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Why Bobby Thomson Day Will Always Be Special To Men Of A Certain Age + Thoughts on Upcoming "Final Fours" in Both Leagues (updated version)

Way back in the way back of the mid-twentieth century, on Wednesday afternoon October 3, 1951 at 3:58p, New York Giants third baseman Bobby Thomson waited for an 0-1 pitch from Brooklyn Dodger reliever Ralph Branca.

 
"There's a long drive, I think it's gonna be," shouted Russ Hodges on WMCA Radio 570 AM.  And micro-seconds later, Hodges shouted not once but four times: "The Giants win the pennant!"  Over in the WMGM 1050 AM radio booth, Red Barber quietly said, "It's in there for the pennant." 

 
I was only nine years old, but I was listening on my parents' old floor model Crosley radio. It might have been to Barber and not Hodges, but Your Honor, I just don't remember.  

But I do vividly remember telephoning my father at his office with the good news because he was a Giant fan from the days of John McGraw. 

 
My boys had been down 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth and the odds didn't look good for the Polo Grounds nine. Giants owner Horace Stoneham had retreated to the center field clubhouse to greet the lads on a good try after the game.

 

But once Alvin Dark singled to lead off the inning against previously dominant Don Newcombe, ears perked up and hearts began to leap. When my favorite Don "Mandrake the Magician" Mueller singled Dark to third, we had tying run at the plate! True rally in making.

 

Monte Irvin popped out but Whitey Lockman doubled home Dark to cut lead to 4-2.  

 

There is nothing like baseball drama in October.  Don Mueller broke his ankle sliding into third so there was a pause as he was helped off the field.  Clint Hartung, who never lived up to the ballyhoo as The Hondo Hurricane, came in to pinch-run. 

 

Don Newcombe was out and Ralph Branca made the long walk in from the bullpen far away in left field. Coach Clyde Sukeforth is said to have advised manager Chuck Dressen that Carl Erskine had just thrown his vaunted curveball in the dirt and Branca was safer pick. (Though Thomson had homered a few times in the past against Branca.)

 

And on the 0-1 pitch Thomson swung and soon Russ Hodges was shouting, "They're going crazy, they're going crazy."  I've never believed that Thomson knew what pitch was coming.  I heard from a reliable source that a few days before Whitey Lockman died, he made a definitive comment:  "He still had to hit the ball, didn't he?" 

 
It was 69 years old today - the birthday of Hall of Famer Dave Winfield who was born in 1951.  It remains a special moment (with apologies to Brooklyn Dodger fans who were heart- broken but hey you guys won enough pennants - and we were both rooked six years later when the teams left for California.)

 

Once the expanded playoffs came into baseball with wild cards were added for best record without winning a division title, Russ Hodges' dramatic call would have lost a little flair.  It would have gone:  "The Giants Win The Pennant! . . . And The Dodgers Win The Wild Card."

 
Which brings us to October baseball in 2020.  The "final fours" in each league could be very dramatic best of five series.  All will be played in "bubbles" in warm weather sites in Texas or southern California.

 

The pandemic has caused this adjustment, but for decades "warm weather" sites has been a dream of many high-rollers in baseball and television circles. After all, their argument goes, who can afford World Series prices anyway? 

 

Three of the four divisional series could be called grudge matches, especially Yankees versus Tampa Bay Rays who won season series 8-2. With a no-name lineup of seemingly interchangeable pitching and batting parts, the Rays are defiant in their disregard for Yankee "aura and mystique" (to use the phrase of the politically righter-than-right Curt Schllling). 

 

That series will be played in San Diego. If the Dodgers won enough in their last years in Brooklyn, what can be said about the Yankees and their entitlement?  So let's bring those games on, starting Monday night Oct 5 on Fox channels for five consecutive nights if necessary.

 

I must say though I cannot root for Yankees, third baseman Gio Urschela's defensive and offensive performance against his former team Cleveland was truly awesome. It's an overused word these days but certainly true.  He has to have made the people of Colombia very proud.

 

In Los Angeles, the Oakland Athletics hope to get revenge on the Houston Astros who won the World Series in 2017 but were admonished for their high-tech and low-tech sign-stealing escapades. 

 
Dusty Baker has done a helluva job in his first year managing the Astros who everyone likes to hate. Houston players have hardly been repentant for their role in the scandal. 

 

But I can never root against a Baker-led team and so I'll say, "Let the best team win . . . without excess chicanery." 

 
In the NL "final four", the Southern California freeway battle between the Padres and the Dodgers will be played in Arlington, Texas, where the World Series will also be held in the Rangers' brand-new billion-dollar Globe Life Stadium.

 

If San Diego can get back its two starters Clevinger and Lamet that missed the triumph over the Cardinals, it says here that the Padres may have enough hitting to give the Dodgers a run for their money. And their left side of the infield, Manny Machado at third and Fernando Tatis Jr at shortstop, can be spectacular.

