Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bobby Thomson, 1923-2010. R.I.P.

Former major league outfielder Bobby Thomson died yesterday after a long illness. He was 86.

The Scottish born Thomson played in the big leagues for 15 seasons with the New York Giants (twice), Milwaukee Braves, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. He drove in 100 or more runs four times in his career and was thrice named to the National League All-Star Team. Thomson collected more than 1,700 hits and finished with a respectable .270 career batting average.

But Thomson would have been largely forgotten except by baseball diehards if not for his Shot Heard 'Round The World off Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca on October 3, 1951 to win the National League pennant. Less than two months earlier, the Giants were 13½ games back of the Dodgers. But beginning with a sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies during an August 12th doubleheader the Giants won 16 games in a row en route to winning 37 of their last 44 games.

On the final day of the regular season, the Giants had tied the Dodgers for first place forcing a three game playoff. The Giants won the first game 3-1 at Ebbets Field on the strength of a Thomson homerun off - who else? - Ralph Branca. The Dodgers, however, would get even the following day at the Polo Grounds with a 10-0 walloping of the Giants on the strength of a six-hit complete game shutout by Clem Labine. In the decisive third game, the Giants were down 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth when with Thomson coming to the plate Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen took out starter Don Newcombe in favor of Branca. Thomson hit Branca's second pitch over the left field wall.

While the Giants would win their first NL pennant since 1937 they would lose in six games to the crosstown New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series. Yet given the manner in which the Giants overcame the Dodgers and also given the emphatic call of Thomson's homerun by Russ Hodges it hardly seemed to matter. Forever linked by the most memorable homerun in the history of Major League Baseball, Thomson and Branca would become lifelong friends.

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