Oct 24, 2012

1951 New York Giants Hero Who Hit the Most Famous HR In Baseball History: Bobby Thomson (1946-1953 / 1957)

Robert Brown Thomson was Born October 25, 1923 in Glasgow, Scotland. His father came to America working as a cabinet maker, and moved the family to Staten Island, New York shortly after. Bobby grew up in a large family of five brothers & sisters.

He eventually earned the nick name the “The Staten Island Scot” while attending Curtis High School. there he was a top athlete playing soccer & baseball. His father was a Brooklyn Dodger fan, taking little Bobby to his first MLB game at Brooklyn's Ebbetts Field. His older brother bought him a baseball glove & taught him to play the game. The tall six foot two right hand hitter tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers but they hesitated on signing him. In 1942 he was signed by the New York Giants. Sadly his father passed away shortly after and never saw him play at the big league level.

He played in 34 games in the low minors in 1942 before joining the military, serving three years in the Air Force during World War II. He came back to play for the AAA Jersey City Giant,, batting .280 with 26 HRs & 90 RBIs playing in the outfield as well as at first base.

He made a September call up in 1946, debuting on September 9th 1949. In his first game he got a pair of hits & drove in two runs. On September 18th he hit his first career HR, it came against the Chicago Cubs. He batted .315 (17-54) hitting his first two career HRs.

In 1947 he became Giants regular outfielder, coming in third for the Rookie of the Year Award. He would hit 29 HRs (5th in the N.L.) with 85 RBIs, 60 extra base hits, 105 runs scored (6th in the N.L.) 26 doubles, 5 triples, & 154 hits. He learned to play outfield under the leadership of Giants Hall of Famer Mel Ott, who was now his manager in the early years.

Thomson said: "After a while, I felt center field was the ultimate place to play in the outfield. That was the guy that could do everything. So I went to Mel Ott, and said, 'Why can't I play center? I can run as well as Lockman.' Mel Ott said he didn't realize I felt that way. By 1949 I was the regular in center, and Lockman played left.” Thomson would be the Giants center fielder until Willie Mays arrived in 1951.

In 1948 Thomson made his first All Star game although his numbers fell off a bit from his rookie year; 16 HRs 20 doubles 63 RBIs & a .248 average. In 1949 he had one of his best seasons, batting a career high .309 (6th in the league) with 27 HRs, 35 doubles, 9 triples, 109 RBIs (6th in the league) scoring 99 runs, & making another All Star team. He led all outfielders in games played (157) was second in put outs (330) fourth in assists (9).

In 1950 the Giants finished third, he led the team in HRs (25) & was second to Hank Thompson in RBIs (91). Thomson would have five straight twenty plus HR seasons, driving in over 100 runs four of five years in that period.

Quotes: On the Dodger, Giants rivalry Thomson said, "It was a pretty fierce rivalry. I'm just speaking for myself, but I think it was general through the clubs. We didn't like them, and they didn't like us."

At Ebbets Field our locker rooms were right next to each other, and we had a common runway between the respective locker rooms and dugouts, so we had a chance to walk back and forth and pass each other. "I can remember one day when I was walking back to the locker room, and I passed Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, and I think 'Pee Wee' Reese was there. Hell, they never even looked at me, except Snider. I looked at Snider, and he looked at me, and all we did was half a nod that was it. We had nothing to do with each other."

In 1951 Bobby began the year with two RBIs on Opening Day in the Giants win at Boston over the Braves. He hit his first HR on April 22nd off Carl Erskine against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Overall Thomson struggled as did the Giants during the first part of the season. He was only hitting .220 at the start of July. He began the month with a bang, hitting HRs in the first four games of the month. He helped the Giants beat the Philadelphia Phillies on July 2nd in a 4-3 win.

On July 3rd he had two hits, with a HR & drove in three runs in the 9-8 win. Midway through July, manager Leo Durocher moved him to third base, to make room for rookie centerfielder Willie Mays. Thomson would hit 11 HRs in the month, with 30 RBIs. On July 24th he drove in two runs leading to a 4-3 win. At the end of the month he hit HRs in the last two games, driving in all four runs in a 4-3 win at Wrigley Field. The Giants found themselves 13 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in mid August and it seemed like the Giants were going nowhere. Thomson & his team would make one of the most miraculous comebacks in baseball history, going 37-7 from mid August on.

On August 12th, the Giants began their incredible 16 game winning streak. In the second game of a double header that day, Thomson drove in both runs of a 2-1 win. On August 19th he hit a two run HR in the 8th inning, tying up a game against the Phillies leading New York to a 5-4 win. Overall he drove in runs in four one run games during the win streak & six games overall. In September he began the month with a HR off Brooklyn's Ralph Branca in an 8-1 win at the Polo Grounds. The next day he hit another HR and drove in five runs in the first three games.

