Seventy years have gone by, a generation and then some of baseball history. And yet, there are moments that live on, preserved by the memory of all who experienced it.
Almost all of the players are gone now, all except the great Willie Mays, who was a 20-year-old rookie kneeling in the on-deck circle on Oct. 3, 1951, the day that Bobby Thomson hit The Shot Heard Round The World.
That iconic three-run home run, in the bottom of the ninth inning of the final playoff game, clinched the pennant for the New York Giants and still resonates all these years later for those who saw it.
As Thomson circled the bases, sort of running on air, the Dodgers — Hodges, Robinson, Reese, Campanella, Snider, Furillo et al – the storied Boys of Summer, watched in stunned disbelief. They had blown a 13 ½ game lead in the season’s last six weeks and then blew a 4-1 lead in the last inning of the last playoff game.
In the third base coach’s box, Giants manager Leo Durocher, the former Dodgers skipper, embraced Eddie Stanky, the former Dodger second baseman, celebrating an iconic moment of baseball history. On the mound, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca slammed a resin bag in disgust, destined to be remembered forever by the decisive pitch he threw to Thomson.
Two days earlier, Thomson tagged Branca for a home run in the first game of the 3-game playoff. Durocher reminded Thomson he had hit a slider and that he wouldn’t see that pitch again. He was right. Branca, a curveball specialist, threw a fastball.
On the Giants bench, there was anguish. Branca had given Thomson a pitch to hit and Thomson had not swung. He almost certainly would not see another one that good.
And then, he did.
Thomson swung at Branca’s second fastball and sent it into the lower deck of left field at the oddly shaped Polo Grounds. In the press box, broadcaster Russ Hodges delivered an iconic account of the moment.
“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!’’
Fast forward 70 years and the Giants and Dodgers are at it again, this time in California, each equipped with over 100 wins, each knowing one of them will win the National League West division race and the other will be relegated to a one-game wild card showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals, who reeled off a 17-game winning streak in the season’s final weeks.
It has the potential for another memorable finish, but it will have to go some to top The Shot Heard Round The World.