- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
People are always telling me that the biggest thrill in my life must have been watching Bobby Thomson's home run go into the Polo Grounds bleachers. They are wrong on only two counts: 1) I didn't see it, and 2) I wasn't thrilled, because I went into shock. The mind, I learned that day, can be a very strange and frightening thing.
It's Oct. 3, 1951. My New York Giants had tied my old team, the Dodgers, for the National League pennant by winning 37 of their last 44 games in the greatest stretch run in the history of baseball. In August we'd been 13� games back. We'd split the first two playoff games, and now it's the last half of the ninth inning of the decider and we trail the Dodgers 4-1.
I felt good when I went out to the coaching lines because the team had done such a heck of a job all year long and I knew we were going to leave the field with our heads in the air, win or lose. But that doesn't mean I thought we had any real chance to win. I'm an optimist, but I'm not a nut.
But the first two Giants, Alvin Dark and Don Mueller, singled, and now I become goose-pimply all over and, boy, my wheels are spinning because Monte Irvin, my best hitter, is coming to bat. I got to get me another knock here. If Irvin hits it out, the score is tied. But if Irvin singles, I have a run in and the tying runs on base, with Whitey Lockman coming to bat. Am I going to play it conservatively and let Lockman bunt or am I going to cross them up and go for the whole ball of wax? Irvin takes that decision out of my hands by fouling out. I really need another little knock now. I got to get that tying run on. Lockman lines a high outside pitch into the left-field corner for a double, scoring Dark and sending Mueller to third.
But Mueller is laid out at third base and his ankle is twisted. It proved to be only a bad sprain, but from the way he looked while Doc Bowman, our trainer, was examining his ankle I was sure it was broken. Now the last thing in the world you want when you have a pitcher on the ropes is to give him a chance to compose himself, and so I'm screaming insults at the Brooklyn pitcher, Don Newcombe. Not that I needed any encouragement. The truth is I had been trying to get into a fight with Newcombe from along about the fourth inning. After every inning, I had waited for him to pass me on his way to the dugout so I could let him know what a choke-artist he was. Inning after inning, Don had just walked on by and given me the kind of winking look that says, "Keep trying, Leo, but it ain't going to work." And inning after inning, he had grown stronger and stronger.
A favorite trivia question is, "Who was on base when Bobby Thomson hit his home run?" The trick is that there was a runner for Mueller. I looked down my bench and for some reason picked out Clint Hartung, who was 6'5" and far from the best or fastest runner on the team.
Just as the game was about to resume, Charlie Dressen, the Dodger manager, went out to the mound to talk to Newcombe. Another delay. I'm screaming everything at him now, but it turns out to be wasted effort for Dressen waves to the bullpen and in comes Ralph Branca.
As Big Newk left the mound he started right for me. "Well, here I go again," I said to myself, and Hartung, who was standing right alongside me, said, "Let him come over here, I'll take care of him." That's when I knew why I had picked Clint Hartung. He was the only man in the ball park bigger than Don Newcombe.
Newk took a couple more steps in my direction before he got hold of himself and swerved sharply away toward the clubhouse, with the fans waving their handkerchiefs at him as he went up the runway.
Branca indicated he was ready. Thomson approached the plate and, as my mind was wrenched back to the ball game, I remembered something. Branca had last pitched in the first playoff game, and Bobby had hit a home run off him. I called time and ran to the batter's circle to remind Bobby that the home-run pitch had been a curve or a slider, probably a slider, which meant he wouldn't be seeing it now.