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Neither man suspected that in the next moments they would make baseball history, that they would be the hero and the victim of one of the game's most enduring legends: the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff.
"Has it been 40 years?" Bobby Thomson asks, "I tell you, this whole thing is still just a little bit crazy. I had no idea that what happened back then would still be famous. Hey, look, I'm just a plain old guy." He's 67 now, 68 on Oct. 25, a paper-products salesman living in Watchung, N.J. He is white-haired and bespectacled but still trim and remarkably youthful-looking. He is seated—rather painfully because of recent hernia surgery—in the living room of his fine suburban home.
"It's nice to be remembered," he says, "but looking back on it, I think getting a job after baseball was one of the real satisfactions of my life, because, like a lot of ballplayers, I was poorly prepared to meet the outside world. I'd had only a high school education, and I certainly didn't know anything about the work ethic. Now, after all these years of earning a living, I can look back and feel like I've accomplished something. And so can Ralph. He is a very substantial, successful person, you know. I've always appreciated that man. And I never did feel sorry for him afterward. That's just not the way I was brought up. I do know that he had to get used to what happened back then, but these things have a way of taking care of themselves. I think he did take it kind of hard at first, but he gradually came to accept it. And let's face it, without that moment, we'd both be long forgotten."
Thomson had not enjoyed one of his best games that fateful day. True, he had had a pair of hits and an RBI before the ninth, but in the second inning, with the Giants trailing 1-0 and Lockman on first, he had hit a drive to left that, with his great speed, had figured to be an easy double. He had not taken into account the strong throwing arm of Dodger leftfielder Andy Pafko. Lockman had, however, and when Pafko fielded the ball cleanly off the wall and fired true to Billy Cox at third, Lockman held at second base. Thomson, running with his head down, did not see him there until it was too late. Dodger second baseman Jackie Robinson tagged Thomson out after a brief and embarrassing rundown. Then, in the eighth, a ground ball to third by Pafko glanced off Thomson's glove for a run-scoring single, and another by Cox shot past Thomson to drive in a run as the Dodgers scored three times and took a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead. "Pafko's ball was a you-do-or-you-don't kind," Thomson says. "I didn't. Cox's would have killed me if it had hit me."
But the plays might have been made by a brilliant fielder such as Cox himself. Thomson had started the season in centerfield and hadn't made the switch full-time to third base until midseason, when it became obvious that Mays should play center. Thomson had played well at third, and his hitting had improved tremendously, but he was more comfortable in the outfield.
After the disastrous eighth, Thomson says, "There was a feeling of total dejection, but I wasn't going to let what happened before bother me. Actually, I was the fifth hitter in the ninth, and I wasn't sure I'd get a chance. We had been under pressure for a long time by then. The last two weeks of the season, every game meant a little more than the last one. It got so that every play in every game was meaningful."
The Giants had been written off as a pennant contender as early as July, particularly by Dressen. After his team had beaten the Giants on both ends of an Independence Day doubleheader at Ebbets Field, the garrulous little Dodger manager had remarked injudiciously, "We knocked them out; they'll never bother us again." Dressen, a notorious nonreader even by baseball standards, was obviously unfamiliar with philosopher George Santayana's maxim, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." In 1934, Dressen should have recalled, Giants manager Bill Terry had dismissed the Dodgers by inquiring, "Is Brooklyn still in the league?" only to have the Dodgers knock his team out of a tight pennant race in the last two games of the season.
And yet, for much of '51, the Giants did look moribund. They lost 12 of their first 14 games, and when the first-place Dodgers won the first game of a doubleheader against the Boston Braves on Aug. 11, New York fell 13½ games behind. And then, the next day, the Giants started a 16-game winning streak that trimmed the Brooklyn lead by five games. Thomson, who had been hitting .231 only a week before his move to third base was made permanent on July 20, hit .385 from then until Sept. 15 and .449 thereafter. He was not the only streaker. After a slow 1-for-26 beginning, Mays started hitting, and Monte Irvin would lead the league in RBIs, with 121. The Giants also had three outstanding pitchers in Maglie, Larry Jansen and Jim Hearn.
Entering the final week of the season, the two teams were tied with 94 wins and 58 losses apiece. On Saturday, Sept. 29, Maglie shut out the Braves 3-0 in Boston for his 23rd win. That night in Philadelphia, Newcombe blanked the Phillies for his 20th. On Sunday, the Giants game at Boston was started half an hour early because of threatening weather. Jansen held off the Braves, 3-2, in just two hours and one minute. It was his 22nd and next-to-last win of the season. The Dodgers were still playing in Philadelphia when the Giants boarded the five o'clock train to New York. Brooklyn was down 8-5 in the fifth. On the train, Feeney and Giants announcer Russ Hodges kept track of the score by telephone and relayed developments to the anxious players.
The Dodgers seemed willing to use an entire pitching staff in one game to save their pennant chances. Preacher Roe, having his best season at 22-3, even with a sore arm, started and then was followed by Branca, Clyde King, Labine, Erskine, Newcombe and finally Bud Podbielan. Newcombe, who had pitched a complete game the night before, went 5⅔ innings before handing the ball over to Podbielan. Robinson saved the game in the 12th with a diving catch of Eddie Waitkus's two-out, bases-loaded line drive, and he won it in the 14th with a solo home run.