds in New York.
From left, New York Giants' Bobby Thomson, Larry Jansen and Sal Maglie celebrate their win over the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the National League pennant, at the Polo Grounds in New York.
This Oct. 3, 1951, file photo shows member of the New York Giants baseball team greeting teammate Bobby Thomson, center rear with hand raised, after Thomson's ninth-inning homerun against the Brooklyn Dodgers
This Oct. 3, 1951, file photo shows Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants hitting a home run, to win the national League pennant against the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the ninth ining of a baseball game at the Polo Grounds in New York.
This Oct. 3, 1991, file photo shows former Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player Ralph Branca, right, pretending to choke former New York Giants player Bobby Thomson, on the 40th anniversary of Thomson's Oct. 3, 1951 ninth inning homer.
This Oct. 3, 1951, file photo shows New York Giants baseball player Bobby Thomson waving from the clubhouse steps to a crowd of fans at the Polo Grounds in New York.

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New York Giants baseball legend Bobby Thomson, left, talks with former New York Knicks star Dave DeBusschere at a cocktail party before the 21st Annual Thurman Munson Awards dinner Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2001, in New York.
Former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca, third left, and Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants, third right, ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2001, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of "The Shot Heard 'Round the World."