Sixty years ago today was probably the most famous game in history, likely the most renowned home run ever hit, and without question the most famous home run call any announcer ever made.
Yep, on Oct. 3, 1951, Bobby Thomson of the Giants belted one over the fence against Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca, causing New York announce Russ Hodges to scream in joy, “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!”
One of the greatest pennant races ever ended with a best-of-three play-in series that went the distance, with the last game ending in spectacularly dramatic fashion. The Giants, left for dead at 13 games back in the dog days of summer, won 16 consecutive game to put themselves only five games down with over a month to play.
They actually caught the Dodger on the next-to-last day of regularly scheduled games, and for a while it looked like they would win outright without a playoff series. The Giants won their last game in a quick two-hour contest.
That meant the Dodgers had to win that day to force a playoff. For once, the pressure was on them. That was key, because as the Giants finished their game, the Dodgers appeared doomed. They quickly trailed, 6-1, to the Phillies, and though they tried to rally, heading into the eighth inning, they were still down, 8-5, with only six outs left in their season.
In Brooklyn’s great heroic moment, they came back. They scored three in the eighth, sending it into overtime. In the bottom of the 12th, the Phillies loaded the bases with one out, but the Dodgers got out of the jam and the game went on. In the 14th, a Jackie Robinson homer gave Brooklyn a 9-8 win, setting up the playoff.
New York and Brooklyn split the first pair of games, with Thomson homering off Branca in the first contest, setting up the last one, where the Giants famously scored four runs in the bottom of ninth to win their miracle pennant, three of those runs coming from Thomson’s big blast.
Hodges’ famous call was preserved by a fluke. Back then, TV and radio stations rarely saved their calls. Instead, a Dodger fan and radio tech buff decided he’d like to preserve for posterity the sound of the Giants’ announcer calling the demise of his team’s season.
When the opposite happened, he opted not to delete his recording, but ask the station if they wanted it. Otherwise, we would have no record of the call. In fact, we don’t have any recording of the game’s TV broadcast, featuring the legendary Ernie Harwell.
Years later, it came out that the Giants comeback came in part because the team had a sophisticated sign-stealing conspiracy going on at home, with a guy looking with telescopic lenses who would relay the info to the Giant batters—including Thomson, who knew what Branca’s offering would be before he swung 60 years ago today.
That said, the Giants went 18-4 on the road in this stretch, nearly as good as their 21-4 home record. They just plain played great.
Random fact about that pennant race: Early in the season, the Giants lost 11 consecutive games. Their season-ending winning percentage of .627 is the best ever for a club that endured a double-digit losing streak.
You can divide New York’s season into three parts. They went 2-12 to start off, then played 57-38 for the middle stretch of the year. Then they caught fire, finishing 39-8, culminating in Thomson’s home run exactly 60 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim.
6,000 days since Joe Randa’s major league debut.
7,000 days since the Tigers fire team president Bo Schembechler and team chairman Jim Campbell.
10,000 days since Carlton Fisk hits for the cycle.
10,000 days since Dave Winfield hits his first (of two) career walk-off home runs. He belts a two-run homer in the bottom of the tenth with the Yankees losing, 6-5, for a 7-6 win.
10,000 days since the Orioles ask Jim Palmer, who is 0-3 with a 9.17 ERA, to retire from playing and take another job with the organization. He declines, hoping he can hang on with another team.
10,000 days since the Twins sell 51,863 tickets but only 6,346 show up. There is a massive ticket purchase plan to help keep them in Minnesota.
25,000 days since the Spalding Company denies charges that it is producing inferior balls as many complain the new WWII balata balls are 25 percent less resilient.
30,000 days since Lefty Grove endures his longest outing, tossing a complete game in the A’s 5-3 win over the Indians in 17 innings. Grove allows 20 hits in the game.
1872 Fred Clarke, a Hall of Fame player and a terrific manager, is born.
1890 Players League founder John Ward offers an olive branch, inviting the NL owners to discuss peace.
1891 Jim Mutrie manages his final game. He has one of the best records of anyone from his era.
1891 Long John Reilly, one of only three player to hit for the cycle three times, appears in his last major league game.
1895 Harry Wright, Hall of Fame skipper, dies.
1897 Cap Anson plays in his final major league game; two games, actually, as it’s a doubleheader. He belts two homers in the first game, giving him three on the entire season.
1904 Christy Mathewson fans 16 in a 3-2 Giants win over the Cardinals. The game takes 75 minutes.
1908 NL honcho Harry Pulliam holds a hearing on the Sept. 23 Giants-Cub game, a.k.a., the Fred Merkle game, and rules it to be replayed on Oct. 8.
