The ballplayer who hit ‘the shot heard ’round the world’
Bobby Thomson was a reliable power hitter who stroked 264 home runs during his 15 seasons in Major League Baseball. But he’s famous for only one: the game-winning three-run shot in 1951 that lifted the New York Giants to a 5–4 victory over their hated cross-town rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, crowning the Giants the champions of the National League. The homer inspired an equally memorable baseball moment, broadcaster Russ Hodges’ near-hysterical announcement that “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”
Thomson was born in Glasgow, Scotland, five days after his father, a cabinetmaker, had sailed to New York to seek a better life for his family, said The New York Times. When the younger Thomson arrived in New York two years later with his mother and siblings, his father was already a Dodgers fan. Thomson grew up on Staten Island, and played baseball for Curtis High School well enough to draw the notice of the Giants, which in 1942 paid him a $100 bonus to join its organization. He moved up to major-league ball in 1947, following a stint in the Army Air Forces. “A right-handed batter with good power and excellent speed,” Thomson played center field for the Giants until early in the 1951 season, when he was moved to third base to make way for a center fielder of even more impressive power and speed, Willie Mays.
His momentous home run—immortalized as the “shot heard ’round the world”—forever shaped his legacy, said the Baltimore Sun. Even in recent years, Dodgers fans would approach him on the street to tell him, with a smile, that they hadn’t forgiven him, and never would. “I still get a kick out of it,” he told an interviewer. “All those years, and people still remember it so well.” Ralph Branca, the Dodgers pitcher who served up the fateful home run ball, bore no hard feelings. The two became friends after their playing days were over and often appeared together at old-timers’ games and charitable events. Thomson’s feat was tarnished somewhat by the revelation in 1994 that the Giants had spent the entire 1951 season stealing opposing teams’ pitching signs, but Thomson insisted he hadn’t known what pitch was coming (it was a fastball). Branca himself, who called the home run a “humiliation,” shrugged off the allegations of sign-stealing. “Even if Bobby knew it was coming,” Branca said, “he had to hit it.”
The remainder of Thomson’s career was “understandably anticlimactic,” said The Philadelphia Inquirer. Traded to the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, Thomson bounced around the big leagues, finishing his ball-playing days in Baltimore in 1960. He went hitless in his last six at-bats. He later became a salesman for a paper company and settled in a quiet New Jersey town with his wife and two daughters. A humble man, he never quite got used to the attention that one well-timed home run earned him. “I’m in the phone book,” he once told an effusive fan. “I’m nobody special.”