Did collector unearth Thomson history?
One of baseball's most iconic moments is fast approaching a milestone anniversary. Oct. 3, less than two weeks from now, will mark exactly 60 years since Bobby Thomson hit the "Shot Heard 'Round the World," which prompted Russ Hodges' famous call of "The Giants win the pennant!" and forever scarred the souls of Brooklyn Dodgers fans.
Most of the artifacts from that moment are accounted for. The bat Thomson used to stroke his historic homer is in the Hall of Fame, as are the spikes he was wearing that day. And an entire book has been written about what happened to the home run ball.
But what about the uniform? Where is the jersey Thomson was wearing when he stepped in to face Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds? In the six decades since Thomson hit the Shot, nobody has claimed to know his jersey's whereabouts.
Dan Scheinman thinks he knows exactly where the jersey is: in the climate-controlled storage room where he keeps his jersey collection.
"I'm not 100 percent positive," says Scheinman, a 48-year-old tech consultant who lives in San Francisco. "I would never claim that; it wouldn't be intellectually honest. But I've gotten to about 90 percent. I think this is it."
Scheinman, a lifelong Giants fan who owns a small minority stake in the team, isn't well-known in collectors' circles, because he's generally made his jersey acquisitions anonymously. Over the past dozen years, however, he's quietly assembled a world-class collection of about 300 jerseys. And he's spent the past six years trying to prove to his own satisfaction -- and now the baseball world's -- that one of those jerseys is the one Thomson was wearing when he hit the Shot.
"There's been this obsession with what happened to the ball," he says. "But I always wanted to know what happened to the jersey. And not just that one, but all of the jerseys from that game. It's one of the most historic games ever played, but none of the jerseys had ever surfaced."
Scheinman's tale is a complicated trip down a fairly deep rabbit hole, so let's break it down Q&A-style:
Where did Scheinman get the jersey?
From Bobby Thomson himself. "In 2005, I was talking to a dealer named Rob Lifson, who runs Robert Edward Auctions," Scheinman says. "I was telling him about this little quest I was on to find the Bobby Thomson jersey, and he said, 'Thomson is my neighbor, and he's looking to sell his jersey. Would you be interested?'"
As it turned out, Thomson had two 1951 uniforms he was willing to sell -- one home, one road -- but he wasn't sure they'd been worn in the tiebreaker series against the Dodgers. "Some guys will tell you, 'Oh, I definitely wore this in such-and-such a game'; they'll make all these wild claims," Scheinman says. "Thomson was much more conservative than that. He said, 'I know I wore this in the World Series that year. I'm not sure if I wore it against the Dodgers. I might have, but I'm not sure.'"
As World Series artifacts, the uniforms were worth about $10,000, which is what several other collectors had already offered Thomson. But if Thomson had worn the home uni while hitting the Shot, the value would be worth about 10 times that much.
Scheinman paid Thomson the Shot value -- a hundred grand -- even though he couldn't be sure he was actually getting the Shot jersey. "No other credible jersey had surfaced, and I decided I wanted to take a shot and see if this was it," he says. "And if nothing else, I had myself two World Series uniforms and I'd done a mitzvah for Thomson, helping him out with whatever financial obligations he had."
Scheinman made two promises to Thomson: He wouldn't represent the jersey as being Shot-worn unless he could prove it, and he wouldn't disclose Thomson's sale of the jersey while Thomson was still alive. Those two pledges ended up working well together, because Thomson died in August 2010, and it's taken Scheinman until now to feel confident enough about the jersey's provenance.
So if Thomson wore the jersey in the World Series and in the tiebreaker series against the Dodgers, that would mean the Giants didn't get new uniforms for the World Series. Was that common at the time?
There was no strict mid-century protocol for teams that made it to the World Series. Some of them ordered new uniforms for the occasion; some didn't. The Giants' opponents in the '51 Series, the Yankees, definitely did not have new unis -- they wore the same ones they'd used during the second half of the regular season.
It seems likely that the Giants used the same uniforms they'd been wearing, because the tiebreaker series against the Dodgers had compressed the World Series calendar. Thomson hit the Shot at the Polo Grounds on Oct 3; the Series began the following day.
Why did Thomson even have his World Series uniforms to begin with?
"The Giants didn't give out National League championship rings that year," Scheinman says. "Thomson said the players were given the jerseys in lieu of rings."
This would explain another anomaly: Scheinman has bought up every 1951 Giants jersey he's been able to find -- another six in addition to Thomson's. All are tagged "1951 Set 2," indicating that they'd been used for the second part of the 1951 season. No special World Series tagging has emerged. This too suggests that the regular-season jerseys were worn in the tiebreaker series and then again in the World Series.
