Back on July 7, 2001 a select group of media and guests were invited to attend a screening of Shot Heard ‘Round the World, an HBO documentary profiling the 1951 season of the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers culminating in the game winning home run by Bobby Thomson to beat the Dodgers. A few lucky reporters were able to interview former New York Giant Bobby Thomson. Thomson hit his historic three run home run on October 3, 1951 @ 4:00 EST off Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds.
Here’s a Q&A session with the legendary Bobby Thomson:
Question: Obviously I want to hit on the movie a little bit and get your impressions on the movie.
Thomson: I’ve seen the screening in New York and I thought HBO did a great job. They almost brought a tear to my eye when they got back into my family years ago seeing pictures of my mother and the rest of my family. It was a great experience for me.
Question: You kind of lived it over again?
Thomson: Yep. They started over in Scotland of course and I was only 2-2 ½ yrs old when I came over so I didn’t remember anything that they showed and I think it was Glasgow Scotland.
Question: Bobby, when you hit the home run did you have any idea, I mean you must have been so euphoric and so excited in what your team had done you probably didn’t have any idea of the impact. Here we are talking about it fifty years later, it’s the greatest moment in baseball history.
Thomson: I’ve always said that I don’t think that there was a fan or a ballplayer, Dodger or Giant at that moment who ever thought that this thing would be talked about fifty years later and I’ve continued to be amazed. I’m still amazed and hey look, at my age I’m enjoying it too! But I think what’s helped to keep this thing in place is that years ago and I’ve said it before, ‘I had to go out, get a job and earn a living and became just an ordinary citizen like the people next door’ and I’ve always said ‘its fun to be remembered.’ I’ve had my one moment in the sun so to speak and it’s been fun.
Question: You had a pretty good career too I mean, you played in the major leagues for a few years
Thomson: I got a little inconsistent at times you might say. It seemed to me I’d do pretty well (one season) and then slack off the next year so you know, that’s not hall of fame stuff but apparently, I had the numbers to have good years but I wasn’t able to hang onto it every year.
Question: What’s your impression of baseball today and some of the changes, I’d just like to get your feelings there.
Thomson: Well, there’s such a huge difference money and isn’t that terrible, the first word that comes to my mind money? But the players are making so much money. The players are from different cultures. They’re (Major League Baseball) are drawing more people and I would think that the average fan is getting a little tired of wondering how much money is enough for some of these players because the fans still have to pay the price. But hey, there are great ballplayers better than we were and they’re performing a lot of great entertainment because they’re drawing a lot more people than we did and scoring a lot but there are still a few little problems with it like any huge business I guess. I hope they’ll get worked out. There are a great number of people, not just ballplayers but good people who set examples for the rest of the country and we certainly need that today.
Question: Mr. Thomson, I’m sure throughout the years you’ve had many Giants’ fans come up to you and express their memories and appreciation for what you did, could you share some of those?
Thomson: Some great stories. The very next year, I hadn’t been married at the time but I was in New York with my fiancée. We were in a shoe store and the salesman recognized me and he told me his story that he was listening to the ballgame and selling a pair of shoes to this gal and I hit the home run, he just threw the shoe right into the wall and the heel of the shoe stuck into one of the boxes. It’s a crazy story but that’s just one little one. I’ve heard so many of them. Marines who were out in North Korea right at the front in their bunker listened to the ballgame and this crazy Giant fan when I hit the home run jumped out of the bunker started shooting off his gun and the whole place erupted with Marines all around and North Koreans fifty yards in front of them. And people dropping their babies. I was playing in a golf tournament and this guy heard I was there and he had to come up and tell me his story. And this guy said, “When you hit that home run, I threw up.” So of course I said, “Well that’s what you get for being a Dodger fan.” And he said, “No, I was a Giants’ fan!” I just wish I had kept a tape recorder to record it all because it would’ve made an interesting book.
Question: What’s one or two things that this video tells this story better or differently than its been told in the last fifty years?
Thomson: Well it sure brought in the latest news about the Giants stealing the signs haha and I guess that’s what everyone wants to know, did I steal the sign. And of course I didn’t come right out and say no. When this writer from the Wall Street Journal first approached me he started out by saying he talked to all the old Giants and they told him they were all stealing signs and I wanted to know why is he telling me that? Is he afraid I’m going to deny it? Of course we were stealing signs. But I’d just forgotten about it. What the heck, and some of the stories I’d heard. I didn’t remember some of that whether (Leo) Durocher (New York Giants Manager) had a meeting to ask us. He had a way of stealing signs and he asked us, who wants (the signs) and who doesn’t want them and it was fifty/fifty. (Amongst the team) So which half were you? I don’t know which half I was, who cares? We did get signs that certainly didn’t help the Dodgers. It could’ve very well have hurt them. I think we earned an awful lot of what we did ourselves.