In mid September he drove in runs in five games, homering in three straight during a six game win streak. In the last game of the season the Giants needed a win to end up with at least a tie with Brooklyn. They faced off against the Boston Braves, Thomson hit a second inning HR tying up the game. The Giants went on to a 3-2 win. The Dodgers won as well & a three game playoff was set to see would win the National League pennant. The Giants had an incredible month overall, going 21-6 in September, ending the season with a 96-58 record.

As for Thomson, he ended the month with a 15 game hit streak, hitting 11 HRs with 24 RBIs . On the year he hit a career high 32 HRs (4th in the league) with 27 doubles 8 triples (7th in the NL) & 101 RBIs (7th in the NL) while batting .293 (10th in the league).

Post Season: In the first game of the Playoffs at Ebbets Field, Thomson hit a two run HR in the 4th inning off Ralph Branca. The Giants went on to a 3-1 victory, taking a one nothing series lead. Brooklyn won the next game 10-0 & Thomson had one of six Giants hits off Clem Labine. On October 3rd, 1951 all New York came to a halt as the two hated rivals met for the pennant. The stage was set for a classic at New York’s Polo Grounds, with Sal Maglie facing off against Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe.

Before the game Thomson left his home on Staten Island & took the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan. He then took the subway to the Polo Grounds. He met Gil Hodges & his wife outside the park, they wished each other luck. Thomson said one of us is going to leave here very happy today. The game was one of the first to be viewed by a national TV audience, as baseball was just starting to enjoy success on television.

In the top of the 1st inning, the Dodgers took a 1-0 lead on Jackie Robinson's base hit. In the bottom of the 7th inning, Bobby Thomson tied the game with a sac fly, scoring Monte Irvin. Maglie & Newcombe pitched a great pitcher's duel keeping the score tied at 1-1 into the 8th. In the top of the 8th the Dodgers Captain Pee Wee Reese singled, advanced on a Duke Snider hit & scored on a wild pitch.

Andy Pafko hit a shot to third, that Thomson booted allowing Snider to score. It was ruled a single. The Dodgers headed to the bottom of the ninth with a 4-1 lead, feeling like the season was finally over. In the Giants 9th Alvin Dark singled to lead off the inning. After a visit to the mound, Newcombe told Jackie Robinson he was tired. Robinson threw the ball into Nukes glove, looked him in the eye & said “you keep pitching until your arm falls off”.

Strangely, Dodger manager Charlie Dressen told first base man Gil Hodges to hold the runner at 1st base. It was odd because that first run meant nothing with a three run lead. The Giants Don Mueller (nicknamed "Mandrake the magician" because he always found a hole), singled in that open gap at first base.

Whitey Lockman then doubled down the left-field line, scoring Dark and advancing Mueller to third. Mueller didn’t slide correctly, twisted his ankle and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. During the delay, Dressen, phoned the Brooklyn bullpen, Coach Clyde Sukeforth said Carl Erskine's was bouncing his curve ball. Dressen chose to bring in Ralph Branca.

As Thomson was walking to the plate, Giants manager Leo Durocher, who was coaching third base, called him over and said “If you ever hit one, hit one now. Thomson thought he was crazy. Thomson was still upset at the error he had made on the field and told himself- “Just give yourself a chance you SOB, do a good job.” Branca's first pitch was a fastball, right down the middle for a strike. Thomson thought to himself "I won't see that one again". The second pitch was a fastball up and in. At 3:51 PM, Thomson pulled it down the left-field line about 320 ft. Brooklyn left fielder Andy Pafko, ran to the wall, looked up and the ball disappeared over the 17 ft. high wall. The HR won the game, won the pennant & became the most famous HR in baseball history.

Thomson ran the bases, as he watched the ball fly over the wall. The Giants went wild crowding around home plate as Thomson jumped in the air landing onto home plate. Russ Hodges made his famous radio call “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant” The stunned Dodgers walked off the field, Jackie Robinson, the true competitor was the last to leave, making sure Thomson, touched every base. The HR became known as "The shot heard round the world" or “the miracle at Coogan’s Bluff” and has been voted the most famous HR in baseballs history.

That evening Thomson was asked to appear on the Perry Como Show. At first he said no wanting to just go home & celebrate with his family quietly. But when the show offered him $500, he said yes. Brooklyn fans never forgave Branca, he would get phone calls & death threats for years to come. His family members would also get heckled in public. Eventually Branca learned to live with it, but not until he seeked help from a Priest friend of the family. He told him "God gave you this cross because he knew you could handle it".

