It was the bottom of the ninth inning at the Polo Grounds in New York on 3 October 1951. The Giants trailed the Dodgers 4-1. Alvin Dark and Don Mueller each got on base with singles to start the inning. Monte Irvin fouled out. Whitey Lockman hit a double to drive in Dark and send Mueller to third. Mueller, however, hurt his ankle sliding into the base and was replaced by a pinch runner, Clint Hartung. With two runners in scoring position, only one out in the inning, and the scoreboard now reading 4-2, Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen decides to replace pitcher Don Newcombe with Ralph Branca.
The rivalry between the Giants and the Dodgers had been an intense battle for the hearts of the fans of New York. It was also a rivalry that had been broadcast across the country, through television and radio. The Giants had trailed the Dodgers by 13.5 games in August, and yet managed to tie them on the last day of the season by going 37-7 in their remaining games. The tie resulted in the three-game playoff that would determine who would advance to the World Series. The teams split the first two games of the series, 1-1. It all came down to Game 3.
Outfielder Bobby Thomson now stepped up to the plate for the Giants. If Branca could close out the game, the Dodgers would be World Series bound, and the Giants’ miracle comeback season would come to an end…
This dramatic play-by-play by radio announcer Russ Hodges pretty much secured the moment’s legacy as one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history. Thomson described the experience, “I can remember feeling as if time was just frozen. It was a delirious, delicious moment.”
It is a moment that would also live forever in the memory of pitcher Ralph Branca:
“I wanted to say it was a cheap Polo Grounds home run. I wanted to say that in any other ballpark it’d be an easy out. I wanted to believe that I was dreaming. I didn’t want to believe that it was really happening. I wanted the pitch back.
“But the ball was gone and the game was over. The series was over. The pennant was lost.
“There was pandemonium. There was hysteria. There was Thomson rounding the bases. There was Durocher jumping up and down from the third-base coach’s box like a crazy child. There was confetti flying.”
Unfortunately for the Giants, the magic wouldn’t be enough to sustain them through the World Series. They would lose the championship to the New York Yankees in six games.
Nevertheless, “the shot heard ’round the world” is a moment that remains embedded in the heart of American culture. In 1999, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp celebrating Thomson’s homer. In ESPN’s SportsCentury, the moment ranked #2 in the list of the Ten Greatest Games of the 20th Century (behind the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants).
“Now it is done,” wrote Red Smith in The New York Herald Tribune. “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.”
Branca, Ralph. A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace. New York: Scribner, 2011.
Goldstein, Richard. “Bobby Thomson Dies at 86; Hit Epic Home Run.” New York Times 18 August 2010, New York ed.: A16.
MacCambridge, Michael, ed. ESPN SportsCentury. New York: Hyperion ESPN Books, 1999.
“Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Baseball Reference. Sports Reference LLC, 26 January 2013. Web. Accessed 30 April 2013. http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Shot_Heard_’Round_the_World
Sung by Terry Cashman, a parody of his own “Talkin’ Baseball,” is this little tune from America’s favorite cartoon, “The Simpsons.”
On 27 April 1971, Hank Aaron hit a 350-foot home run off pitcher Gaylord Perry. It was the 600th homer of his career, making him only the third player in baseball history to accomplish this feat, behind Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. In spite of the homer, Atlanta lost to the Giants 6-5 in ten innings. Ironically, it was Willie Mays’ tenth inning single that produced the Giants’ winning run.
On 25 April 1901, the American League opener was played at Bennett Park in Detroit. Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Tigers trailed Milwaukee 13-4. Astonishingly, Detroit scored ten runs to come back and win 14-13.
Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.
~A. Bartlett Giamatti
Here’s a clip I found that is simultaneously amusing and disturbing. I suppose it goes to show the power and influence of the game of baseball, even in its earliest years. The story originally printed in the New York Times on 23 September 1891.
For a larger version of the article, see the file in the New York Times archives here.
On 22 April 1970, during the pregame ceremony, New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver was presented with the 1969 Cy Young award. In the game that followed, Seaver struck out a record ten consecutive batters as he led the Mets to a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres. He struck out nineteen total hitters over the course of the game, which tied another Major League record. Even better, four of those batters struck out looking.
I guess Seaver didn’t want to leave any doubt that he really did deserve that Cy Young, eh?
Baseball returned to Boston yesterday.
In the wake of last Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings, the match up between the Red Sox and the Royals is another step in the return to normalcy for the city. Just watching the game on television, it wasn’t hard to get a feel for the intensely emotional atmosphere. Pre-game festivities included a slideshow of the events of the week, moments of silence and remembering, and a nod to the events in west Texas and China. The announcer’s declaration, “We will run another marathon,” brought cheers of agreement. Special guests to the game included Boston Marathon volunteers, law enforcement, Mayor Thomas Menino, and other political and public safety leaders of the area. And I don’t know about you, but I found the singing of the national anthem by the crowd to be particularly moving.
Then, of course, there was David Ortiz’s brief address:
It wasn’t just the Boston crowd that was touched by the ceremony. The Kansas City club, which wore the “B Strong” patches on their uniforms in support for the city, was also moved by the display. “It was special, it was cool,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “I almost started crying at some of the points, so it was a special moment and we were happy to be a part of it.”
In addition to recovery from the events of the past week, yesterday also marked the 101st anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park. The Red Sox capped the days festivities with a 4-3 victory for the day, as starting pitcher Clay Buchholz went eight innings and improved his record to 4-0.
Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game.
Published 1923 in The Dial, this poem by William Carlos Williams depicts the growing popularity and diversity of baseball in the early twentieth century. During the 1920s, baseball became one of the biggest forms of entertainment in urban America. American workers were known to gather around newspapers to read box scores, and those that could manage it flocked to the new ballparks that were being built. The crowds at games came to represent the melting pot that America was becoming, as working-class immigrants took as much an interest in the game as the middle- to upper-classes did in baseball’s early years.
The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly
by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them—
all the exciting detail
of the chase
and the escape, the error
the flash of genius—
all to no end save beauty
So in detail they, the crowd,
to be warned against
saluted and defied—
It is alive, venomous
it smiles grimly
its words cut—
The flashy female with her
mother, gets it—
The Jew gets it straight— it
is deadly, terrifying—
It is the Inquisition, the
It is beauty itself
day by day in them
the power of their faces
It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is
cheering, the crowd is laughing