One moment can alter the life of a human being forever.
Such was the case on October 3rd, 1951.
I was a lad of 12 years, stopping off at a friend’s house after school. He and his father were listening intensely to the small wood radio atop a dresser. Baseball. Didn’t interest me much…then. The mood seemed tense. I could hear the crowd hooting and hollering in the background as the announcer jabbered on over the static. My friend motioned me over to listen. Our ears neared the machine.
Ninth inning. The count was two balls and two strikes. Two men on base for the Giants. One more out and the Dodgers would win the pennant. Suddenly, the sound of a “crack” echoed in a brief chasm of silence. The crowd roared. The announcer (Russ Hodges) went ballistic, screaming over and over… “The GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT, THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT…” My friend and his father started dancing and screaming all over the living room, and I felt this surge of elation, caught up in the excitement, so I danced with them, singing, “The Giants Won The Pennant, The Giants Won The Pennant…” not knowing what I was talking about.
Bobby Thomson was no Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio. A journeyman ballplayer of average ability, born in Scotland, his name would have withered to obscurity in the annals of baseball history had it not been for one defining moment, one swing off one pitch from Dodger pitcher, Ralph Branca, that was sent sailing into the left field stands. Two months before, the Giants were 13 ½ games behind in the standings with no chance of ever catching the Dodgers before end of season. But they did. And the greatest miracle in baseball history was topped off with the “shot heard round the world,” the infamous Bobby Thomson home run that brought him, and Ralph Branca, fame and friendship for the rest of their lives. Ironically, the next batter on deck…had Thomson not hit that homer, was a rookie named Willie Mays.
Thomson’s career ended with a lifetime average of .270, playing for a number of teams during his fourteen year career. But his name will forever be associated with one of the greatest moments in all of sports. And, I was there….well, not exactly.
Bobby Thomson died two days ago at the age of 86. He played in the era of purity, when you could take your kid to a ballpark and watch a game, eat hot dogs, and spend less than five dollars for the day. Ballplayers who made it to the majors were grateful to the owners, relishing their average salaries of $13,000 a year in the early ‘50s. The best players name’s were synonymous with their teams, Mantle: Yankees, Feller: Indians, Koufax: Dodgers, and Mays: Giants. Times have changed.
They say addiction begins with that first high, and then a lifetime of trying to recapture that same feeling. Such was the case with baseball and me, for that was the day I experienced my first dose. It has since been a lifetime pursuit…to recapture that same feeling.
I’m still waiting.