Question: The one thing I noticed in the video. From everything I’ve read and seen about you, you’re a very humble and mild-mannered man but the one time you got adamant in the video was when it was suggested that somehow this cheapened your feat and you said, “Look, don’t take this away from me. This is what I did, this is my thing and I deserve to have it!” Is that a fair assessment?
Thomson: More or less. I don’t want to feel like something was taken away from me. I’ve lived long enough so what’s happened has happened and what I’ve done, I’ve done. And that’s the one thing that I’ve taken credit for in my career, my one moment in the sun and that’s just the term I’ve used. I gave myself a chance to hit. This guy (former Giant Sal Yvars) has gotten a lot of publicity going around. To me, he was a traitor, the fact that he talked about it and I’ve told him so. They’ve talked about it over the years but its out and I’d forgotten about it. I’ve enjoyed this position of having hit the ‘Shot Heard ‘Round The World’ but it hasn’t been my whole life. I’ve had to live like any other normal person but that coming out took a little “shine” if there was a “shine” off it. I know this guy (Yvars) loved to talk and said things in the paper that were very degrading to professional players like Eddie Stanky and Alvin Dark. Our plan was to hit line drives, score 6 or 8 runs, get ahead and these two guys (Stanky and Dark) would get up and look foolish swinging at pitches to make it look to the opposition and the Dodgers that these guys aren’t stealing signs. That’s crazy talk! Silly!
Question: A final thought on Ralph Branca because you guys had a unique relationship. You became friends and oftentimes I remember you going to old timers’ events with him and it was a tough time for him but he said later he always kidded about how it made his afterlife in baseball because people remembered him for that moment too.
Thomson: Well let’s face it, Ralph and I are married to each other and that had to be awfully tough on him. Tougher than people can appreciate considering the rivalry we had and the suddenness, the unexpectedness of this thing happening. We were down four to one. The game was over. The media and everybody (else) were in the Dodger locker room waiting for the celebration. This had to be very tough and only Ralph would know how long he was sensitive to it. He’s still today has to feel sensitivity to it. Just watching the documentary, he feels I stole the sign and he mentioned the way I jumped at the pitch. I got up and said a few words and he’s got a perfect right to feel however he feels but I’d like to remind him I jumped on about four or five of his other pitches that year.
Question: Bobby, seeing how baseball was a simpler time when you hit your home run between the two boroughs, Brooklyn and New York City and the way baseball’s changed with the money, you’ve become this icon to everybody in America. Do you think anything like that will ever happen again in baseball?
Thomson: Well you know, after I got home to Staten Island that night, my brother was the first one that I bumped into. He’s nine years older than I and he’s been my mentor. We looked at each other in amazement and I remember saying to Jim, “Don’t ask me what happened up there. Today the good Lord had to have something to do with that.” And he said, “No Bob, no. Do you realize what you did?” I thought that was a silly question. “Of course Jim I was the guy who was up there!” He said, “No, something like that may never happen again.” And it was the first time I thought other than the fact that we beat the Dodgers. A lot of great home runs have been hit and fans from their team think that their home run was the greatest and that’s the way it should be. I never thought mine necessarily should be the greatest.
Question: Given the way the Dodgers and Giants have moved now from different cities I don’t think you’d see something like that now.
Thomson: Yes, that’s a point. Hey, they’ll always have a Giant/Dodger rivalry out here on the west coast. But can you imagine a difference with Brooklyn and New York across the subway ride. Now they talk about the Yankees and Boston. And sure there have got to be rivalries. But I don’t see how we could have one like we had back then. The closeness. There were so many things we didn’t like them and they didn’t like us. We didn’t talk to each other. And back then, we wouldn’t complain if someone knocked us on our fannies or hit us with the ball. (Leo) Durocher believed in just getting even. We were allowed to play that way back then.
Question: When you hit the home run, did you know it was gone the moment you hit it?
Thomson: When I first hit it, yeah I hit it well. Upper deck home run I thought. And the darn thing must’ve had tremendous over spin just got on top of it a little and I could see it start to sink. And then I thought it’s not a home run, just a base hit. And then it disappeared into the lower stands instead of the upper stands and then there was just excitement I’d never experienced before. I didn’t feel like I was touching the ground, hyperventilating running around the bases. By the time I got to the locker room, I almost felt nauseous. It was a very unusual unexpected situation.
Question: If that had happened anywhere else, would it have been a home run given that the Polo Grounds was only 279 ft down the left field line?
Thomson: Well, it went over the 315 ft. marker. Hey, you sound like Ralph Branca! Ralph claims it was an easy out. So it went over the 315 ft. mark with a 20-foot wall there. Add 20-feet to that. It was hit at the Polo Grounds and to me that’s silly talk. I guess Ralph has brought that up if we’d played in different parks but I’ll leave that up to your own conclusion.