Baseball History: Thomson’s ‘Shot Heard ’Round the World’

It is a cliché to say that a ballclub is a “team of destiny,” but if anyone deserves that title it would be manager Leo Durocher’s 1951 New York Giants baseball team. That’s the club that won the National League pennant in the last inning of the last playoff game on Bobby Thomson’s three-run homer on 3 October 1951, the famous “Shot Heard ’Round the World.”

photo of New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson

Photo: New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson; image taken from a baseball card issued by Bowman Gum in 1948. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As dramatic as it was, however, Thomson’s heart-stopping home run was simply the climax of a long string of miraculous events for the Giants and their fans that season.

Long Run of Disappointing Seasons

The New York Giants were a long-suffering franchise when the 1951 season began. For many years a powerhouse in the National League (the Giants’ 15 pennants were second only to the Chicago Cubs’ 16), the Giants had fallen on hard times. They had not won the pennant—the league championship—since 1937, and with the powerful Jackie Robinson-led Brooklyn Dodgers on the scene it did not look like 1951 would end the Giants’ pennant drought, even though in May of that year the Giants brought up a scintillating 20-year-old rookie named Willie Mays.

As expected, the Dodgers were a great team in 1951, and on August 11 the forlorn Giants trailed their first-place rivals by a seemingly-insurmountable deficit of 13½ games.

Drama in Baseball, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 4 October 1951

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 4 October 1951, page 12

Giants Make a Miraculous Comeback

Then the miracles started happening for the Giants and their fans.

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Astonishingly, the Giants reeled off 16 straight victories to begin their charge, and never let up. They won 37 of the season’s final 44 games, but even this incredible level of play almost wasn’t enough to catch the Dodgers. On the last day of the season they desperately needed a win, but faced the Philadelphia Phillies, the reigning pennant winners. It was a tense game, but the Giants finally prevailed in the 14th inning to tie the Dodgers atop the standings with identical 96-58 records. That brought on a special best-of-three-games playoff, with the winner earning a place in the World Series against New York’s third Major League baseball team, the American League’s New York Yankees.

The first playoff game was in the Dodgers’ ballpark, Ebbets Field. The sun shone brightly and the Giants won 3-1, thanks to Bobby Thomson hitting a two-run homer off the Dodgers’ pitcher Ralph Branca—a hint of things to come.

The next game was at the Giants’ ballpark, the Polo Grounds. The Giants fans’ misery matched the foul, wet weather as the Dodgers thrashed the home team 10-0 to tie the playoff and set up the climactic third and final game, also at the Polo Grounds.

And what an epic baseball game it was! Two of the game’s preeminent pitchers, the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe and the Giants’ Sal Maglie, squared off against each other in a taut pitcher’s duel. After seven innings under gray, threatening skies the game was knotted up 1-1. Then in the eighth the Dodgers pushed across three runs to take a commanding 4-1 lead, and when Newcombe held the Giants scoreless in the bottom of the eighth it looked like the Dodgers were World-Series bound.

Bobby Thomson Hits Legendary Home Run

But the Giants had one more miracle left in this incredible comeback baseball season. Before the first batter stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, manager Leo Durocher said to his players (as he later told a reporter):

I told the boys we had three big outs left. You haven’t given up all year so don’t give up now. Let’s get some runs. And the reply, almost in a chorus, was, ‘we’ll get the bums.’

photo of the New York Giants celebrating after Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run, Advocate newspaper article 4 October 1951

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 4 October 1951, page 20

The Dodgers’ ace Don Newcombe was still on the mound, but pitching on only two days’ rest—and he was tired. The first two Giants batters singled, putting runners on first and third. But then the third batter harmlessly popped out, and the Giants’ hopes were flickering. The next batter doubled, driving in a run to make the score 4-2. Dodgers’ manager Charlie Dressen then pulled Newcombe and made the controversial decision to replace him with Ralph Branca—even though the next batter was Bobby Thomson, who had homered off Branca in Game 1.

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Branca fired a fastball past Thomson for strike one.

