In baseball, "the Shot Heard 'round the World" is the term given to the game-winning home run by New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson off Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds to win the National League pennant at 3:58 p.m. EST on October 3, 1951. As a result of the "shot", the Giants won the game 5-4, defeating the Dodgers in their pennant playoff series, 2 games to 1. Thomson's homer, and the Giants' victory after overcoming a double-digit deficit in the standings in the weeks preceding the playoff, are also sometimes known as the "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff."
The phrase Shot heard 'round the world is from the poem "Concord Hymn" (1837) by Ralph Waldo Emerson, originally used to refer to the first clash of the American Revolutionary War and since used to apply to other dramatic moments, military and otherwise. The use of the phrase with regard to Thomson's home run may have been inspired in part by the high number of U.S. servicemen who listened to the game on Armed Forces Radio while stationed in Korea.
The 1951 Major League Baseball season was projected to be a contest between the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies. Throughout the first half of the season, the Dodgers stayed in first place by a large margin. By August 10, they were 12 1⁄2 games ahead of the Giants and 14 1⁄2 games ahead of the Phillies, and as a result they were already looking ahead to facing the New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series; the Associated Press commented on their dominance, saying that "unless they completely fold in their last 50 games, they're in." While the Phillies fell out of contention, the Giants won 16 straight games from August 12 to August 27, cutting their deficit from 12 1⁄2 games to six. By September 20, the Dodgers had ten games left to play while the Giants had seven, and the Dodgers had a 4 1⁄2 game advantage, making a pennant win appear imminent. However, the Giants won their last seven games, and in the final game of the season, the Dodgers needed to defeat the Phillies to force a playoff; they did so by winning 9–8 in 14 innings, which meant both teams had a record of 96-58.
The National League used a three-game playoff to break a tie for pennant, with the winner going on to face the American League champion Yankees in the 1951 World Series. For game one, the Dodgers chose Ralph Branca, who also started the first game of the 1946 tiebreaker, to start game one as he had beaten the Giants twice in the regular season, while the Giants chose Jim Hearn, who had beaten the Dodgers twice that year. The Giants won the first game, 3-1 thanks to home runs by Bobby Thomson and Monte Irvin. For game two, the Giants had Sheldon Jones pitch so that the Giants could save Sal Maglie for game three or the first game of the World Series, and the Dodgers used Clem Labine. The Yankees were among those in attendance as spectators. The Dodgers bounced back to win the second game, 10-0 thanks to home runs by four separate players. This led to the deciding game three at the Polo Grounds.
|WP: Larry Jansen (23–11) LP: Ralph Branca (13–12)
NYG: Bobby Thomson (32)
For game three, Sal Maglie was on the mound for New York, while Brooklyn called on Don Newcombe; both pitchers had winning records against the opposing team heading into the matchup. In the top of the first inning, Jackie Robinson singled, scoring the game's first run when Pee Wee Reese crossed home plate. The game then became a pitcher's duel, with Maglie and Newcombe not allowing a run through the sixth inning. In the seventh inning, Monte Irvin led off with a double for the Giants. He was bunted over to third, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Bobby Thomson, tying the score at one run each.
In the top of the eighth, the Dodgers came roaring back with three runs off Maglie. Reese and Snider hit back-to-back singles, and Maglie threw a wild pitch, allowing Reese to score. After Robinson was walked, Andy Pafko hit a single to score Snider. Cox added another single to score Robinson before the inning ended, making made the score 4-1 in favor of the Dodgers. Newcombe set down the Giants in order in the bottom of the eighth, while Larry Jansen did the same in relief of Maglie in the top of the ninth.
Newcombe, however, was showing the effects of overuse in the season's final days. He had pitched a complete game the previous Saturday, then thrown 5⅔ innings in relief the next day in the season finale. Pitching on only 2 days' rest and tiring badly, he attempted to take himself out of the game, only to have Robinson talk him into trying to finish the inning.
The Giants shortstop Alvin Dark singled to start the rally. As Bud Greenspan pointed out in Play It Again, Bud (p. 78-83), the Dodgers may have made a crucial strategic mistake. First baseman Gil Hodges was playing close to the bag, but with a 3-run lead, the normal strategy would have been to position for a possible double play. With a large gap in the right side of the infield, Don Mueller placed a single through that gap, past the diving Hodges, and Dark ran from first to third. Instead of a possible rally-killing double play, the Dodgers found themselves facing the potential tying run at the plate with 2 on and nobody out. But with a chance to drive in a run, Irvin, who led the NL that year with 121 RBI, chased the first pitch and popped out (Greenspan argued that could have been the season-ending 3rd out).
