Westwood Blues

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"The Sun Does Arise..."

"Brooklyn leads it, 4-2. Hartung down the line at third, not taking any chances. Lockman without too big of a lead at second, but he'll be running like the wind if Thomson hits one.

Branca throws. 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 going crazy! They're going crazy! Oh-ho!"

Nearly 55 years have passed since Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants hit "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the third game of the 3 game playoff to win the 1951 National League Pennant for the Giants. Through Russ Hodges' historic call of the most famous homerun in baseball history, baseball fans have relived the moment countless times. But, as Joshua Prager first reported in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) in 2001, there is much more to the story of the "Shot Heard Round the World" - Did Thomson know what pitch was coming?

In his new book, The Echoing Green, Prager again describes the 1951 Giants elaborate sign stealing system that invloved a Wollensak telescope and a buzzer system. The book was released today and the Wall Street Journal gives us a preview (subscription required):
"Three springs after the three-second flight of a home run, it could be stated indubitably that Branca had gotten on with his life. The pitcher had married, fathered kids, found a second profession, a second ball club, picked up by Detroit in 1953. And though famous as a loser, he had come to coexist both with Thomson and his lot. "I'll always be one of the all-time goats of baseball," Branca remarked the summer previous. "It's rough. But gee, I guess that's baseball."

The pitcher began 1954 in the bullpen. That a career was winding down was by June obvious. Branca was 28 years old.

Tiger teammate Ted Gray, 29, was also on the way out, had one more year in him. And it was now in a hotel room on the road that southpaw remembered a secret told him by former Giant Earl Rapp. Perhaps, he wagered, talk of a telescope might soothe his roommate, a vaccine against future pain. "I thought it was something he should know," says Gray. "He was downhearted." Gray turned to Branca.

"We got to bed," remembers Branca. "He just came out, 'I'm not supposed to tell you this but -- "'

Branca lay quiet as Gray spoke of signs, buzzer wire, a spyglass and bullpen, struck dumb as Gray recounted what Rapp had avowed: on October 3, 1951, the Giants stole the finger signals to both Branca fastballs."
After Prager's original article was published in 2001, Thomson felt that a burden was lifted off his shoulders.
"Thomson too was freed. "It's been brought up before and I've always been glad where it quieted down," he told WFAN radio host Christopher Russo the next day. "But you know, that's foolish. ... Getting it all out is the best thing. I feel almost like I just got out of prison."

Public deliberation ensued. Most praised Branca -- the heroic goat who had kept quiet a buzzer lest he demean a home run. Most defended Thomson -- the humble hero who still had to hit a pitch and whose alleged offense was not illegal. And while Branca condemned a team but not Thomson, Thomson condemned a home-field advantage but not a home run."