When Lorenzo first reads one of Ellison’s mysterious letters aloud, he mistakes the postage date for 1951, instead of 1957, and reads the P.S. about the World Series. We wondered which was actually the better year for baseball. Turns out it was 1951. In 1951, when Major League Baseball hadn’t yet arrived on the west coast, what would make somebody from San Francisco mention the World Series in a letter to his wife? When Ed asked Elsie who she thought would win the World Series, there had to be some serious historical significance to be worth mentioning.
The 1951 Major League Baseball season isn’t remembered for who won the World Series, or for that fact that Joe DiMaggio retired that year, or because it was the rookie season of future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, or for the death of MLB legend and member of the disgraced Chicago Black Sox Shoeless Joe Jackson, but for Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World.”
Entering the 1951 season, the Philadelphia Phillies were the favorite to win the NL Pennant following two very strong seasons including an appearance in the 1950 World Series. They seemed to be on the rise as the most dominant team in the National League, with the Brooklyn (soon to be Los Angeles) Dodgers and New York (soon to be San Francisco) Giants nipping at their heels. In the American League, the powerhouse New York Yankees were the favorite to win the World Series for the 3rd year in a row, and for the 4th time in 5 years.
What made the 1951 season so significant was the drama that surrounded the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Early that year, the Giants struggled tremendously and appeared to be careening toward a disastrous season. On August 11, 1951, 100 games into the season, the Giants were well behind the Dodgers who were cruising toward a National League Pennant. Then something incredible happened; the sort of incredible that creeps up on the you.
The Giants won 37 of their next 54 games including 16 in a row to pull into a tie with Dodgers with only one game left in the regular season.
Sunday, September 30th 1951 – final day of the regular season: Both the Giants and Dodgers were scheduled for a 1:35 p.m. start time. The Giants easily took care of a lackluster Boston Braves team in just 2 hours to pull ahead of the Dodgers by half a game in the standings. The Dodgers would find themselves locked in four and a half hour marathon against the one time contender, now wannabe spoiler, Philadelphia Phillies. In the bottom of the 6th inning, with the Dodgers trailing the Phillies by three, the final score of the Giants/Braves game was posted on the out-of-town scoreboard.
Needing to win that game just to stay alive, the Dodgers managed a dramatic 9 to 8 come-from-behind victory and rejoin the surging Giants atop the National League standings, setting up a crosstown best of 3 between the two NYC franchises in only the fourth tie breaker in major league history.
Monday, October 1st 1951: the series opened at Ebbets Field in Flatbush, Brooklyn, home of the Dodgers. As if tensions and excitement weren’t intense enough already, the game was the first in Major League Baseball history to be televised live from coast to coast.
The Dodgers were exhausted from the previous night’s game against the Phillies and were handed quick and clean 3 to 1 defeat.
Tuesday, October 2nd – Game 2: was at the Giants’ home field at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. Both stadiums were demolished decades ago, but they were only 15 miles apart! Imagine two rival fan bases, in a late season showdown to determine who would go to the World Series, in the same city. Yeah. Intense. Anyways, the Dodgers came back with a vengeance and scorched the Giants 10 to nothing to even the series.
Wednesday, October 3rd – Game 3: 1:30 p.m., do or die time at the Polo Grounds, home of the NY Giants. Winner goes on to face the Yankees, loser goes home. The Dodgers struck first with a run in the top of the first inning. They held that lead until the bottom of the seventh, when Bobby Thomson (remember that name) drove in a run to tie it up at 1. The Dodgers struck back immediately in next inning, the score now 4 to 1. Jump ahead to the bottom of the ninth, the Giants needed a miracle to win the series. Three of the first four batters reached base, scoring one run, and setting up one of the most dramatic and defining moments in Major League history. Down 4 to 2, with two runners on base, Bobby Thomson stepped to the plate. First pitch, strike.
Second pitch, fastball up and in, Thomson turns on it and rips a screaming line drive down the left field line. That 3 run home, game winning home run instantly embedded that moment and Bobby Thomson into annals of baseball lore forever.
That radio call by the Giants’ play-by-play man Russ Hodges WMCA has been immortalized, having been played over and over throughout the decades, never losing its magic.
In the next day’s New York Herald Tribune, Red Smith wrote of the “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff, “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”
The Giants went on to face the defending World Series Champion New York Yankees but were no match. The Yankees took care of business and won the best of 7 series in 6 games for their 3rd consecutive World Series title. The Yanks would go on to win the next two titles for 5 in a row!
Over the next 10 years, three of the eight National League would be relocated to other cities in the US. The Giants to San Francisco, the Dodgers to Los Angeles, and the Braves to Milwaukee. Baseball would never look the same. What a way to send off that early, great era of Major League Baseball.
*Coogan’s Bluff is a promontory overlooking the former sight of the Polo Grounds and is regarded as the boundary between the Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan. Read the rest of Red Smith’s article here:
A funky dancing enthusiast, Ezra is Manhattan born but Bay Area raised. He has always gravitated toward the more obscure and misunderstood. He is a traveler, taking time to explore the beautiful and expansive United States, before eventually taking on responsibility again.
@goldezra on twitter & @ezragold on instragram