However, Whitey Lockman followed with a double down the left-field line, driving in Dark and advancing Mueller to third. Mueller slid awkwardly into the bag and broke his ankle, forcing the Giants to send in Clint Hartung to pinch-run for him. Dressen finally pulled the spent Newcombe and went to the bullpen, where Ralph Branca and Carl Erskine were warming up. Dodger bullpen coach Clyde Sukeforth noticed Erskine bouncing his curve and instructed Dressen to bring Branca into the game. The move has bewildered baseball historians to this day (and, combined with the positioning of Hodges, was possibly at least the second questionable decision by Dressen that inning, and resulted in Sukeforth being fired shortly thereafter). Branca had pitched and lost Game 1 of the tiebreaker on a Thomson home run (something Dodgers' fans were painfully aware of at the time) and had given up several home runs that year to Thomson, who had hit 31 during the season. However, in Dressen's defense, he had few decently rested pitchers available; in the last regular-season game alone the Dodgers sent 7 men to the mound.
Branca's first pitch was a called strike on the inside corner. His second pitch was a fastball up and in to Thomson, intended as a setup for his planned next pitch, a breaking ball down and away. But Thomson yanked the fastball down the left-field line and toward the invitingly close outfield fence, with the foul line a mere 279 feet from home plate (unmarked), and a roll-up door in the 17-foot wall with a 315 marker posted, some 30 or 40 feet out from the foul line.
Andy Pafko, the Dodgers' left fielder, rushed toward the fence, thinking the rapidly sinking line drive might bounce off the wall. Instead, the ball disappeared into the stands for a game-ending 3-run home run, just above the 315 marker. With one swing of Thomson's bat, near-certain defeat had turned into sudden victory and a pennant for the Giants.
Seeing the ball disappear over the fence, Thomson hopped crazily around the bases, then disappeared into the mob of jubilant teammates who had gathered at home plate. The stunned Dodger players trudged off the field - all except Robinson. No doubt knowing of "Merkle's Boner" 43 years earlier, he watched to be sure Thomson touched every base before he too headed for the clubhouse.
Several television and radio broadcasters captured the moment for baseball fans in the New York City area and nationwide. Some sources claim additional radio broadcasts were done by Al Helfer for the Mutual network, by Buck Canel and Felo Ramírez for a Spanish language network, and by Nat Allbright in a studio re-creation for the Dodgers' secondary network in the South. Harry Caray was in the Giants' radio booth with Hodges and may have also participated in the broadcast.
Ernie Harwell called the game for Giants television flagship WPIX—the independent station's broadcast was carried nationally on the NBC network, the first coast-to-coast live telecast of a Major League Baseball game—and his description of the home run was a simple shout of "It's gone!" almost at the moment Thomson's bat struck the ball. Harwell later admitted he had probably called it "too soon", but fortunately for him, the call proved to be correct. "And then," Harwell recalled, "the pictures took over."
Meanwhile, Dodgers announcer Red Barber, calling the game for WMGM-AM, straightforwardly said, "Branca pumps, delivers - a curve, swung on and belted, deep shot to left field—it is—a HOME RUN! And the New York Giants win the National League pennant and the Polo Grounds goes wild!" This was followed by about a minute of amplified crowd noise. Barber, who was known for a relatively low-key play-by-play approach, later criticized the famous Hodges rendition as being questionable journalism.
Russ Hodges, broadcasting the game on WMCA-AM radio for Giants fans, seemed perhaps the least likely man to immortalize the play; the broadcast was not national and Hodges was considered calm-voiced rather than excitable. Nonetheless, it was his call that captured the suddenness and exultation of the home run:
|“||Bobby Thomson...up there swingin'...He's had two out of three, a single and a double, and Billy Cox is playing him right on the third-base line...One out, last of the ninth...Branca pitches...Bobby Thomson takes a strike called on the inside corner...Bobby hitting at .292...He's had a single and a double and he drove in the Giants' first run with a long fly to center...Brooklyn leads it 4-2...Hartung down the line at third not taking any chances...Lockman with not too big of a lead at second, but he'll be runnin' like the wind if Thomson hits one...Branca throws...[sound of bat meeting ball]
There's a long drive...it's gonna be, I believe...THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they're goin' crazy, they're goin' crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!'' [ten-second pause for crowd noise]
I don't believe it! I don't believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson...hit a line drive...into the lower deck...of the left-field stands...and this blame place is goin' crazy! The Giants! Horace Stoneham has got a winner! The Giants won it...by a score of 5 to 4...and they're pickin' Bobby Thomson up...and carryin' him off the field!
