Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Shot Heard Round the World

Bobby Thomson, 1923 - 2010 This life-long San Francisco Giants fan will never forget, nearly a decade ago, walking for the first time into the then-new Giants ballpark south of Mission on the shores of China Basin. It was a lovely Saturday afternoon, the perfect day for baseball. Then the history hit me like an inside fastball you can't seem to step away from. Just inside one of the entrances to AT&T Park, Russ Hodges' immortal words: "the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant" are stenciled on the wall. I can still feel the goose bumps. Bobby Thomson, of course, hit his famous 1951 home run - the most famous home run in baseball history, some say - at the long gone Polo Grounds in New York, a continent away from China Basin. But so what? As long as there are Giants and Giant fans and baseball fans, Thomson "shot heard round the world" will be the defining moment for the great franchise and as close as we are likely to have of a single defining moment for the great game. Bobby's shot off the Dodgers' Ralph Branca has followed the Giants from the weirdly shaped Polo Grounds to windy Candlestick to AT&T Park. It is just that kind of moment and has been since 1951. Thomson has been remembered this week as a tough competitor, a man who wore his one real moment of fame with quiet dignity and as the hitter who will be forever linked with one pitcher for as long as there are baseball memories. The great baseball writer Roger Angell remembered Thomson homer as the first "where were you" moment in the country since Pearl Harbor. Imagine what it would be like to have your entire professional career - your entire life, really - defined by a couple of seconds captured in grainy black and white and in Hodges' classic home run call? Thomson had a 15 year career, played for the Braves, Cubs, Red Sox and Orioles, as well as the Giants, hit .270 for his career, once lead the National League in triples - he hit 14 in 1952 - and was once traded for a pitcher named Al Schroll, but one swing at 3:58 pm on October 3, 1951 is all that really matters. There have been other dramatic home runs - Bill Mazeroski actually won a World Series with a walk off in 1960 - but Thomson's is still "the epic" home run. Maybe it was the time, the post-war, or the dramatic, late season comeback by the Giants, down by 14 games in August to the hated Dodgers, or maybe it was Hodges' radio call: "There's a long's gonna be...I believe..." Thomson once said "that time was was a delicious, delicious moment." It was, it is and it will always be. It will always be Bobby Thomson, Number 23 on his jersey, that gracious swing, Pafko at the wall, 3:58 pm in a Polo Grounds of the mind. My lovely, charming wife, no baseball fan she, but smart and insightful about everything, knew immediately when she walked in this morning, while I was composing this post, that I was writing about "Bobby Thomson and the home run." Yup. The great sportswriter Red Smith wrote some of the best lines about "the home run" when he said: "The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressively fantastic, can ever be plausible again." Bobby died this week. His home run - our home run - never will.