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Caple: 1951 was a very good year
Neyer: Septembers to remember
Smith: Thomson authored an unlikely ending
DeLillo: "Pafko at the Wall"
Neyer: The Giants stole the pennant!
Chat wrap: Ralph Branca
Shot heard 'round the world
Russ Hodges' call of Bobby Thomson pennant-winning home run in 1951.
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Monday, October 1, 2001
Giants fans weren't the only ones "going crazy"
By Dave Campbell
A large part of the mystique of Russ Hodges' call of Bobby Thomson's home run to win the 1951 pennant comes from the circumstances surrounding the situation. The Giants played tremendous baseball down the stretch to force a three game playoff against the Dodgers. Considering the Giants were trailing the Dodgers by 13 1/2 games in August, the playoff itself was something of a miracle.
Thomson hit a home run in the Game 1 of the series that the Giants won in Brooklyn. In Game 2, back at the Polo Grounds, the Dodgers slaughtered the Giants 10-0. For the decisive Game 3, the Dodgers had Don Newcombe on the mound, one of the most dominating pitchers of his day.
Newcombe had a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth, when he gave up singles to Alvin Dark and Don Mueller before retiring Monte Irvin. Whitey Lockman doubled to score Dark and advance Mueller to third. With the score 4-2, one out, the Giants put in pinch-runner Clint Hartung for Mueller, while the Dodgers replaced Newcombe with Ralph Branca.
With runners on second and third and Willie Mays in the on-deck circle, Branca -- the same pitcher who gave up the home run to Thomson in Game 1 -- tried to get ahead of Thomson by setting him up for a curveball. But Thomson had other ideas. He took a first-pitch fastball for a strike and promptly swung at the second, another fastball, which he deposited into the left field seats.
When Thomson hit that ball, Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges became completely caught up in the emotion. After the thrice exalted "The Giants win the pennant!" Hodges exclaimed, "They're going crazy!" It may have been Hodges who was going crazy. He was an excitable guy to begin with, but when Thomson's ball cleared the fence, it was like he temporarily lost his mind! Ultimately, Hodges' call has become part of the lore of the "Shot Heard 'Round the World."
Truth is, if it hadn't taken place in New York, neither the call nor the home run might not have been that big of a deal. Things tend to get magnified in New York. They still say the greatest football game ever played was the Colts-Giants 1958 NFL title game, although many NFL fans all over the country would disagree.
I was nine years old in 1951, and I remember coming home from school and my mom telling me there was a big game on. I flipped it on in the seventh inning and became quickly engrossed. The ironic thing is, as someone who went on to become a radio broadcaster, I missed what is arguably the most famous radio call of all time.
There were very few games on television in those days, but this one was, so I was watching it on TV and heard Ernie Harwell's call. Harwell has gone on to have a Hall of Fame broadcasting career -- but it is Hodges who is remembered for Thomson's home run. Hodges was the hometown Giants broadcaster, which helps explain why he went so nuts. When you work for a team, you are much more attached to them. You travel with them, you are paid by them, and you want to go to the World Series with them.
Harwell's call wasn't as spectacular, because a television announcer has a different role. Obviously, the two mediums are totally different animals. A radio announcer needs to describe in detail what is happening, while a TV announcer just needs to make the call, then shut up and let the pictures do the talking. Hodges may not have used lots of details to describe what was happening after the shot -- how Thomson was being mobbed as he rounded the bases -- but the good way in which Hodges completely lost it accurately described the overwhelming emotion felt by every Giants fan in the stadium.
Hodges call is among the top three of all time. The other two are: Jack Buck's call of Kirk Gibson's home run off of Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, "I don't believe what I just saw!" And Sean McDonough's call of Joe Carter's walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series, "Touch 'em all Joe Carter! You'll never hit a bigger home run!"
We'll see if my broadcast buddy Charley Steiner can add to the list as we follow Mr. Bonds around in his chase for the single season home run record.
Dave Campbell, who played eight seasons in the major leagues, works as an analyst for Baseball Tonight and ESPN Radio.
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