‘Shot heard round the world’ was the sound of baseball’s spirit

I was surprised that it didn’t get more attention when Bobby Thomson passed away the other day. In October 1951 he was probably the most celebrated person in America (and the most cursed in Brooklyn.) Thomson blasted what was known as the ‘shot heard round the world’ — a 3-run homer off Ralph Branca to lift the New York Giants to a 5-4 ‘miracle’ victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the special National League tie-breaking playoff series.

Thomson’s home run was one of the most famous in baseball history. More than anything else, I think, what gave it such appeal among baseball fans is that it demonstrated that, in baseball, it truly ain’t over till it’s over (as Yogi Berra would say). The Giants had been trailing the Dodgers by 13 1/2 games on August 11. While the Dodgers seemed to try to coast after that, barely playing .500 ball over the last month-and-a-half of the season, the Giants won 37 of their last 44 games, including their last seven in a row.

Even with that extraordinary streak, the Giants just barely edged their way into a tie with the Dodgers, necessitating a three-game tie-breaking season. (That was before league playoffs became an annual event.) On the afternoon of October 3rd, the two teams found themselves tied at 1 game each. The Dodgers had a 4-1 lead going into the 9th, causing a lot of Giants fans to leave in despair. (Although I’m sure they all claimed later to still have been in the stadium when history was made.)

But the Giants rallied to pull to 4-2 with runners on 1st and 3rd. That brought up Thomson, who hit the 1-1 pitch over the fence and into baseball history.

It’s hard to imagine anything like that happening in any other sport. Oh sure, teams come back in football, basketball, hockey. And it can be quite exciting. But in all of those sports, teams that are trailing don’t just face their opponents. They face a clock. In baseball, the game doesn’t end until one team records 27 outs. It could go on forever.

I think that’s why Thomson’s home run was so celebrated — it signified baseball’s never-say-die spirit.

Perhaps it signified something else as well. The post-war belief that anything was possible, and nothing was impossible.

Allan Golombek

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