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Bobby Thomson

[Associated Press]

Bobby Thomson died yesterday. See, among many others, the NYT obituary. I grew up in the shadow of his Polo Grounds home run — you know, the one on October 3, 1951 that ended the Giants-Dodgers three-game playoff in favor of the Giants, earning them a trip to the World Series against the Yankees, who resided just across the Harlem River. I missed it, but not by much. Five months later, I was born into a home of Dodger fans. (But by the time I came of age, both teams were gone and baseball may as well have moved with them.) I would read of Thomson’s home run and imagine it as an event deep in history, along perhaps with the Civil War, or the fall of Constantinople.

I can hardly do justice to the event. Don DeLillo devoted the first 50 pages of his mammoth 1997 novel Underworld to it, and hey, I’m no Don DeLillo. (I’ve read this part of Underworld twice, but have yet to get far into the remaining 777 pages, to my continuing regret.)

As a shorter alternative to DeLillo, you might look at a Roger Angell piece in the New Yorker in 1991 that Jon Michaud quoted at the New Yorker blog today. (See the post here, and if you have access to the New Yorker archive, you can follow the link to the full Angell article.) Here’s part of what Angell wrote:

I gestured urgently to my wife, just then passing from kitchen toward bedroom with a jar of Gerber’s in her hand. “You might not want to miss this,” I said, unable to lift my gaze from the screen. “It could just be—”

“Be right back,” she said, disappearing from the room.

Too late. Several other things now disappeared as well—in rough succession: the ball into the lower grandstand seats at the Polo Grounds, above the left-field wall; self-control (“They did it! They did it! My God, they did it!” I yelled, rushing distractedly from room to room, bumping into walls and dogs and relatives); Bobby Thomson, the batter (who had just written the meaty portion of the first sentence of his obituary, whenever that would be), into embraces of his teammates around home plate; the Dodgers (severally, slowly, slumpingly, across the littered outfield and up the steep stairway to their clubhouse); and—soon thereafter, it seems—all further memory of the day and the game and my own succeeding emotions and remarks and celebratory gestures and exclamations on this the greatest moment of my life as a deep-eyed, native-born Giants fan, fan of baseball, fan of fable, fan….

The four-run ninth-inning rally, capped by Bobby Thomson’s killing homer against the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca, not only won the 1951 National League pennant for the Giants (the two teams had finished the regular season in a tie, and split the first two games of their best-of-three playoff) but stands as the most vivid single moment, the grand exclamation point, in the history of the pastime. So we believed then—knew it, on the instant—and so I believe to this day, and it’s funny that I can remember nothing else about that afternoon.

I’ve seen my share of big moments in baseball history, but I wouldn’t presume to argue with Angell’s assessment.

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Categories: Baseball, Obituary
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