Monday, October 3, 2011
October 3, 1951: Bobby Thomson hits a home run that wins the National League Pennant for the New York Giants, 5-4 over the Brooklyn Dodgers, at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan.
"Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again."
-- Red Smith, in the next day's New York Herald Tribune. If Red wasn't the greatest sportswriter ever, this paragraph certainly shows why he's a contender for the title.
Thomson died on August 16 of last year, at age 86. The home run ended the most amazing Pennant race New York City, perhaps any city, has ever seen. It was beamed around the U.S.A. in the first nationally-televised (NBC) broadcast of any non-World Series game, and the Armed Forces Radio Network played it for every U.S. military base from London (the writer George Plimpton claimed to have heard it while studying at Cambridge University in England) to Korea (where a war was raging that would soon claim as draftees Willie Mays, the Giant batter who was on deck, and Don Newcombe, the Dodger pitcher who'd nearly won the game before being relieved). This was reflected in an episode of the TV show M*A*S*H.
The pitcher who gave up the home run, Ralph Branca, is now 85, and has finally written a memoir of his checkered career and life, A Moment In Time. In spite of the scorn he's received for giving up that home run, he admits he's had a pretty good life. And, besides, he's remembered. Larry Jansen, the Giant pitcher who relieved Sal Maglie in that game, ended up as the winning pitcher in a game that's on the short list for the title of "greatest game ever played," would have won the NL Cy Young Award had it existed then, and was a member of the Giants' 1954 World Champions as well; yet when he died in 2009, I didn't hear of it immediately. Jansen was forgotten; Branca is remembered. Alternately a blessing and a curse.
For this worldwide coverage, it was called "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," after the description in poetry by Ralph Waldo Emerson of the musket shot that began the War of the American Revolution on the Lexington Green, outside Boston, in 1775.
The following men who played in that game, 60 years ago today, are still alive: Giants Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Don Mueller (the entire starting outfield) and Alvin Dark; and Dodgers Branca, Don Newcombe (whom Branca relieved), Andy Pafko (over whose head in left field the ball traveled). Giant pitcher George Spencer did not appear in the game, but was on their roster and is also still alive; so are Dodger reserves Carl Erskine, Johnny Schmitz, Rocky Bridges, Tommy Brown and Wayne Terwilliger.
Just in the last three years, the following players from that day have died: Giants Thomson, Jansen, Whitey Lockman, Clint Hartung, Davey Williams, Jack Lohrke and Artie Wilson; and Dodgers Duke Snider, Preacher Roe, Gene Hermanski, Don Thompson, Clyde King, and future legendary manager Dick Williams.
The same day Thomson hit that homer, 1,200 miles to the northwest, David Mark Winfield was born in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Dave Winfield would star for the San Diego Padres and the Yankees, help them to a Pennant in 1981 but infamously go just 1-for-22 in the World Series, fall short with the Yanks in the Division races of 1985, '86, '87 and '88; lead George Steinbrenner to (unfairly) tag him as "Mr. May," hire a criminal to dig up dirt on him, and finally exile him to the California Angels; finally win a World Series as he got the game-winning hit for the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 6 in 1992, collect his 3,000th career hit with his hometown Minnesota Twins, and retire with the Pennant-winning Cleveland Indians of 1995.
His Number 31 was retired by the Padres, but while the Yankees gave him a Dave Winfield Day following his Hall of Fame election in 2001, he has not yet received a Plaque in Monument Park, and his Number 31 has been worn by some rather mediocre Yankees:
Brian Dorsett, Hensley "Bam-Bam" Meulens, Mike Humphreys, Xavier Hernandez, Brian Boehringer, Dan Naulty, Ben Ford, Glenallen Hill, Steve Karsay, Jason Anderson (the first former member of the Staten Island Yankees to reach the majors), Aaron Small (he of the 10-0 record in 2005 but 0-1 in the ALDS and was soon rightfully gone from the majors), Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Josh Phelps and Michael Dunn.
But it has also been worn by some good players; all of these were former or future All-Stars, regardless of what they did as Yankees: Bob Wickman, Frank Tanana, Lance Johnson, Ian Kennedy, the execrable Javier Vazquez (in his 2nd and hopefully last go-around with the Yankees), currently Rafael Soriano, and a man who should one day join Big Dave in the Hall of Fame, Tim Raines, a contributor to the 1996 and 1998 World Champions.
So why hasn't Dave gotten his number retired and his Plaque? Could there still be a grudge held by George Steinbrenner's children, after all this time?
October 3, 1947: Floyd "Bill" Bevens takes a no-hitter into the bottom of the 9th in Game 4 of the World Series. He gets to within 1 out of the first World Series (and thus first postseason) no-hitter ever. But 10 walks put him in danger, and Harry "Cookie" Lavagetto pinch-hits a double-off the right-field wall at Ebbets Field, and the Dodgers win, 3-2.
Two days later, Al Gionfriddo will rob Joe DiMaggio with an amazing catch to preserve the Dodgers' lead in Game 6, but the Yankees win the Series in Game 7. By a weird twist of fate, neither Bevens, nor Lavagetto, nor Gionfriddo will ever play again.
Who is still alive from this Series, 64 years later? For the Yankees, just Yogi Berra and Bobby Brown. For the Dodgers, no one: Duke Snider was the last survivor, and he died earlier this year. Gene Hermanski was the last survivor of the Dodgers who actually played in this Series, and he died last year.
A better day for the Brooklyn franchise was October 3, 1900, when the team, then known as the Superbas, beat the Boston Braves at South End Grounds to win the NL Pennant -- and, with the setup then in place, the unofficial World Championship of baseball. They would not win another for 55 years, but, then, it would be official.
I didn't post yesterday, but October 2 is the anniversary of the Yankees' World Championship of 1932, completing a 4-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field; and the baseball Giants' World Championship of 1954, completing a 4-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. These are the earliest-ending World Series ever, and are likely to remain so.