1908 Hall of Famer outfielder Joe Kelley plays in his final game.
1909 Rival managers Fred Clarke and Frank Chance square off against each other for the 100th time.
1910 Max Carey makes his big league debut.
1911 Baseball player George J. Burns debuts.
1915 Fred Clarke resigns as Pirate manager on his birthday. He’ll never manage again. Though only 43 years old, he has 1,602 victories, more than any other manager at that point.
1916 John McGraw yells at his Giants, “You bunch of quitters!” and leaves the field for the clubhouse.
1919 World Series Game Three: The Reds lose to Clean Sox Dickie Kerr, 2-0. Kerr tosses a three-hit, complete-game shutout.
1919 Black Sox first baseman Chick Gandil tells ex-player turned gambler Sleepy Bill Burns that the fix is in for Game Three despite starting pitcher Dickie Kerr not being part of the fix. “If we can’t win for Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams, we’re not going to win for no busher,” Gandil says. Burns will bet everything he has and lose it when Kerr wins. This will help cause a later aggrieved Burns to be a witness for the prosecution in the Black Sox trial in 1921.
1920 Veteran managers George Stallings and Clark Griffith both manage their last games.
1920 Edd Roush plays second base for the only time in his career.
1924 The first official Negro Leagues World Series begins.
1929 Kiki Cuyler gets his 1,000th hit in his 794th game played.
1929 Pitcher Art Nehf plays in his last game.
1936 In Game Three of the World Series, the Yankees top the Giants, 2-1, despite the Giants out-hitting them, 11-4. The Yankees plate the winning run in the bottom of the eighth.
1937 Johnny Allen’s attempt at a perfect season is ruined in the last day, as he loses to Detroit, 1-0, giving Allen a record of 15-1.
1937 The Detroit Tigers release Hall of Famer Goose Goslin.
1937 Ken Heintzelman, the most highly leveraged starting pitcher of all-time, makes his debut.
1937 Kirby Higbe, quality starting pitcher, makes his debut.
1943 Gil Hodges makes his big league debut.
1946 Leo Durocher says he’ll be with the Brooklyn Dodgers “until the day I die.” He’ll never manage another complete season for the team.
1946 St. Louis clinches the NL pennant by winning the second game in a best-of-three series for the title over the Dodgers.
1947 In one of the most incredible games in World Series history, Yankee starting pitcher Bill Bevens comes one out from a no-hitter, only to lose, 3-2, to the Dodgers. He walks a ton of batters, leading to one run scoring early, and with two on (both by walks) and two outs in the ninth, he surrenders a walk-off, no-hit-ending double.
1948 Veteran Yankee Frankie Crosetti plays in his last game.
1948 Mike Garcia makes his big league debut.
1951 Dave Winfield is born.
1954 Dennis Eckersley is born.
1961 Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael A. Musmano writes a letter to Cincinnati manager Fred Hutchinson urging the Reds to change their name due to the association of communism with red.
1966 The Tigers sign Mayo Smith as their manager. They’ll win a title under him in 1968.
1968 In Game Three of the World Series, Mickey Lolich picks a nice time for the only home run of his career. Detroit wins, 3-1, over the Cardinals.
1970 Baseball umpires strike for one day, the first game of the playoffs.
1970 In a pitchers’ duel in Game One of the NLCS, the Reds top the Pirates, 3-0, in 10 innings.
1971 Pittsburgh’s Bob Robertson belts three home runs in Game Two of the NLCS, leading the Pirates to a 9-4 win over the Reds.
1971 Wil Cordero is born.
1972 Baltimore’s Roric Harrison becomes the last AL pitcher to homer until interleague play. The Orioles top the Indians, 4-3. That game also sees Earl Weaver at his least Weaver-ian, as the Orioles lay down three sacrifice hits (tying his all-time high) and are three-for-four in stolen base attempts.
1972 Roberto Clemente plays in his last regular-season game.
1974 The Indians hire Frank Robinson as the major leagues’ first black manager.
1976 Hank Aaron plays in his final game, and the Brewers retire his number. He hits an infield single.
1976 In the top of the fourth, Nolan Ryan loads the bases with no one, only to fan three straight batters to escape without allowing any runs. It’s the second time he’s done that.
1976 George Brett legs out the first of four career inside-the-park home runs. Brett wins the batting title after a tight duel with teammate Hal McRae. After the game, McRae accuses opposing teams of racism in their defensive alignments.
