Sunday, September 30, 2012

“Dat Day” - -Bobby Thomson's Famous Homer Lives On

Bobby Thompson

          Play-off baseball will soon be in the air; however, it is doubtful if any moment will take place to compare with what happened in Manhattan those  long years ago.
          Throughout the long history of baseball there have been poignant, exciting, dramatic moments. But nothing like what happened on October 3, 1951 at the old Polo Grounds in New York City.
          Some refer to that time as "The Miracle at Coogan's Bluff." Others, especially in Brooklyn, call it "Dat Day." But no matter what label is applied it was a time to remember.
          It was a time when the Giants played out of the Polo Grounds in Manhattan and the Dodgers entertained millions in their tiny Brooklyn ballpark, Ebbets Field. It was a time of tremendous fan devotion to each team.
          In July, Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen had bragged, "The Giants is dead." It seemed to aptly describe the plight of Leo Durocher's team. For on August 12 the Giants trailed the Dodgers by 13 l/2 games in the standings.
          Then, incredibly the Giants locked into what has been called "The Miracle Run." They won 37 of their final 44 games - 16 of them in one frenetic stretch - and closed the gap.
          "It was a once-in-a-lifetime situation," recalls Monte Irvin, who batted .312 that year for the Giants. "We kept on winning. The Dodgers kept on losing. It seemed like we beat everybody in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning.
          The Giants and Dodgers finished the season in a flat-footed tie for first-place and met on the first day of October in the first game of the first play-off in the history of the National League. The teams split the first two games setting the stage for the third and final game.
          Star hurler Don Newcombe of the Dodgers was pitted against veteran Sal Maglie of the Giants. Both hurlers had won 23 games during the regular season.
          The game began under overcast skies and a threat of rain. Radio play-by-play filtered into schoolrooms, factories, office buildings, city prisons, barbershops.
          The Wall Street teletype intermingled stock quotations with play-by-play details of the Giant-Dodger battle.
          The game was tied 1-1 after seven innings. Then Brooklyn scored three times in the top of the eighth.
          Many of the Dodger fans at the Polo Grounds and the multitude listening to the game on the radio thought that the Giants would not come back.
          Leo Durocher and the Giants never gave up. "We knew that Newcombe would make the wrong pitch," said Monte Irvin. "That was his history."
          The Giants came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning - only three outs remained in their miracle season.
          Shortstop Alvin Dark led off with a single through the right side of the infield. Outfielder Don Mueller slapped the ball past Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges. Irvin fouled out. A double by Whitey Lockman down the left field line. Dark scored.
          With runners on second and third Ralph Branca  came in to relieve Newcombe. Bobby Thomson waited to bat. Durocher said, "I did not know whether they would pitch to Thomson or not. First base was open. Willie Mays, just a rookie, was on deck."
          Veteran New York Giant announcer Russ Hodges described the moment to millions mesmerized at their radios that October afternoon:
          "Bobby Thomson up there swinging.... Bobby batting at .292. Branca pitches and Bobby takes a strike call on the inside corner. Lockman without too big of a lead at second but he'll be running like the wind if Thomson hits one.
          "Branca throws ... there's a long's gonna be, I believe. . .' The precise moment was 3:58 P.M., October 3, 1951.
          "... the Giants win the pennant!" Hodges screamed the words at the top of his voice, all semblance of journalistic objectivity gone. "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
          Hodges bellowed it out eight times - and then overcome by the moment and voiceless, he had to yield the microphone.
          Pandemonium was on parade at the Polo Grounds for hours after the game. For almost half an hour after the epic home run, there were so many phone calls placed by people in Manhattan and Brooklyn that the New York Telephone Company reported service almost broke down.
          Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca would play out their major league careers. But the moment they shared - as hero and goat that October day at the Polo Grounds - would link them forever.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sad Days at Fenway Park in the 1960's

An Excerpt from

Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox/Abrams 2011 - - now available in stores, on-line and direct from the author

The joy and passion and full houses (breaking the 700 straight sellout mark and counting) and winning ways now on parade at Fenway Park all are a sharp contrast to the way things once were at the little ballpark in most of the 1960s.

There are still those around who recall that time, some with mixed emotions.

SAM MELE: I came into Fenway a lot when I managed Minnesota from 1961 to 1967. My home was still in Quincy, Mass. So I slept in my own bed. It was funny. I was managing against the team that I loved.

In 1965, we beat Boston 17 out of 18 times, 8 out of the 9 at Fenway. It actually hurt me, to beat them. I felt sorry because in my heart I was a Red Sox fan. I had played for them, I had scouted for them. Tom Yawkey would come in my office. And we would talk a lot. Oh yeah, geez, he had me in his will.

