Tuesday, October 2

From Goat to Hero in One Swing

Baseball history back to back? It's that time of year! And Art and I are on the same page. Think of it as a "home and home" series. Yesterday it was my story about Babe Ruth's "called shot" and today it's Art's about Bobby Thompson's "Shot heard 'round the world."

Image courtesy of the NY Post

By Art Cashin

On this day (+1) in 1951, a very unique event occurred.  Er...... Make that a spectacular event.  Oh. Hell!  Before I run out of paper and adjectives let me simply quote what the great writer Red Smith said about it the day after it happened.

"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 in-expressively fantastic, can ever be plausible again....."
The event was a baseball game.  More correctly "the" event was how the game ended.

If you had reached the age of reason by A.D. 1951 you probably know what it was, particularly if you lived east of the Mississippi and if you are short in the soul department you probably call it "Bobby Thomson's Home Run". But if you know about epics and heroes and miracles and tragedies it was something special and you may never forget it. A visit to the library might tell you that it was a special pennant race.

The Giants had lost 11 in a row in April and wallowed  way back in the pack.  Duroucher moved Thomson to 3rd and replaced him in centerfield with a kid named Willie Mays.  The Giants played okay ball thereafter but lagged their arch-rivals, the spectacularly talented Dodgers.  In mid-August they were 13 1/2 games behind the "Bums."

Then the miracle started.  The Giants won 16 games in a row with Thomson [the Flying Scot] a key factor.  In the final week they caught the Dodgers and forced a playoff.  The Giants won the first of 3 by a score of 3-1.  The Dodgers answered with a 10-0 drubbing.  Thus the stage was set for great drama.

Game three - - all about America and baseball.  In the 1st inning, Jackie Robinson singled in a run.  Dodger's up 1.  Then in the 2nd inning, Thomson sends a drive into left and tries to stretch it to a double. Unfortunately, when he reaches 2nd, he finds it already occupied by his teammate Whitey Lockman.  Thomson is tagged out in a chorus of boos.

In the 7th, the Giants manage to tie the game.  But in the 8th the Dodgers pull ahead 4-1 on a couple of hits and lots of sloppy fielding by Thomson.  As the inning ends, boos, thrown beer cups and a lynch mob are looking for Thomson as he heads for the dugout.

Finally, the last of the 9th, in a hopeless situation.  But, Al Dark singles, Don Mueller hits a grounder just past Hodges and the  stands come alive.  Dodger manager, Dressen checks on his pitcher Don Newcombe but leaves him in to face the cleanup hitter, Monty Irvin.  Irvin pops out.  But Lockman doubles down the left fieldline sending home Dark but causing Mueller to sprain his ankle sliding into 3rd.  As the stretcher came out for Mueller, Dressen went to the bullpen - - for his ace, Ralph Branca even though he had pitched a full game just 2 days ago.

Thomson was the batter and there was a smattering of boos as he stepped to the plate.  On deck was the whiz kid Mays (who had struck out and hit into a double play) but why put the winning run on base.  So Branca pitched to Thomson. The first pitch was a sizzling strike right over the plate.  The second probably should have been a ball but Thomson stepped back in the bucket and hit a high inside fast ball in a huge arc toward left field.  The fans, the broadcasters and even Andy Pafko the Dodger left-fielder watched in amazement as the ball cleared the Polo Grounds wall by 18 inches (just above the 315-foot mark).

For the next 50 years, this event would pale other great deeds in the American male psyche.  Goats as heroes.  Heroes as goats.  Logic a victim of legend.  Homer and Shakespeare would have loved it.  And Thomson might have become the eternal symbol of the Giants - - but they traded him two years later.

To celebrate, stop by the Bottom of the Ninth.  Have a couple of sliders and tell the Rookie on the stool next to you that baseball is like Wall Street.  Here too there are chances to redeem yourself.  Here too you can become an instant legend even a national/hero - - provided you don't strike out at a critical moment.

Editors note: Art likes baseball, sometimes he even plays it. 

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

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