The main reason the WMCA call was recorded and saved for posterity was that a Brooklyn-based fan asked his mother to record the end of game. An urban legend says that Lawrence Goldberg was a Dodger fan who sought to torture a friend who was a Giants fan by capturing and replaying Russ Hodges' heartbreak from a Giants' loss. In reality, Goldberg himself had been a Giant fan since childhood.
Furthermore, only a tiny minority of people actually heard the Hodges call live. Most heard Gordon McLendon's call on the Liberty Broadcasting System, which was carrying the game nationally. McClendon's account (complete with a similarly hair-raising yell of "THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!") remains the only complete broadcast account of the third game. That recording is available on Harwell's "Audio Scrapbook". His own call was not recorded. The McClendon call, in addition to being similar in tone to Hodges' call, is also a better-quality recording, having been recorded professionally instead of on a home recorder.
- "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." 
The official attendance of the third game was 34,320, a shockingly low number considering the importance of the game, the location of the opposing team (just a 45-minute subway ride from the Polo Grounds), and the bitter rivalry between the two teams. However, most historians agree this figure represents only the number of tickets sold before the game, and does not account for the New Yorkers and Brooklynites who had left work early and gone to the Polo Grounds. Careful study of photographs and film of the event show that the 56,000-seat stadium was nearly full, and McLendon's live broadcast features him commenting more than once that the Polo Grounds was packed.
An article recapping the game in the New York Daily News on October 4 was accompanied by the headline, "The Shot Heard 'Round the Baseball World". The phrase quickly spread to other media, and soon became a widely-recognized slogan for Thomson's homer.
The Shot became the basis for a key scene in the 1984 film The Natural, in which Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) of the New York Knights, a fictional National League team that was presumably based on the Giants, hits a pennant-clinching home run that shatters the lights in the process. However, the scene is set in 1939, which is twelve years before the actual event it was based on, and in the original 1952 Bernard Malamud novel (which was also titled The Natural), Hobbs strikes out in his final at-bat.
The Shot, and a detailed retelling of the game itself, provide the setting for the 50-page prologue of Don DeLillo's epic novel Underworld, published in 1997.
Longstanding rumors that the 1951 Giants engaged in systematic sign stealing during the second half of the season were confirmed in 2001. Several players told the Wall Street Journal that beginning on July 20, the team used a telescope, manned by coach Herman Franks in the Giants clubhouse behind center field, to steal the finger signals of those opposing catchers who left their signs unprotected. Stolen signs were relayed to the Giants dugout via a buzzer wire. Joshua Prager, the author of the Journal article, outlined the evidence in greater detail in a 2008 book.
Although Thomson always insisted that he had no foreknowledge of Branca's pitch, Sal Yvars told Prager that he relayed Rube Walker's fastball sign to Thomson. Branca was privately skeptical of Thomson's denials but made no public comment. Later he told The New York Times, "I didn't want to diminish a legendary moment in baseball. And even if Bobby knew what was coming, he had to hit it.... Knowing the pitch doesn't always help." Whether the telescope-and-buzzer system contributed significantly to the Giants' late-season 37–7 win streak remains a subject of debate. Prager notes in his book that sign stealing, then as now, is not specifically forbidden by MLB rules and, moral issues aside, "...has been a part of baseball since its inception".
Some of the artifacts from this moment have been accounted for. The Hall of Fame has an exhibit dedicated to The Shot; reportedly, a majority of the visitors to the Hall ask specifically about the location of that exhibit.
- The bat that Thomson used, and the shoes he wore, are at the aforementioned Hall exhibit.
- The location of the ball is unknown. The father of documentary filmmaker and author Brian Biegel thought that a ball that he bought at a thrift store might be the ball from The Shot. Biegel then embarked on a project to attempt to authenticate the ball. Ultimately, he was unable to confirm his father's purchase as the historic ball. He chronicled this project in a book, Miracle Ball, that was released in May 2011, plus a documentary film.
- Thomson's jersey is most likely in the collection of Dan Scheinman, a technology consultant and sports memorabilia collector who owns a small stake in the Giants. In 2005, he bought two 1951 Giants jerseys from Thomson, who told him he knew he had worn them in that year's World Series, but could not remember whether he had worn one of them for The Shot. According to ESPN.com writer Paul Lukas, Scheinman "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." In September 2011, more than a year after Thomson's death, Scheinman told Lukas that he was now "about 90 percent" sure he had the historic jersey.
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- Box score for Shot Heard Round The World
- The Echoing Green - The untold story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard 'Round the World
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