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Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Vin Scully recalls Bobby Thomson's HR

By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Vin Scully has been responsible for some of the most memorable calls in baseball history. Kirk Gibson's home run, Don Larsen's perfect game, Hank Aaron's 715th home run, Bill Buckner's muffed ground ball.

The Hall of Fame broadcaster was merely in the building for Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951.

"As far as the game was concerned, mercifully I was not on the air," Scully said Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, after learning of Thomson's death earlier in the day.

Scully
Scully

"We played each team 22 times back then, and we had 11 games in the Polo Grounds. When we were in the Polo Grounds we just did radio and the Giants did television. When they came to Ebbets Field, we did television and they did radio.

"That game was at the Polo Grounds and Red Barber and Connie Desmond did the game for us. ... I was behind Red and Connie, watching everything take place."

What Scully saw that day was the home run that finally sank the Brooklyn Dodgers after they'd blown a 13 1/2-game lead over the Giants in August.

"Although the memory will certainly play tricks, and I don't mean to demean Bobby's accomplishment, but I don't know if that ball would've made the warning track here. I really don't know," Scully said.

"The Polo Grounds had really funny, somewhat unfair dimensions. It was like 257 [feet] down the right-field line and maybe 299 down the left-field line. However, you could hit the ball 480 feet to center, 460 to left center right center."

Thomson's homer off of Ralph Branca sailed over the short porch in left field.

Though he wasn't on the call, Scully was close to the team. Afterward, he made his way to the clubhouse, which was located behind center field.

Branca was "stretched on the stairs, head down. And it was a funeral quiet," Scully said.

Scully said Pee Wee Reese was inside the training room, vacantly looking out into the clubhouse as Jackie Robinson stood nearby.

"I walked in and it was silent," Scully said. "Then Pee Wee says, 'You know Jack, the one thing about this game I'll never understand, is how it hasn't driven me crazy."

Scully said that as soon as the ball was hit, he'd looked down to the club seats at Branca's fiance.

"Ann, Ralph's wife to be, was sitting in the club box," Scully said. "I knew she was there, so when the ball was hit and everything went crazy, I instinctively looked down there.

"I can remember it in order. Ann, when the ball went in the seats, opened up her purse, and rather calmly, took out a handkerchief, closed the purse, opened the handkerchief, and then buried her face in the handkerchief. I'll always remember that."

Part of Scully's genius as a broadcaster is his ability to endear himself to Dodgers fans while at the same time, remaining impartial.

On this occasion, it was difficult.

"When I first joined the team, Red Barber gave me a very good bit of advice. He said, whatever you do, don't get too close to the players," Scully said. "It was good advice. If you were watching a really good buddy make a mistake, it might affect your ability to call the play. You might want to sugarcoat it or whatever.

"The only problem was, there was only one player in all the years that I ever got close to and that was Ralph Branca, the pitcher."

Scully and Branca used to go out to dinner double dates on occasion.

"To me, and again I'm coloring this perhaps out of friendship, the fellow who came out of that incident 10 feet tall was Ralph Branca," Scully said. "He was subject to every old-timers day, recreating the home run, blah, blah, blah. Their names were completely linked, you couldn't say one without the other.

"Although it was very easy to take bows, and Bobby [Thomson] did it very well. He didn't gloat or anything. He was a very unassuming hero. Ralph to me really carried the cross exceptionally well. One of the reasons, I think, I don't think it was the first Saturday, but certainly by the next [weekend], Ralph and Ann were getting married.

"I always thought, out of the ashes of this thing, Ralph just kept growing in stature because he took it so well."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.