TSN Archives: Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning homer sets new high in drama

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 10, 1951, edition of The Sporting News. 

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Not since the days of Frank Merriwell has there been anybody in baseball like Bob Thomson, third baseman of the New York Giants. The Flying Scot from Staten Island, the seagoing, rugged borough of this city which so resembles the foothills of Thomson’s native land, presented the ultimate in drama in the surge of the Giants to the National League pennant.

The gangling, loose-knit, long-striding, antelope-gaited Thomson hit the homer int he final game of the regular schedule against the Braves which insured the tie with the Dodgers. Then Thomson blasted a two-run homer off Ralph Branca in the first game of the playoff to win that one, 3 to 1. In the second game, lost by New York, 10 to 0, he was a minor scapegoat, with a glaring error. In the decisive third game, he was a major culprit, with a wild base-running escapade which killed a Giants rally, until he smacked his thirty-second homer of the season, with two on base, off Branca to bring sudden death to the Dodgers, 5 to 4. 

The new Merriwell hit his homer at 3:53 p.m., touching off scenes in this place which never before had been witnessed in connection with the winning of a pennant.

Ticker tape fell from many offices on Broadway, in the traditional salute to conquerors, although Thomson was not there. Giant fans danced in the streets, literally, when the radio and television brought them out of seeming oblivion.

Fans storm onto field

At the Polo Grounds, fans — Giants fans — tumbled, literally, out of their boxes onto the field. The special cops tried to restrain them from breaking across the field. Usually, there is no difficulty in this chore, because Giant fans are as well-behaved as any in baseball. But when one intrepid character broke the lines and was thrown back, assaulted the lines again and made it, in the persistent and indomitable spirit of his team, hundreds flooded the battlefield. They stood, at least a thousand deep, before the clubhouse in center field, and chanted for a personal appearance of every Giant, but mainly and repeatedly for Thomson, and all obliged.

This was the great spiritual tribute of the masses to the underdog Giant team which had refused to quit, and which had run up a 37-7 record to achieve its tie at the end. Any one of the 37 which might have been lost would have left the Giants nice guys and national favorites, but with no playoff.

Thomson climaxed the most stupendous comeback of baseball history. The Giant resistance to the 13 and one-half-game Dodger lead was far above the marvelous Cub surge in 1938, which was capped by another homer, Gabby Hartnett’s blast in the gloaming in Wrigley Field, and above the hitherto incredible march of the 1942 Cardinals to overcome a ten-game Dodger lead in late August.

So Giant fans revived and Dodger fans died, all on that colossal third-act, scene-stealing blow by Thomson. 

Many felt the blow almost certainly meant the end of Chuck Dressen’s managerial career in Brooklyn. How could they bring him back after he used Branca in relief of Don Newcombe to pitch to Thomson?

Fans aghast at decision

This was not second-guessing. At the Polo Grounds, even Giant fans were stilled, aghast, when Dressen signaled for Branca, while Clem Labine, hero of the second game shutout with his marvelous curve and sinker, also was warming up. 

A fan close to the Giant front office, who would have traded off his home and family to win, said: “What a game! What a wonderful game! But I do hate to see a manager throw a game.” He did not mean “throw” in the basketball sense, but only “throw” through bad judgment. 

The infinite drama which baseball can provide was packed into the final game of the playoff. If the Giants had lost, in the end, after their never-say-die pursuit of a seemingly fantastic pot of gold, they still would have been the nation’s darlings. For the remorseless grind, day after day, with no hope of winning until the Dodgers dropped the three out of four in Boston in the final week. If the Dodgers had won, they would have been hailed as the old champs who got off the floor to put over the decisive blow. But the Dodgers had more on the line, because they had the prestige and they had the sense of shame to haunt them if they blew.

They did blow. But some will insist, so many, that Dressen, and not the Dodgers, missed out. And no matter who did it, the players cannot be castigated. They did not “collapse.”

The Dodgers fought gamely when they realized, too late, that the Giants did mean to win them all. There will be no more poignant chapter in the history of the game than their desperate comeback against the Phils in the final game of the regular schedule to win with Jackie Robinson in 14 innings, after the Giants had already won and had figured they thereby won the pennant.

But the Giants won the flag twice, on that final day and again in the third playoff game, while the Dodgers won it only once, when they were 13 and one-half games ahead.

The Giants did not seem to have a chance until Thomson smashed his “cousin,” Branca, for the clincher on a ball which seemed to have nothing on it right down the middle alley.

Newcombe had pitched a brilliant game into the ninth. The ubiquitous Robinson had singled home a run off Sal Maglie in the first.

The Giants tied off Newcombe in the seventh, but the Dodgers came back with three in the eighth and with that 4 to 1 lead in a game of such import, the issue seemed settled. Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider had singled to start that eighth. Maglie — imagine it — wild-pitched for one run. Andy Pafko singled for another run and so did Billy Cox.

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Then came the deluge

Why, it looked like a lockup in the Giant ninth, by 4 to 1. But Al Dark and Don Mueller singled off Newcombe. After Monte Irvin, the dangerous RBI man of hte Giants, popped out, Dodger fans figured the ordeal was ended. However, Whitey Lockman doubled for one run. Then Dressen moved to make his incredible choice of Branca, which apparently stunned Giant fans, as well as the Flatbush variety, judging from the silence as the homer-giver of the Dodgers came to the mound. He threw just two pitches, the first a called strike, and the second disaster. And so, a lead which had stood at an apparently impregnable five games when the Giants had only nine to play, was turned to bitter dregs of defeat by a team which refused to believe in the standings of the clubs.

In the first game of the playoff, Jim Hearn pitched a five-hitter to overcome Branca. Andy Pafko, the ex-Cub who was so staunch for Brooklyn in the stretch, put the Dodgers into a 1 to 0 lead with a homer. But Thomson assailed Branca for a two-run winning homer, and Monte Irvin added another four-bagger for insurance. In this game, the Giants were supreme, and the Dodgers looked supine, as they hit into four double plays. 

But the Giants acted as goats as they threw in five errors in the 10 to 0 Dodger win in the second game. Robinson whacked a two-run homer in the first off Sheldon Jones and hit a single for a 3 to 0 leadoff George Spencer. Gil Hodges hit his fortieth homer off Spencer in the sixth. Pafko connected for his thirtieth off Al Corwin in the seventh, and Al Walker cleared the right field roof for two runs in the ninth. 

But on October 3, it was Thomson in the final game, and little else. Larry Jansen had relieved Maglie to be the winning pitcher. His teammates only belatedly complimented him. But everybody forgot everything, with Dodger fans trying to forget Dressen, when the Giants won. Even the Yankees were forgotten, and the World’s Series, at that point, seemed strictly anti-climactic. 

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