October 3, 1951 is a date that defines the irrepressible reach of Major League baseball into the American soul and psyche. In the history of professional sports, no date, no event, no moment matches it or can ever match it.
In the 1950s, American baseball was dominated by New York City’s three Major League teams: the American League Yankees and the National League Giants and Dodgers. On August 11, 1951, the Brooklyn Dodgers led the New York Giants by 13 1/2 games in the race for the National League Pennant. Amazingly, on August 12th the Giants proceded to unexpectedly rip off 16 straight wins and finished the regular season going 37-7.
Which was just enough to tie the Dodgers and force a three game playoff for the National League pennant and a trip to the World Series to face the Yankees.
After splitting the first two games, October 3, 1951 arrived for the deciding game at the Giants’ home park, the Polo Grounds. When the 9th inning started, the Dodgers were leading the Giants 4-1. The Giants scored one run, but with two runners on base, one out, and outfielder Bobby Thompson at the plate, it appeared Giants Manager Leo Durocher was just about out of miracles. After a first pitch strike, Thompson sent the second pitch on a low line drive that seemed to clear the left field stands in slow motion, and the Giants won 5-4.
Up in the radio booth, Hall of Fame broadcaster Russ Hodges matched the moment with a call for the ages, his famous “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant” chant. Russ finished his frantic call by yelling into his microphone, “I don’t believe it. I do not believe it!“, over and over again.
Forty-six years later, novelist Don DeLillo described Bobby Thompson’s celebrated “shot heard ’round the world” in exquisite detail in his book Underworld. “This is the people’s history,” DeLillo wrote, “and it has flesh and breath that quicken to the force of this old safe game of ours. “
On Monday night, August 16, 2010, eighty-six year old Bobby Thompson died at his home in Savannah, Georgia. If souls are what we keep inside, Bobby Thompson’s soul soared unerringly toward uptown Manhattan last night, and found the left field stands at a place where a miracle once happened.