Then it happened. The overcast skies lightened and the sun broke through. Branca threw a second fastball, but he did not get this one past Thomson. Instead, the Giants’ slugger hit his 32nd homer into the left-field stands, a dramatic, three-run bottom of the ninth home run to win the pennant, a shot forever immortalized as the “Shot Heard ’Round the World.”

photo of the New York Giants celebrating after Bobby Thomson hit a pennant-winning home run, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 4 October 1951

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 4 October 1951, page 28

Thomson was mobbed at the plate by his jubilant teammates while frenzied Giants fans poured onto the field. The Giants, given up for dead just weeks before, had won the National League pennant with one of the greatest comebacks and most exciting finishes in sports history. Though they would go on to lose the World Series to the Yankees in six games, that almost seemed inconsequential—nothing could diminish the excitement and satisfaction of the Giants’ 16th National League pennant.

Giants Top Dodgers and Win Flag on Thomson's Homer, 5-4, Springfield Union newspaper article 4 October 1951

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 4 October 1951, page 1

According to this old newspaper article, written by Dutch Robbins:

“Polo Grounds, New York, Oct. 3—Everybody said it couldn’t be done but the New York Giants did it. They said it all during the month of August and they said it again today after 8½ innings of play here at the Polo Grounds before a crowd of 34,320. Then in the most dramatic finish that baseball will ever know, Bobby Thomson stepped up to the plate and hit a three-run homer that made the rags-to-riches Giants the National League champions of 1951. Thomson’s smash, which will go down in history as one of the greatest clutch wallops of its kind, gave the Cinderella Kids of Manager Leo Durocher a 5-4 victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the deciding game of the three-game series to decide the National League flag and it sent them skyrocketing into the World Series against the New York Yankees.

“The Giants have let nothing become a hopeless cause this season. They refused to let their plight going into the last of the ninth inning become one today. They were a seemingly beaten team moving in for their last and final great bid to complete the national pastime’s comeback of all times. The Dodgers were leading 4-1 and only three Giants stood between them and what they had fought their hearts out for. Don Newcombe, Brooklyn’s big Negro mound ace, had things well in hand. Al Dark walked up to the plate. He hit one toward the hole between first and second. Gil Hodges raced over from first and knocked the ball down but it rolled away and Dark was on with an infield single. Don Mueller walked up to the plate and slashed one of Newcombe’s pitches right through first base for a clean single that sent Dark racing to third. The Giants were threatening but Monte Irvin fouled out to first base. Two outs to go for Newcombe and the Dodgers. Whitey Lockman took his place in the batter’s box. Newcombe gave him the pitch he liked and he belted it into left for a double. Dark hustled home and Mueller went sliding into third.

“It was a costly slide for Mueller for he twisted his left ankle and had to be carried from the field on a stretcher. Clint Hartung took his place as a base-runner. Now the tieing runs for the Giants were on second and third. Newcombe was on the ropes and Manager Charley Dressen called in Ralph Branca to try to save the day.

“Thomson was to be Branca’s first victim but instead the Brooklyn hurler became the victim. Branca’s first pitch got by Thomson for a strike but not his next one. Thomson swung. The ball went soaring toward the left-field stands. The huge throng rose to its feet breathlessly and then up went the greatest roar the Polo Grounds has ever heard as the ball dropped into the lower deck of the stands.

“The place became a madhouse as first Hartung crossed the plate, Lockman crossed the plate and last and greatest of them all, Thomson crossed the plate to be literally murdered by everyone even slightly interested in the Giants.”

Historical newspapers are not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors—they also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers. Did you or anyone you know witness Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World”? Please share your stories with us in the comments.

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jackie Robinson & Rosa Parks Obituaries

During this October week in American history three pioneering activists died who had a big impact on American society:

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton, American women’s rights activist, died at 86 on 26 October 1902
  • Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson, American baseball player and civil rights activist, died at 53 on 24 October 1972
  • Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, American civil rights activist, died at 92 on 24 October 2005

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. You can use historical newspapers to research their public careers and trace their family trees. The following old newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

An activist from an early age, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was involved in the abolitionist and temperance movements—but the cause to which she primarily devoted her considerable powers was women’s rights and their equality before the law, especially the right to vote. She was instrumental in organizing the first women’s rights convention: the Seneca Falls Convention, a two-day meeting convened on July 19, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York.

