Miracle of Coogan's Bluff by Red Smith New York Herald Tribune, October 4, 1951
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.
Down on the green and white and earth-brown geometry of the playing field, a drunk tries to break through the ranks of ushers marshalled along the foul lines to keep profane feet off the diamond. The ushers thrust him back and he lunges at them, struggling in the clutch of two or three men. He breaks free and four or five tackle him. He shakes them off, bursts through the line, runs head on into a special park cop who brings him down with a flying tackle.
Here comes a whole platoon of ushers. They lift the man and haul him, twisting and kicking, back across the first-base line. Again he shakes loose and crashes the line. He is away, weaving out toward center field where cheering thousands are jammed beneath the windows of the Giants' clubhouse.
At heart, our man is a Giant, too. He never gave up.
From center field comes burst upon burst of cheering. Pennants are waving, uplifted fists are brandished, hats are flying. Again and again, the dark clubhouse windows blaze with the light of photographers' flash bulbs. Here comes that same drunk out of the mob, back across the green turf to the infield. Coat tails flying, he runs the bases, slides into third. Nobody bothers him now.
And the story remains to be told, the story of how the Giants won the 1951 pennant in the National League....The tale of their barreling run through August and September and into October....On the final day of the season when they won the championship and started home with it from Boston, to hear on the train how the dead, defeated Dodgers had risen from the ashes in the Philadelphia twilight....Of the three-game playoff in which they won, and lost and were losing again with one out in the ninth inning yesterday when — Oh, why bother?
Maybe this is the way to tell it: Bobby Thomson, a young Scot from Staten Island, delivered a timely hit yesterday in the ninth inning of an enjoyable game of baseball before 34,320 witnesses in the Polo Grounds....Or perhaps this is better:
"Well," said Whitey Lockman, standing on second base in the second inning of yesterday's playoff game between the Giants and Dodgers.
"Ah, there," said Bobby Thomson, pulling into the same station after hitting a ball to left field. "How've you been?"
"Fancy," Lockman said, "meeting you here!"
"Ooops!" Thomson said. "Sorry."
And the Giants' first chance for a big inning against Don Newcombe disappeared as they tagged him out. Up in the press section, the voices of Willie Goodrich came over the amplifiers announcing a macabre statistic: "Thomson has now hit safely in fifteen consecutive games." Just then the floodlights were turned on, enabling the Giants to see and count their runners on each base.
It wasn't funny, though, because it seemed for so long that the Giants weren't going to get another chance like the one Thomson squandered by trying to take second base with a playmate already there. They couldn't hit Newcombe and the Dodgers couldn't do anything wrong. Sal Maglie's most splendorous pitching would avail nothing unless New York could match the run Brooklyn had scored in the first inning.
The story was winding up, and it wasn't the happy ending which such a tale demands. Poetic justice was a phrase without meaning.
Now it was the seventh inning and Thomson was up with runners on first and third, none out. Pitching a shutout in Philadelphia last Saturday night, pitching again in Philadelphia on Sunday, holding the Giants scoreless this far, Newcombe had now gone twenty-one innings without allowing a run.
He threw four strikes to Thomson. Two were fouled off out of play. Then he threw a fifth. Thomson's fly scored Monte Irvin. The score was tied. It was a new ball game.
Wait a moment, though. Here's Pee Wee Reese hitting safely in the eighth. Here's Duke Snider singling Reese to third. Here's Maglie, wild — pitching a run home. Here's Andy Pafko slashing a hit through Thomson for another score. Here's Billy Cox batting still another home. Where does his hit go? Where else? Through Thomson at third.
So it was the Dodgers ball game, 4 to 1, and the Dodgers' pennant. So all right. Better get started and beat the crowd home. That stuff in the ninth inning? That didn't mean anything.
A single by Al Dark. A single by Don Mueller. Irvin's pop-up. Lockman's one-run double. Now the corniest possible sort of Hollywood schmaltz — stretcher bearers plodding away with an injured Mueller between them, symbolic of the Giants themselves.
