Spander: Thomson will live forever in Giants lore

The hero passes, the moment lives. In photos on the club level of AT&T Park. In recordings played a thousand times.
“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant.”

One swing of the bat, and ecstasy. And agony.

The greats keep leaving us: Warren Spahn, Dom DiMaggio and now at age 86, Bobby Thomson, who hit the “Shot Heard ’Round the World.”

We still hear Russ Hodges’ voice. We still see the celebration at home plate, where a 20-year-old named Willie Mays would have been the next batter.

Fifty-nine years ago, Oct. 1951, the Battle of the Boroughs, New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds for the third game of a best-of-three playoff series to determine the National League champion.

Only days earlier, the transcontinental TV network had been connected. Until then everything in California that came from the East was a week late. But now — I was a seventh grader in Los Angeles — it was as if the West had been re-opened across the Sierra.

I was a Dodger fan, because my dad, from New York, was a Dodger fan. TV was in its infancy, 10-inch or 12-inch black and white sets, screens smaller than those of current laptop computers. Vern Baker, our PE teacher at Audubon Junior High, weaseled a set and put it in the boys gym. We watched only during lunch.

Who could have known? The Dodgers led 4-2 into the bottom of the ninth. On came Ralph Branca in relief of Don Newcombe.

We couldn’t hear the announcer, who I later would learn was the great Ernie Harwell, who died a few months ago. He was doing television, Hodges the radio, shouting words that still echo.

“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it. I do not believe it.”

Neither did I that afternoon. Mr. Baker, as we properly addressed him, switched off the set seconds after the ball cleared the left field wall and Leo Durocher, in the third base coach’s box even though he was the Giants’ manager, jumped, bounced and leaped like a mad man as Thomson circled the bases, New York a 5-4 winner.

Joyful Bobby. Heartbroken Branca. It was Billy Buckner, a thousand times worse. The Dodgers held a 13½-game lead in August. The Giants won and won and won, 37 of their final 44 games and the Dodgers were lucky to tie the last day of the regular season.

Eventually, the pain subsided for Branca. He and Thomson united to appear at card shows, to sign autographs on baseballs, including one in my cluttered office, Thomson’s name above Branca’s.

I met them both several times, gentlemen from the old school who understood how fate had linked them, how even though that autumn afternoon one would become a winner, the other never was a loser.

The 1951 Giants would lose the World Series to the Yankees, for whom Joe DiMaggio — born and raised in San Francisco, as brother Dom — would be playing his final season.

Thomson and his teammates came to AT&T Park in 2002, interestingly the last time the Giants won a pennant, for the unveiling of a plaque which hangs in left field reading, “Remember ’51.”

We will, and we’ll never forget Bobby Thomson.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

AT&T ParkBaseballOther Sportssports

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

San Francisco lacks housing data that would let it track rental vacancies and prices. New legislation is seeking to change that.<ins> (Photo by Joel Angel Jurez/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Landlords blast proposal to require annual report on rentals as invasion of privacy

Housing inventory could give city better data on housing vacancies, affordability

University of San Francisco head coach Todd Golden coaches his team on defense during a 2019 gameat War Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of the University of San Francisco. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)
Stunner in Bubbleville: USF upsets fourth-ranked Virginia

Less than 48 hours removed from a loss to a feeble UMass… Continue reading

Health care workers would be the first group in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images/TNS)
Hope on the way: Here’s what to know about California’s COVID-19 vaccine plan

The first batch of doses could hit the state as soon as early December

The Big Game was played Friday at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. (Shutterstock)
Stanford blocks extra point to stun Cal, win 123rd Big Game 24-23

The 123rd edition of the Big Game featured a number of firsts.… Continue reading

Psilocybin magic mushrooms (Shutterstock)
‘Magic mushrooms’ moving into the mainstream

Efforts to decriminalize psychedelics could follow several different paths

Most Read