I was toolin' around Longform the other day because it's one of my favorite places on the web and found a link to Joshua Prager's 2001 Wall Street Journal article about the Giants in 1951. The piece was the basis for Prager's book The Echoing Green.
Bobby Thomson, the New York Giants' third baseman, stands poised in the batter's box. In the bottom of the ninth inning in the final game of a playoff, his team trails the Brooklyn Dodgers 4-2, with two men on base. Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca's fastball hurtles toward him. Mr. Thomson swings, he connects, and the ball sails over the left-field wall and into history.
That home run capped an unprecedented comeback by the Giants, propelled the team to the 1951 World Series, and secured Robert Brown Thomson's name in American lore.
Months shy of its 50th anniversary, Mr. Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World" echoes ever louder. In recent years, the U.S. Postal Service honored it with a stamp. Author Don DeLillo threaded it through his 827-page novel, "Underworld." The Sporting News christened it the greatest moment in baseball history. Sports Illustrated ranked it the second-greatest sports moment of the 20th century (after the U.S. hockey team's victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics). And this year, among the many celebrations planned to mark the jubilee anniversary of the home run, there will be a reunion of the surviving Giants and Dodgers who met Oct. 3, 1951, at the Polo Grounds on Coogan's Bluff in Harlem.
But in all the encomiums and analyses of that singular moment through half a century, one crucial element has been missing — unknown that afternoon even to the nine Dodgers on the field, the 34,320 paid spectators at the Polo Grounds, and the millions who followed the flight of the ball on radio and television. The Giants were stealing the Dodgers' signs, the finger signals transmitted from catcher to pitcher that determine the pitch to be thrown.
"Stealing signs is nothing to be proud of," says Mr. Thomson, now 77 years old. "Of course, the question is, did I take the signs that day?"