Biography, Books for the News

Bobby Thomson, Leo Durocher, and the “shot heard ’round the world”

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Bobby Thomson who famously hit the ninth-inning homer that handed the Giants the 1951 National League pennant 5-4 against the Dodgers—colloquially known as the “shot heard ’round the world”—passed away Monday at his home in Savannah, Georgia. He was 86.
There are many accounts of the fateful moment that rocketed Thomson to baseball stardom, a moment which some would argue was one of the most dramatic in the history of baseball. Thomson’s obituary in the NYT quotes the eminently quotable mid-century sportswriter Red Smith:

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.

But such hyperbolic journalistic accounts aside, first-hand narratives of the action from the players themselves are a bit more rare. In 2009 the press published Leo Durocher’s Nice Guys Finish Last. Durocher is known not only for sharing in the glory of Thomson’s win as the Giants’ manager at the time (only a few years earlier he was given the boot by the Dodger’s GM), but also for an entire career as one of the most loud mouth, cantankerous, and controversial figures to ever spit on an umpire. Here’s a passage from his book capturing Thomson’s iconic home run:

So the first pitch came right down Thomson’s alley, right where he liked it, and he took it for a strike.
Bobby looked at me, his eyes lifted in disgust, and I hollered, “Come on! He’ll throw you another one.”
I’m not thinking of a home run; a home run never occurred to me. This is the last inning, we’ve got to get that tying run in, that’s about all I’m thinking about. Now, when the ball left Thompson’s bat I knew it was going to hit the wall, but it didn’t occur to me it was going over. There were very few home runs hit into the lower deck at the Polo Grounds, because of the overhang from the upper deck. Only a line shot—a rising line drive—ever went there. This one was far too low to hit the overhang, and it was a sinking line drive. I can’t remember any ball hit like that ever going in before.…
I blanked out. The last picture I have in my mind is of seeing the fans reaching and jumping in the left field bleachers, frozen and unmoving, like a still photo. Lockman is halfway down the line, caught in full stride—and as improbable as it sounds—Pee Wee Reese is still in his normal position at shortstop, with his hands on his knees, looking back over his head, his mouth open in surprise. All of it frozen, you understand, like a picture. Like one huge mural.

Read Bobby Thomson’s obituary in the New York Times, or check out these Youtube videos of “the shot heard ’round the world” and a 1950’s newsreel on Leo Durocher’s managerial career.
To find out more about Durocher’s Nice Guys Finish Last read this excerpt.