Throughout the long history of baseball there have been poignant, exciting, dramatic moments. But very few can compare to 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.
Don Newcombe of the Dodgers was pitted against 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.
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.
Alvin Dark led off with a single through the right side of the infield. Don Mueller slapped the ball past Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges. Irvin fouled out. Whitey Lockman doubled 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 drive…it’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.