OK, so let's say Thomson kept wearing the same jersey in the World Series. Are there any identifying marks to indicate that this jersey is the one he wore?
Yes, and that's the biggest key to the puzzle. The jersey that Scheinman bought from Thomson has some distinct puckering on the fabric around the uniform number, probably as a result of steam pressing and dry cleaning. That same puckering is visible in photos of Thomson during and immediately after the Shot game.
Couldn't that puckering appear on different jerseys?
At this point it's time to introduce another key player in the story: Elise Yvonne Rousseau, a professional textile conservator. She works primarily with museums, auction houses, appraisers and antiques dealers, but for the past decade or so she's also worked with Scheinman and his jersey collection, helping him to care for his jerseys, spotting hidden alterations and other telltale signs of fakes or bootlegs, and generally becoming the collection's cataloger and caretaker.
Rousseau isn't a baseball fan herself ("That's the great thing about working with her: She doesn't have a dog in the fight," Scheinman says), but she knows plenty about wool flannel. And she says there's no way the puckering could happen the same way on two different jerseys.
"I can say with 100 percent assuredness that this could not be mimicked or reproduced," Rousseau says. Could it happen coincidentally? "No. The way wool fibers shrink and expand from heat is a marker and fingerprint that would not repeat itself like that the same way twice."
Doesn't Rousseau have a conflict of interest here, since Scheinman pays her for her work?
Scheinman is a minor client of hers and represents a small fraction of her workload. She has little to gain from this project, no matter what conclusion she reaches.
OK, you've convinced me -- it's the same jersey. Are we done?
Nope. There's one catch: All National League teams, including the Giants, wore a National League 75th-anniversary sleeve patch in 1951. Thomson was clearly wearing it when he hit the Shot, but the Giants did not wear the patch in the World Series. (By coincidence, American League teams also wore a sleeve patch in 1951, but the Yankees removed it for the Series.)
Now, if Thomson was wearing the same jersey in the tiebreaker series and the World Series, that would mean the patch was removed from the sleeve. And that would presumably leave some evidence. Scheinman and Rousseau have spent a lot of time looking for it.
There are no needle holes on the sleeve, so Rousseau wondered if the patch had been ironed on instead of sewn on. (Iron-on patches were fairly new in 1951 but were being used by the U.S. military, so it's conceivable that the Giants could have used them.) But she ultimately rejected this theory, because there's no evidence of adhesive or other patch residue on the Thomson sleeve, or on the sleeves of any of the other 1951 Giants jerseys in Scheinman's collection.
So Rousseau returned to the notion of the patch having been sewn on and then removed. And then it hit her: The same steam cleaning that caused the puckering could have caused the needle holes in the sleeve to close up. "The type of steam pressing that was done at that time was very intense," she says. "Wool expands a lot in the presence of heat and humidity -- the fiber follicles can increase in diameter by up to 38%. That's enough to make the needle punch holes close up and disappear." That would also explain why none of the other 1951 Giants jerseys have needle holes in the sleeves -- they all closed up while being cleaned.
Hmmm, doesn't that sound a bit too convenient?
Not to Rousseau. "I actually think the fact that it's the same on all the jerseys bolsters our case, because it shows a consistency," she says. "I feel really confident about it. Our theory is solid, our evidence is solid, and I would stand up at a conference and have no problem presenting this." She says she and Scheinman have also seen an old Joe DiMaggio jersey that had the same phenomenon: A patch had been removed from the sleeve without leaving behind any needle holes.
So where does that leave us?
"I can't tell you with absolute certainty that this is the jersey," Scheinman says. "But I think there's a lot of evidence suggesting that this is it. And if this isn't it -- and if none of the other 1951 jerseys I have were worn in that game -- then you have to believe that there's a whole additional set of jerseys that were used in that game. Where are they? Why hasn't a single one of them surfaced?"
Is Scheinman just trying to inflate the value of this jersey so he can sell it?
"I'm a preservationist," he says. "Do I one day donate my collection to the Hall of Fame? Maybe. Do I one day sell it to other collectors so they can enjoy it? Maybe. But I have not sold a single piece of my collection. Not one. For now, I'm still acquiring."
He pauses, then adds: "Look, I understand some people will be skeptical or suspicious, and that's fine. Playing devil's advocate is exactly the right thing to do here. But the reason I'm going public with this is that I've been trying to solve this mystery for six years now. And it's really satisfying to say I think I've solved it."
Paul Lukas doesn't have much in the way of historic jerseys, unless you count curiosities like this. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.