The losing, the miserable attendance, the doom and gloom that pervaded Fenway was on parade big time on the 16th of September. The tiniest crowd of the season made its way into Fenway Park - - just 1,247 paid and 1,123 in on passes. Dave Morehead opposed Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians.

Fenway was a ghost town of a ball park in 1965 when the team drew but 652,201, an average of 8,052 a game . The worst came late in the season. On September 28th against California only 461 showed to watch the sad Sox. The next day was even worse against the same team – just 409 in the house. Finishing 9th in the ten-team American League, the Sox lost 100 games and won 62. The nadir had been breached.

Managers kept coming and going. Top prospects somehow never made it for one reason or another. Billy Herman was in place as the 1966 season started. Early on Dave Morehead, just 24, regarded as a brilliant future star, suffered an injury to his arm and was never the same. Posting a 1-2 record in a dozen appearances, he symbolized the Red Sox of that era - promise but pathos.

In 1966, the Sox lost 90 games and finished ninth. Attendance at Fenway Park was 811,172, an average attendance per game of 10, 095. It was pitiful.

JIM LONBORG: The 1967 season started off as a typical Red Sox season. There were 8,324 fans on a cold and dreary April 12th, Opening Day. We beat the White Sox 5-4. Petrocelli hit a three-run homer. And I got the win.

The next day there were only 3,607 at the ballpark. And then we went on a road trip. We came back having won 10 straight games. And when our plane landed there were thousands of fans waiting at the airport. That moment was the start of the great relationship between the fans and the players.

BOB SULLIVAN: I went to Dartmouth, and we used to road trip down to Fenway and get standing room without any trouble. It was eight dollars for grandstand seats. But so many seats were empty. You would flip an usher a quarter and you could move down into the seats. Then it changed. What happened was ’67.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


It’s that time of year when football is the talk of many towns and a sport publishers trot out their new wares for. What follows is a beginning sampling of some of the more interestingefforts.

“The Best American Sports Writing 2012” edited by Michael Wilbon (HMH, $14.95, 361 pages, paper) has a lot to recommend it - -and a couple of pieces that I have close connections to. As the author Tony Dorsett’s autobiography “Running Tough,” I was especially enthralled with S. I. Price’s piece on football in Aliquippa, Pa., where the young Tony learned his stuff. As the co-author along with my wife Myrna of “Basketball My Way” by Nancy Lieberman, I was especially interested in the Ben McGrath piece on Nancy as men’s basketball coach. These two and others make “The Best American Sports Writing 2012” live up to its claim in its title.

“Ten Gallon War” by John Eisenberg (HMH, $27.00, 308 pages) is an intriguing flashback to pro football history and the fight for dominance in the gridiron sports in Dallas. It was the Texans of the AFL versus the Cowboys of the NFL and the birth of the game in “Big D.” Like a street fight with an amazing cast of characters, this one is sure to entertain any sports fan.

From the University of Wisconsin comes “Alan Ameche” by Dan Manoyan (Terrace Books, University of Wisconsin Press, $26. 95, 279 pages).It was Ameche who catapulted Wisconsin into collegiate football’s big time as a Heisman Trophy winner for the Badgers. He continued with a brilliant pro career with the Baltimore Colts. A wonderful look back at football history and an insightful portrait of one of the game’s legends.

“Best of Rivals” by Adam Lazarus (DaCapo, $26.00, 304 pages) is a treat for Niner fans. It focuses via many interviews on as its sub-title proclaims “the Inside Story Behind the NFL’s Greatest Quarterback Controversy.” That might be press agent speak, but the book is worth the read – illuminating and engrossing.

From Kevin Cook comes “The Last Headbangers” (Norton, $26.95, 278 pages). The book is football history - - this time the seventies - a time of beyond head-slapping, a time of hard-hitting, rowdy and raunchy behavior. Painkillers, steroids and a sport on the ascent in more ways than one. If you want to re-live some it, this is the tome for you.

Finally, there is “Love’s Winning Plays” by Inman Majors (Norton, $25.95, 256 pages) a novel focused on the ups and downs of young Raymond Love, a coach valiantly attempting to navigate his way through his rookie year of coaching in the Southeastern Conference. Funny, appealing book.

“All In” (Abrams,$29.95, 128 pages)The New York Giants Official 2011 Season and Super Bowl Commemorative is a must for fans of the team.

Also from Abrams two more books from the “101 Reasons to Love”series – one on the Packers by David Green and the other by Ron Green, Jr.

All of these Abrams books are beautifully produced and targeted for specific fan bases, but what’s not to love here for all football fans?

My Remembering Yankee Stadium, Remembering Fenway, and New York City Baseball: The Last Golden Age have all been included in "501 Books Baseball Fans Must Read Before They Die."