Baseball’s most famous moment and it’s UK roots

It is the most famous home run ever hit. Even ask non-baseball fans about epic moments from the sport which have entered into popular culture.

It won’t take long for ‘The Shot Heard Around The World’ to be mentioned.

That, for those who are unaware, is a reference to Bobby Thomson‘s walk-off home run which brought the New York Giants back from the brink and saw them snatch the 1951 National League pennant with the most dramatic of victories against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

His side were trailing by three runs in the bottom of the ninth at the mythical Polo Grounds in a ferociously contested Big Apple showdown.

When Ralph Branca was sent to the mound to shut down the Giants’ hopes of the vital victory in the decisive third game in a race to two, chances of a comeback appeared very slim.

They had appeared even more remote in mid-August when his side found themselves 13 games behind in the pennant race but they dragged themselves back to reignite hope.

Two singles and then a double after the first out of the inning reduced the arrears to two runs, with two men on and brought Thomson to the plate.

It also brought Dodgers starter Ralph Branca into the game in an attempt to get the final two outs which would send his side into a ‘Subway Series’ World Series against the New York Yankees.

He started well with a strike but when Branca threw an up-and-in fastball with his second pitch, baseball history was made.

Thomson was waiting for it, launching the ball low into the left-field stands, over the wall and fulfilling the dream of any youngster who picks up a bat, imagining such a scenario playing out.

There have since been various reports and claims that the Giants had been sign-stealing and Thomson was tipped off about (which he always denied) what to expect and even if that is the case, he nonetheless still had to do his job and connect. And boy did he.

It was a special moment but what makes it even more special for us followers of the game on this side of the Atlantic Ocean is that the man responsible for it, is one of our own – and fiercely proud of that fact he was too.

In 1999, Sporting News ranked Thomson’s home run as the number one moment in baseball history – and it originated from our own shores, a fact that baseball fans from this part of the world can hold close, particularly in a month where British baseball is set for its biggest moment since that one.

Robert Brown Thomson was born in the Townhead area of Glasgow, Scotland on October 25, 1923, just five days after his father James, a Glaswegian cabinet-maker had departed for the United States in search of a better life for himself, his wife Elizabeth and his family.

It proved to be a wise decision from the elder Thomson, who was thinking not only of young Bobby but of his five siblings, who he believed would be better served with a life across the pond.

Three years later, the future MLB All Star and the rest of his family emigrated to join their father in America and settled in Staten Island, an area that would also become synonymous with Thomson.

He earned the moniker of ‘The Flying Scot’ and ‘The Staten Island Scot’ due to his background, although he preferred more self-effacing nicknames.

‘Accidental hero’ was how he once described himself, muttering that “it was just a home run” in refusing to blow his own trumpet, that most Scottish of qualities, never displaying any traces of arrogance.

Incredibly, keen was Thomson to play his achievements down, that he once claimed that had he been a better baseball player, then that moment simply would never have happened!

“A better hitter would have let Branca’s pitch go by for a ball,” he was quoted telling Staten Island Advance. “If I was a good hitter, I would have taken that one.”

“[Stan] Musial or any other good hitter would have. It was high and inside. I didn’t deserve to do a thing like that.”

Glorious failure and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory are other sadly largely Scottish traits when it comes to sport and that Thomson did the opposite on one of the grandest stages is deserving of the highest platitudes.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It may have been the best thing that ever happened to anybody,” he once said of his feat.

“I walked on a stage made in heaven. It was a delirious, delicious moment.”

Interestingly, the Scot’s play-off heroics were no fluke. In the opening game of the series at Ebbets Field, Thomson had faced his game three foe Ralph Branca (normally a starter) and hit a crucial two-run homer off him in the 3-1 win.

Given that that particular game had came on the road where there could be no accusations of sign-stealing using the Giants’ alleged telescope system, it was proof that Thomson may just have had Branca’s number in blasting his 31st homer of the year.

Testament to his selfless character and eagerness to avoid the limelight, he refused to ever milk his moment if it mean it came at Branca’s expense.

The two formed something of a double-act in the years that followed at various conventions and events and became close friends but when the Giants wanted to bring Thomson to San Francisco for the 50th anniversary to celebrate the occasion along with Branca, he turned them down.

“They wanted to bring us both around the stadium in a cart but that’s not fair,” he recalled shortly after the 2001 anniversary. “Ralph doesn’t need that.”

Although he may have left his hometown before he was even of school age, Thomson always remained proud of his working class, Scottish roots.

On Bobby Thomson Day in December of 1951 to celebrate his epic year, he partook in highland dancing from home to enjoy the occasion.

A keen football fan, and by all accounts a standout player in his high school days before opting for baseball, he once likened New York’s furious Giants-Dodgers rivalry to a famous Scottish one – “it was like Celtic-Rangers times 10.”

In 2003, seven years before his passing, he returned home to receive various plaudits and honours in the country of his birth.

That year, he was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame and also had the Meadowmill home of the Edinburgh Diamond Devils named after him, becoming Bobby Thomson Field.

It may have been The Shot Heard ‘Round The World… but it all started in our own part of the world. Not a bad piece of history to lay claim to.

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