There went Newcombe and here came Ralph Branca. Who's at bat? Thomson again? He beat Branca with a home run the other day. Would Charlie Dressen order him walked, putting the winning run on base, to pitch to the dead-end kids at the bottom of the batting order? No, Branca's first pitch was called a strike.
The second pitch — well, when Thomson reached first base he turned and looked toward the left-field stands. Then he started jumping straight up in the air, again and again. Then he trotted around the bases, taking his time.
Ralph Branca turned and started for the clubhouse. The number on his uniform looked huge. Thirteen.
If you were a Giants or Dodgers fan on Oct. 3, 1951, you remember where you were at 3:57 p.m., as well as you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor.
Russ Hodges was the Giants broadcaster.
"Hartung down the line at third, not taking any chances. Lockman without too big of a lead at second, but he'll be running like the wind if Thomson hits one. Branca throws. There's a long drive. It's gonna be it, 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 leftfield stands. The Giants win the pennant! And they're going crazy! They're going crazy! Waaa-hoooo!"
Bobby Thomson Dies at 86; Hit Epic Home Run
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN The New York Times August 17, 2010
Bobby Thomson, who swatted the most famous home run in baseball history — the so-called “shot heard round the world” — for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 3, 1951, to cap baseball’s most memorable pennant drive, died Monday at his home in Savannah, Ga. He was 86.
His death was announced by his daughter Megan Thomson Armstrong, who said he had been in failing health and had recently had a fall.
Partly because of the fierce rivalry between the Giants and the Dodgers; partly because it was broadcast from coast to coast on television; and partly because it was memorably described in a play-by-play call by the Giants radio announcer Russ Hodges, Thomson’s three-run homer endures as perhaps the most dramatic moment in baseball history. It was a stirring conclusion to the Giants’ late-summer comeback, known as the Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff, and remains an enduring symbol of victory snatched from defeat (and vice versa).
“I can remember feeling as if time was just frozen,” Thomson once said. “It was a delirious, delicious moment.”
It was the bottom of the ninth inning in the third game of a three-game playoff. The Giants were down by two runs and the count was no balls and one strike. Branca, who had just come into the game, delivered a high fastball to Thomson, perhaps a bit inside. In the radio broadcast booth, Hodges watched the baseball fly off Thomson’s bat.
“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! ...
“I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it, I do not believe it!”
Thomson’s home run propelled the Giants to a 5-4 victory, he and Branca became bonded as baseball’s ultimate hero and goat, and the moment became enshrined in American culture. In 1999, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating Thomson’s drive, and Don DeLillo used the baseball he hit as a relic of memory in the acclaimed 1997 novel “Underworld.”
Robert Brown Thomson was born on Oct. 25, 1923, in Glasgow and arrived in the United States at age 2. The son of a cabinetmaker, he grew up on Staten Island and signed with the Giants’ organization for a $100 bonus in 1942 out of Curtis High School.
A right-handed batter with good power and excellent speed, Thomson was in his fifth full season with the Giants in 1951. He got off to a slow start, playing center field, then went to the bench in May when the Giants called up a 20-year-old rookie named Willie Mays. But Thomson was playing regularly again by late July, this time at third base, and he hit better than .350 over the final two months of the season.
In mid-August, the Giants trailed the first-place Dodgers by 13 ½ games, and the Dodgers’ manager, Charlie Dressen, had proclaimed, “The Giants is dead.” But they went on a 16-game winning streak, and they tied the Dodgers for the National League lead on the season’s final weekend.
The Giants won the playoff opener, 3-1, at Ebbets Field, behind Thomson’s two-run homer off Branca, the Dodgers starter. But the Dodgers romped, 10-0, the next day at the Polo Grounds.
On Wednesday afternoon, the teams returned to the Polo Grounds to play for the pennant. It was an overcast day, and the attendance was just 34,320 — some 22,000 below capacity — for a duel of pitching aces, the Giants’ Sal Maglie against the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe.