Over 300 people attended the women’s rights convention, whose highlight was the reading and discussion of a statement of women’s rights called the Declaration of Sentiments, primarily written by Stanton. After much debate, the declaration (deliberately modeled after the Declaration of Independence) was signed by 100 of the participants: 68 women and 32 men.

Of the 12 resolutions debated and approved at the convention, the most controversial was the ninth, written by Stanton. It read: “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” Women’s suffrage was a divisive issue and many of the convention’s participants opposed its inclusion, fearing that an element this controversial would weaken support for women’s equality. However, others argued persuasively in favor of supporting women’s suffrage—and in the end the voting rights resolution was approved.

Stanton met another pioneering suffragist, Susan B. Anthony, in 1851, and the two women were close friends and allies in the women’s rights movement for the rest of Stanton’s life.

This obituary was published the day after Stanton died.

Woman's Rights Loses Venerable 'Mother' [Elizabeth Cady Stanton], Denver Post newspaper obituary 27 October 1902

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 27 October 1902, page 3

This old newspaper obituary included a tribute penned by Susan B. Anthony: “Through the early days, when the world was against us, we stood together. Mrs. Stanton was always a courageous woman, a leader of thought and new movement. She was a most finished writer and every state paper presented to Congress or the state legislatures in the early days was written by Mrs. Stanton. I cannot express myself at all as I feel, I am too crushed to say too much, but if she had outlived me she would have found fine words with which to express our friendship.”

This tribute to Stanton was published two days after she died.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 28 October 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 28 October 1902, page 6

It concluded: “Mrs. Stanton fell far short of her aim, in what she actually accomplished, just as Susan B. Anthony finds herself far short of the goal toward which she has struggled [the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was not ratified until 1920]. The world is not ready to grant their contention in its fullness, and indeed is still to a great degree hostile toward it, but the two remarkable women long ago won recognition of the principle by which they were inspired, and through that recognition extended the power of women in public affairs to a wonderful degree, and made great progress toward establishing women in a position more equitable with that of men so far as property rights are concerned.

“Work like that carried on by Mrs. Stanton cannot cease with her life, nor can it end when Miss Anthony, her illustrious co-worker, passes away. It is everlasting, and will constantly bring fresh benefits to womankind.”

Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)

A superb all-around athlete and a man of strong principles, Jackie Robinson is most remembered as the African American who broke baseball’s color barrier when he started a game for the Brooklyn Dodgers on 15 April 1947. Despite vicious racial taunts and threats, Robinson played the game with great intensity and excellence, gradually winning the respect and admiration of most of his peers and helping to advance the cause of the Civil Rights Movement in America.

During his 10-year baseball career, Robinson played in six World Series, had a lifetime batting average of .311, won the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1949. He became the first African American player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame when he was accepted in 1962, in his initial year of eligibility.

After his professional baseball career ended, Robinson continued to break racial barriers with a series of firsts for an African American: baseball television analyst; vice-president of a major American corporation (Chock full o’Nuts); one of the co-founders of an African American-owned financial institution called the Freedom National Bank; owner of a construction company that built housing for low-income families.

Robinson died a much-respected figure on 24 October 1972 of complications from diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease at the young age (for a prime athlete) of 53. After his death tributes poured in for the man who had accomplished—and endured—so much.

This tribute, published in the newspaper the day after Robinson died, told a story about his minor league playing career with the Montreal Royals that showed how much testing Robinson had to endure.

Fear of Failure Motivated Jackie [Robinson], Springfield Union newspaper article 25 October 1972

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 25 October 1972, page 32

“There was the exhibition game against Indianapolis, and Paul Derringer, the one-time Cincinnati ace, was pitching against Montreal. He was a friend of [Montreal Manager Clay] Hopper’s and he said:

“‘Tell you what I’m gonna do, Clay. I’m gonna knock him (Robinson) down a couple of times and see what he’s made of.’