 
The Dodgers look exceptionally well-balanced and certainly have a lot to prove after winning 7 NL West titles in a row - now 8 - without a World Series title to show for it. 


The other NL matchup is not exactly chopped liver.  A well-balanced Atlanta Braves team that shut out the Reds twice in the first round faces the 2020 Cinderellas, the Miami Marlins, the "Bottom Feeders" derided by a Phillies broadcaster early in season, now have the last laugh. Philadelphia didn't even make playoffs. They will play in Houston.

 
With the NHL Stanley Cup now in the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the NBA title likely going to LeBron James' LA Lakers, MLB will have the stage to itself n October as it should be.  (I omit from this discussion the NFL and its bowdlerized season.)  

 

In closing, let's clink glasses to three Baseball Hall of Famers who left us in rapid fashion recently:  Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, and Bob Gibson.  

 

And to three lesser lights who etched their names in the Baseball Book of Achievement:  Lou Johnson, Jay Johnstone, and Ron Perranoski.   "There is no wealth but life."

 

That's all for now.  Be well and stay well and as always, take it easy but take it.

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Hey, Dr. Fauci, There Were Giant Fans in NYC Too! + More Thoughts on Baseball, Movies, and Music (revised to note that Sat May 9 is day for "Ace in the Hole" on TCM)

Dr. Anthony Fauci has deservedly become a voice of sanity and hope in these increasingly nervous times.  The former Upper East Side Regis Prep School point guard is also a great baseball fan who has switched to rooting for the world champion Washington Nationals after growing up as a Yankees fan.

 
Yet when he recently told James Wagner of the New York Times that in the 1950s "everybody in Brooklyn was either a Dodger or a Yankee fan," I reacted with horror: "Have you never heard of New York Giant fans, dear doctor?" 

 

As I post on Willie Mays' 89th birthday on May 6th, let me remind him that there was a third team in NYC with a history that predated either Yankee pinstripes and Dodger blue. And Willie Mays more than deserved to be in the same company as Mickey and the Duke. Alvin Dark could hold his own in all-around play with Pee Wee and Phil.  (But I'm not going to going to bat for Wes Westrum over Campy and Yogi.)

 

It's true there weren't as many of us New York Giant fans, but there were plenty scattered around the five boroughs of NYC and neighboring suburbs. Including future Hall of Famer Joe Torre raised close to Fauci in Bensonhurst deep in the heart of Brooklyn.

 

"Nobody's perfect," Dr. Fauci, and please continue doing your good work of trying to talk truth to power about the public health quandary we find ourselves in. 

 
"Nobody's perfect", of course, brings to mind Joe E. Brown's classic closing line in Billy

Wilder's hilarious farce "Some Like It Hot" (1959).This Sat May 9 at 8PM, there is a deserved prime time showing on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) of Wilder's rarely seen earlier film "Ace In The Hole". 

 
It was released in 1951 the year after his big success with "Sunset Boulevard" (1950). 

Kirk Douglas plays a newspaper reporter banished to New Mexico from NYC. A mine accident traps a worker underground, and Douglas seizes this opportunity to make a national story at the expense of the poor victim. 

 
Douglas reportedly urged Wilder to soften his character a little bit, but the director was unrelenting.  He wanted to make a mordant statement about mass culture and he sure did.  The film pretty much bombed at the box office in the U.S., but made more money in France released as "The Big Carnival" (1955). 

 
One more TCM tip in the coming days. In a rare back-to-back showing, on Monday May 11 at 8PM and 1045PM, George Nierenberg's joyous tap dance documentary, "No Maps On My Taps" (1979) will be shown. Tap masters Sandman Sims, Bunny Briggs, and Chuck Green get deserved acclaim. 

 
Some of the music in the doc. is provided by Lionel Hampton who once told me when he wasn't traveling, he often coached first base for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. 

 

Speaking of the Monarchs and the Negro leagues, an absorbing and intelligent read is Jeremy Beer's award-winning biography, OSCAR CHARLESTON (University of Nebraska Press). 

Glad to see too that Oscar was honored with a plaque in his home town of Indianapolis.

 

I have no crystal ball on when we might see live baseball in the States again. In their thirst for live sports, ESPN has made a deal with the Korean Baseball Organization for late night coverage Tu through Su plus playoffs..

 
On Monday night May 4th I stayed up late to watch an opening night game. And whatdya know?   There was a rain delay!   It was only a half-hour pause, and for the few innings I could stay awake I was treated to crisp defensive play and good pitching. Fan noises were piped into the empty stadium which may happen here if there are indeed games in the USA in 2020.

 

In the meantime, let's cherish our memories of games and heroes of the past. And keep hoping we'll have a future of fresh games to look forward to sometime soon.

 

As Dr, Fauci described it beautifuclly a few days ago, you're at a game and "just watch things go slowly and then all of a sudden explode with a couple of line drives off the wall."  And if home runs follow, your adrenaline goes up tenfold!  

 

Until that happy moment, now more than ever, Take it easy but take it!  

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