Farewell to the man who hit “The Shot Heard ’round the World”

Posted on August 18, 2010

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Baseball, and America, lost a true hero with Tuesday’s passing of baseball legend Bobby Thomson, the man who hit “the shot heard ’round the world” to cap the miracle comeback of the 1951 New York Giants to win the 1951 National League pennant, stealing not only the title, but much of the thunder from their historic bitter rivals, the Brooklyn (nee Los Angeles) Dodgers.

Thomson died at his home in Savannah, GA Tuesday at age 86, following years of declining health.

It’s not every player who attains legendary status in baseball. Even fewer become the embodiment of an iconic come-from-behind moment that would inspire book and short story titles, movies, and advertising campaigns for decades to come. Thomson did that, and more. Thomson became a father-to-son bedtime story; a tale of inspiration and encouragement to future Mickey Mantles and Ted Williams all over the country; the guy every kid in America wanted to be when they grew up. If you played baseball in the 1960s with your friends as a child, at some point, you uttered the words, “I get to be Bobby Thomson.”

Nicknamed the “Staten Island Scot” because he was born in Glasgow but moved to Richmond County as a child, Thomson played for the Giants from 1946 to 1953, and again during the 1957 season. He later played for the Milwaukee Braves, Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, and my own beloved Boston Red Sox.

A .270 career hitter, Thomson’s name instantly became a household world when he smacked the game-winning homer off Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca in the tie-breaking playoff game to win the 1951 pennant. Thomson and Branca later became good friends and would often make appearances together at baseball card shows. Thomson’s passing comes a month after the death of right-handed pitcher Clint Hartung, 87, who also scored as a pinch-runner on Thomson’s historic homer.

The home run — dubbed the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” — is considered one of — if not the — most famous in baseball history. Perhaps the only thing more memorable than the shot itself was the contemplative reaction to it, summed up in nothing short of poetry by Sportswriter Red Smith’s homage, “Now it is done. 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.”

Thomson’s shot obviously wasn’t literally heard “round the world.” But it was, and still is, heard around Baseball’s Valhalla, and in the hearts of leaguers big and little, for as long as the game will be played.

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Posted in: Errata