1976 Bill Freehan, a Hall of Fame-caliber catcher, plays in his final game.
1979 The Orioles win Game One of the ALCS on a walk-off homer for a 6-3 victory in a 10-inning game over the Indians.
1979 In Game Two of the NLCS, the Reds tie the Pirates, 2-2, in the bottom of the ninth, but Pittsburgh wins in the 10th innings.
1979 The Cubs release Ken Holtzman.
1980 The White Sox sign free agent Minnie Minoso to make him a five-decade player.
1980 Jose Cardenal plays in his last game.
1982 Only once in the 20th century do two Hall of Fame pitchers square off against each other on the last day of the season to determine which of their teams will go to the postseason, and it occurs today. Jim Palmer and the Orioles beat Don Sutton and the Brewers, 10-2. Many of the runs score late off the Milwaukee bullpen.
1982 On the last day of the season, the Braves finally clinch the NL West, holding off the Giants.
1984 In 11 innings, the Tigers top the Royals, 4-3, in Game Two of the ALCS.
1985 Richie Hebner plays in his final game.
1986 Vince DiMaggio dies.
1987 Padre rookie catcher Benito Santiago has his 34-game hitting streak, a rookie record, end.
1987 Dan Driessen plays in his last game.
1987 Wally Joyner whacks three home runs in one game.
1990 In the season’s last game, Cecil Fielder becomes the first player since George Foster in 1977 to belt 50 homers in a season. Tiger manger Sparky Anderson bats Fielder first to give him as many shots at 50 as he can. He hits two to end up at 51.
1991 Carlton Fisk, just a few months shy of his 44th birthday, enjoys his 24th and final multi-home run game.
1993 Arlington Stadium hosts its last baseball game.
1993 Tommy Lasorda has his revenge. The Giants need to beat the Dodgers on the last day of the season to force a one-game playoff with Atlanta for the NL West title. The Dodgers destroy them, 12-1. After the game, Lasorda says this is for previous late-season heartbreaks the Giants have given the Dodgers, most notably 1951 and 1962.
1995 The Indians top the Red Sox in 13 innings, 5-4, in Game One of the NLDS. Both teams scored once in the 11th inning.
1995 The Braves top the Rockies, 5-4, in Game One in the NLDS. Both teams score three times in the first, and then nothing through the seventh. Both get one in the eighth, but Atlanta gets the final run in the top of the ninth.
1996 In Game Two of the NLDS, the Braves top the Dodgers, 3-2, in a game featuring only eight hits total. They also combined for nine hits in Game One.
1996 The Cardinals beat the Padres, 5-4, in Game Two of the NLDS. St. Louis leads, 4-1, but the Padres came back to tie it. St. Louis wins it with a run in the bottom of the eighth.
1998 The Padres beat Houston, 2-1, in Game Three of the NLDS. All the runs scored in three consecutive half-innings from the bottom of the fifth to the bottom of the sixth. There are only seven hits total in the game.
2002 In a tight game, the Cardinals top the Diamondbacks, 2-1, in Game Two of the NLDS. St. Louis leads, 1-0, in the middle of the eighth, but Arizona ties it in the bottom half of the inning, only to see St. Louis score a final run in the top of the ninth.
2002 Texas releases John Rocker.
2003 The Marlins defeat the Giants, 4-3, in 11 innings in Game Three of the NLDS. It’s 2-2 heading into the 11th inning.
2004 John Cerutti, former pitcher, dies at age 44.
2004 On the last day of the season, several players appear in their last regular season game, including Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez (who hits into back-to-back GIDP to end his career), Ray Lankford (who homers), Andres Galarraga, and Todd Zeile.
2004 Art Howe manages his last game.
2006 The A’s top the Twins, 3-2, in Game One of the ALDS thanks to a pair of Frank Thomas home runs.
2007 Josh Beckett tosses a complete-game, four-hit shutout for a 4-0 Boston victory over the Angels in Game One of the ALDS.
2007 In Game One of the NLDS, the Diamondbacks top the Cubs, 3-1, in part because Lou Piniella decides to yank Carlos Zambrano with a 1-1 score in order to ensure he’s well-rested for a Game Four that will never come, as the Cubs end up getting swept.
2007 After 13 seasons as St. Louis GM, Walt Jocketty resigns.
2008 Boston gets two in the top of the ninth for a 7-5 win over the Angels in Game Two of the ALDS.
2009 Toronto fires GM J. P. Ricciardi with one year left on his contract. The 32-year-old Alex Anthropoulos takes over.
2010 Nancy Faust, the most famous organist in major league baseball, last serenades the White Sox fans after 40 years on the job.