Thomson blundered in the second inning, trying to stretch a hit into a double while his teammate Whitey Lockman was standing at second base; Thomson was tagged out in a rundown. His fly ball tied the score at 1-1 in the seventh, but in the eighth he let two ground balls get by him at third base for singles in the Dodgers’ three-run rally, giving them a 4-1 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants had runners on second and third with one run in and one out. Dressen removed Newcombe and waved in Branca to face Thomson, who had hit 31 home runs that season, two against Branca.
“I kept telling myself: ‘Wait and watch. Give yourself a chance to hit,’ ” Thomson remembered.
Branca threw a fastball and Thomson moved his bat slightly but took a strike.
Branca delivered a second fastball, and this time Thomson sent the ball on a line toward the 16-foot-high green wall in left field. “Sink, sink, sink,” Branca told himself.
The Dodgers’ Andy Pafko slumped against the wall as the ball cleared the top and landed in the lower deck.
Thomson galloped around the bases as Branca began a long walk to the center-field clubhouse. Eddie Stanky, the Giants’ second baseman, and Leo Durocher, the manager, hugged each other in a madcap dance in the third-base coach’s box and grabbed at Thomson as he reached the bag. He broke away and arrived at home plate with a leap, surrounded by teammates who carried him on their shoulders.
“Now it is done,” Red Smith wrote 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.”
Thomson’s home run eventually became entangled in revelations of a sign-stealing operation conducted by the Giants in 1951, related by the sports columnist Dave Anderson of The New York Times in his book “Pennant Races” (1994) and by Joshua Prager in The Wall Street Journal in 2001 and in his book “The Echoing Green” (2006).
Prager reported that several players on the 1951 Giants, including Thomson, had confirmed that they stole opposing catchers’ signals for much of the season via a buzzer system using a “spy” with a telescope in the center-field clubhouse at the Polo Grounds. But Thomson told Prager that he was not tipped off to the kind of pitch Branca would be throwing when he hit the pennant-winning homer.
In an interview last month, Branca said he felt that Thomson did receive a signal from the Giants’ bullpen that a fastball was coming on that fateful pitch.
“When you took signs all year, and when you had a chance to hit a bloop or hit a home run, would you ignore that sign?” Branca said. “He knew it was coming. Absolutely.”
The rest of Thomson’s career was anticlimax. He performed no World Series miracles as the Giants were beaten by the Yankees in six games. He was traded to the Milwaukee Braves in February 1954, but soon afterward broke an ankle sliding in an exhibition game. He played for the Giants again in 1957, then with the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, and retired after the 1960 season with a batting average of .270 and 264 home runs over 15 years.
After leaving baseball, Thomson, a quiet, modest man, became a sales executive with the Westvaco paper-products company, now part of MeadWestvaco. “I wanted to get a responsible job, stay home more with my wife and daughter and live a normal life,” he said.
Thomson lived in Watchung, N.J., until 2006, when he moved to Savannah to be near his daughter Nancy Mitchell. She survives him, as do his daughter Megan Thomson Armstrong, of Milford, N.J., and six grandchildren. Thomson’s wife, Elaine, died in 1993.
In an interview Tuesday, Mays, who was on deck when Thomson hit his epic homer, recalled how grateful he was to Thomson for helping him adjust to the major leagues when he arrived with the Giants as a rookie in 1951 and Durocher put him in center field.
“Leo wanted him to move to third base,” Mays said of Thomson. “He didn’t have a problem with that. That’s class.”
Over the years, Thomson appeared with Branca at old-timers’ games, baseball dinners and autograph shows. They donated much of the money they made to charity and forged a certain closeness.
At one joint appearance on the 40th anniversary of his dramatic home run, Thomson remarked that “Ralph didn’t run away and hide.”
Branca responded, “I lost a game, but I made a friend.”