The single most important influence on me learning to love baseball was my grandfather. He was the first man I ever saw wrapped up in baseball games on the television, screaming obscenities at who I thought was the team he loved. He was a Red Sox fan who, in the eighty years of his life, never once saw the Boston Red Sox win the World Series.
One thing I remember him telling me is that “back in the day,” the biggest rivalry in sports was not actually the Red Sox and Yankees. In fact, it was the rivalry between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, a rivalry that culminated in what is generally accepted as one of the best—if not the best—games of baseball ever played.
The 1951 season: the Dodgers and the Giants were the best teams in the league (after the Giants overcame a huge 13 1/2 game deficit in the last month of the season). It finally came down to a three-game playoff to determine the winner. On October 3, it was game three. Bottom of the ninth, Giants down by two. A slugger named Bobby Thomson is at bat. He had a tumultuous season, having struggled early, been replaced for awhile by a young whippersnapper named Willie Mays, but managed to come back and garner a .350 average going into the series. Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca threw a high inside fastball on a 0-1 count.
The Giants win the pennant.
Of course, it wasn’t until the advent of Internet video that I actually got a chance to really see the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” And, to be fair, and considering that my grandfather never subscribed to cable, he may have seen it fewer times than I have thumbs. But, like is implied in the name, he heard it, as most people listened to games on the radio.
It’s with this, though, that I mark the passing of Bobby Thomson, who was probably the second baseball player I ever remembered (after Roger Clemens; I mean, I am from a family of Red Sox fans). He died yesterday at the age of 86.