Outfielder Bobby Thomson, a 15 year big league veteran, 3-time NL all-star and the man who hit what was arguably the most famous HR in baseball history, has passed away at the age of 86. Thompson’s blast off Dodgers reliever Ralph Branca in the 9th inning of the deciding 3rd game of a National League championship playoff came on the heels of an incredible NY Giants comeback, having erased a 13 1/2 game Brooklyn lead held as late as August 11. From the NY Daily News’ Bill Madden and Michael O’Keefe :
Dodger starter Don Newcombe, who had logged 272 innings that season, tired in the ninth, surrendering a leadoff infield single to Alvin Dark, another single to Don Mueller, and then, after Monte Irvin fouled out, a two-run opposite field double to left field by Whitey Lockman. On the play, Mueller severely sprained his ankle sliding into third and as he was attended to and finally removed from the game for pinch-runner Clint Hartung, Dodger manager Charlie Dressen summoned Branca from the bullpen to replace Newcombe with Thomson coming to the plate.
“I was sorry to see Don hurt,” Thomson had said, “but the delay really helped me. I walked out to talk to (Giants manager) Leo (Durocher) and he said: ‘If you ever hit one, hit one now.’ I could see he was plenty excited too and I calmed down a bit. On my way back to the plate, I said to myself: ‘You’re a pro. Act like one!'”
Branca’s first pitch was a fastball called strike. His second pitch, another fastball, Thomson hit on a low rising liner toward left. As Dodger leftfielder Andy Pafko drifted back to the wall, the ball sailed over his head into the seats for a 5-4 victory, and from the broadcast booth Giants announcer Russ Hodges could be heard screaming, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”
“Right away after I hit it I thought it was a home run,” Thomson said. “Going around the bases, I could hardly breathe. I was starting to hyperventilate.”
Years later, Giants backup C Sal Yvars would claim Thomson was the beneficiary of an elaborate sign-stealing scheme, a charge Thomson would deny.