A short time later, the two appeared on television together singing the song “Because of You” in a comedic parody. Branca said if it was anyone else other than Thomson who hit the HR, he may have felt differently. Thomson was always humble about the game winning hit. The two would go on together doing functions & lectures together for over 50 years.

Trivia: Brooklyn catcher Roy Campanella was not behind the plate due to injury. Future Met pitching coach Rube Walker was the catcher who called the pitch. Waiting on deck was the 20 year old rookie, Willie Mays.

Years later it was revealed the Giants were stealing signs, with coach Herman Franks using a telescope to see the opposing catchers signal. A buzzer would ring in the bullpen where reserve catcher Sal Yvars would toss a ball in the air to alert the batter of the pitch. Thomson claimed he never used the signal while batting. The batter would also need to react very quickly to this process & no matter what, he still had to hit the ball.

The 1951 World Series would be Thomson's only World Series appearance. In Game #1 the Giants took a quick 2-0 lead in the 1st inning. Monte Irvin stole home with Thomson at bat. In Game #4 he drove in a run in the 9th inning of the Giants 6-2 loss. In Game #6 with the Giants backs against the wall down 4-1, Thomson drove in a run on sac fly. The Series ended with the Giants finally running out of gas four games to two. Overall Thomson went 5 for 21, (.238) with five walks, a .385 on base % & two RBIs playing in all six games.

After the miracle at Coogan's bluff, Bobby returned in 1952 to lead the league in triples (14) hitting 24 HRs (6th in the NL in HRs) with 29 doubles & 108 RBIs (second in the NL) batting .270. He finished 16th in the MVP voting, making the All Star team. That year the Giants finished second behind the Dodgers by four and a half games. In 1953 the Giants finished fifth, Thomson hit .288 with 26 HRs 22 doubles & 106 RBIs (10th in the NL).

During the winter of 1954 the Giants made a very unpopular trade sending the 1951 World Series hero,Thomson to the Milwaukee Braves for Johnny Antonelli, Don Liddle, Billy Klaus, and $50,000. Thomson was stunned at the trade. He was devastated that the Giants had cut ties with him, him after all the years together. Many of the Giant fans were outraged, missing their hero. Johnny Antonelli went on to win 20 games while leading the Giants to a World Series Championship in 1954, eventually winning over the fans.

As for Thomson, he broke his ankle in spring training & would only play in 43 games that year batting .232. The injury opened a slot in left field for a rookie named Henry Aaron, who went on to the Hall of Fame. After another disappointing year in 1955 (.257 with 12 HRs), Bobby rebounded in 1956. He hit 20 HRs with 74 RBIs but only hit .235. In June 1957 after 41 games with Milwaukee he was dealt back to the New York Giants for Red Schoendienst. That year he missed out on a championship in Milwaukee, as the Braves won the 1957 World Series. They then went on to win a pennant in 1958.

Thomson made a hero’s return to the Polo Grounds, in the Giants last year in New York. Unfortunately his best days were behind him, as he hit.242 in 81 games with 8 HRs & 38 RBIs. He was in the lineup for the last game at the Polo Grounds on September 29th, 1957 getting a single in the 2nd inning (going 1-3). As the Giants moved to the West Coast Bobby was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Bob Speake. He had a comeback season for the Cubs with 21 HRs 27 doubles, 82 RBIs while batting .283.

He went on to the Boston Red Sox & Baltimore Orioles in 1960 retiring at the end of the season, retiring at age 36.

Quotes: "I had lost the feeling, the enthusiasm for the game. I loved baseball and I loved the feeling of playing the game. But now it was over and I knew it."

In a 15 year career, Thomson hit .270 with 1705 hits 264 HRs, eight grand slams, 267 doubles 74 triples 1026 RBIs & a .332 on base %, in 1779 games. He played 14 years in the outfield (1506 games) making 111 assists posting a .980 fielding %. At third base he played 184 games in six seasons posting a .937 fielding %.

Retirement: After his playing days, Thomson settled in Watchung, New Jersey with his wife Elaine “Winky” and their three children. He worked as a paper products salesman for many years. He appeared at numerous baseball card shows & charity events through the years with his friend Ralph Branca.

In his later years he moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he passed away in 2010 at age 86. He is missed but remembered forever, not only for being a great baseball player but a kind man & a professional gentleman.

Family: Bobby has two daughters, and a son whom he tragically lost from a virus that snaked through his heart at the age of 38.

Honors: In 1969, Thomson was named to the Giants' all-time outfield along with Mel Ott and Willie Mays. Bobby’s home run in the 1951 playoff game is considered the most famous home run in baseball history. His bat he used to hit the famous home run is enshrined at Cooperstown, in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 2004, he was inducted into The Scottish Sports Hall Of Fame in recognition of his accomplishments.

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