The man departs, but the childhood memory remains vivid.
Bobby Thomson passed away last month, little more than a year shy of the 60th anniversary of baseball's most dramatic moment — the walk-off home run that gave the 1951 New York Giants the National League pennant. Thirteen-and-a-half games back on Aug. 11, the Giants had caught the Brooklyn Dodgers on the last day of the season, forcing a playoff.
My dad was a native of Bobby Thomson's birthplace: Glasgow, Scotland. Both arrived in America in 1925, Bobby at age 2 and my father at age 24. During World War I, Dad had worked in the Port Glasgow shipyards as a teenager building warships and ocean liners. He actually crossed the Atlantic on a ship he had helped to build.
In my fondest imaginings, I fancied the Thomson family also coming to America on a passenger liner he had a hand in building. The Thomsons settled in Staten Island and the Grants in Queens. My father became a motorman, regularly driving subway trains past the Polo Grounds — site of the miracle of '51. As a concession to his three sons, he made a valiant effort to understand the complexities of American baseball, ultimately becoming an avid Giant fan.
On that fateful October day, I ran all the way home from PS 45 hoping to catch the end of the game. Dad was working a swing shift, and my brothers were far from home, Bill in Korea with the Marines and Tom in Germany with the Air Force.
My neighborhood's loyalties were equally divided between the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees. Living in the Idlewild Airport (JFK) flight path, reception on our 12-inch black-and-white television was an iffy proposition. But on that day, there was no air traffic, and the rabbit-eared picture quality was excellent.
The importance of the game had obviously caused the grounding of all flights. It didn't cross my 9-year-old mind that perhaps a change in wind direction had mercifully diverted flights away from our row house in South Queens.
Arriving home, I was dismayed to find the Giants three runs behind in the ninth inning. If nothing dramatic happened, "dem bums" would be taking on the Yankees in our annual New York ritual — the subway series. But a run-scoring double closed the gap to two runs, and Giant fans sensed the possibility of a miracle as Thomson came to bat with two men on base, one out and reliever Ralph Branca on the mound.
The neighborhood was deserted and deathly still, with all eyes glued to tiny screens or ears pressed to radios. When Thomson launched Branca's fastball and himself into immortality, the Giant announcer Russ Hodges became hysterical. Time seemed to stand still as disbelief took hold, then storm doors, up and down the block flew open, and the Giant faithful bounded into the street shouting for joy. The homes of Dodger fans were shuttered and silent.
Dad came home that night with a copy of every special-edition New York newspaper, each with banner headlines describing the "shot heard round the world." He was a happy man. Having one of his sons in the middle of a war had weighed heavily on him for months. Each morning he anxiously listened to the news, noting which Marine units were engaged in the fighting. But for at least the next few days he was able to put aside his worst fears and bask in the dramatic miracle his fellow Scot had brought to their adopted sport and adopted country.
My brothers made it home safely, and in 1965 Bill met Bobby Thomson. Dad had passed away in 1960. Bill related to Bobby how big a fan my dad had been and how much joy he had brought him on that golden autumn day in 1951.
PAT GRANT has lived in Glendale for more than 30 years and was formerly a marketing manager for an insurance company. He may be reached at email@example.com.