“Robinson had to eat dirt to avoid a high, inside pitch his first time up, but then picked himself up and singled. Derringer decked him again the next time up, but Robinson bludgeoned a screaming triple to left-center.

“‘He’ll do, Clay,’ Derringer hollered into the Montreal dugout.”

This tribute to Robinson was penned by famed sportswriter Red Smith.

Unconquerable Spirit [Jackie Robinson] Pierces Gloom in Philly, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 25 October 1972

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 25 October 1972, page 70

Calling Robinson the “black man’s fighter,” Smith wrote: “Jackie Robinson established the black man’s right to play second base. He fought for the black man’s right to a place in the white community, and he never lost sight of that goal. After he left baseball, almost everything he did was directed toward that goal. He was involved in foundation of the Freedom National Banks. He tried to get an insurance company started with black capital and when he died he was head of a construction company building houses for blacks. Years ago a friend, talking of the needs of blacks, said, ‘good schooling comes first.’

“‘No,’ Jackie said. ‘housing is the first thing. Unless he’s got a home he wants to come back to, it doesn’t matter what kind of school he goes to.’”

This Jackie Robinson obituary article was published the day after he died.

Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson Dead at 53, Plain Dealer newspaper obituary 25 October 1972

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 October 1972, page 61

It included a tribute to Robinson from the head of baseball: “Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said Robinson was unsurpassed in contribution to sports. ‘His entire life was courage. Courage as the black pioneer of the game. Courage in the way he fought for what he believed.’”

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

When Rosa Parks, an African American woman in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her bus seat to a white person on Dec. 1, 1955, her act of resistance ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott—which in turn accelerated the Civil Rights Movement and forever changed America. It was not that Parks was too physically tired to move that evening, though it was the end of another long day working as a seamstress in the Montgomery Fair department store. Nor was she old and infirm; at 42, she was a strong and healthy African American woman. She had simply had enough of the city’s segregation laws that gave whites more rights than blacks.

Her arrest for refusing white bus driver James Blake’s order to give up her seat on the bus galvanized the African American community in Montgomery. Thousands of leaflets were distributed calling for a boycott of the city’s buses until the Jim Crow segregation laws were changed. The boycott was led by a young minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., who soon rose to national prominence as a civil rights leader. After 381 days the segregation laws were finally changed and blacks once again rode Montgomery’s buses—but that victory was only the start of a movement much, much bigger.

The Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, and Rosa Parks went on to receive national recognition—including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

This 1955 news article reported on her arrest, fining, and the subsequent bus boycott.

Negro Woman [Rosa Parks] in Segregation Case Fined, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 5 December 1955

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 5 December 1955, page 44

The newspaper article about the Montgomery bus incident reported: “The woman was taken off a bus and jailed last Thursday night after refusing to leave a section reserved for white passengers. The [Montgomery] City Code requires segregation in all forms of public transportation and gives bus drivers police powers to enforce the law.

“Meanwhile, other Negroes boycotted city buses in protest against the woman’s arrest. Police cars and motorcycles followed the busses to avert trouble.”

This obituary and appreciation was published in the newspaper two days after Parks died.

Rosa Parks Inspired Generation, Register Star newspaper article 26 October 2005

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 26 October 2005, page 1

It reported: “Attorney Vernita Hervey, a civil rights activist, said Parks’ defiance of Alabama’s Jim Crow laws sparked an uprising that ‘probably was the defining moment in African-American collective action.’”

To honor Parks, this drawing graced the editorial page of the Register Star.

editorial cartoon paying respects to Rosa Parks, Register Star newspaper illustration 26 October 2005

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 26 October 2005, page 5

Today there is even an American holiday in Rosa Parks’ honor.

Newspaper Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that can’t be found elsewhere—whether they are stories about our ancestors or articles about famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of online obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover about your family tree and the famous people you admire most!