LONGSHOTS: The Shot Heard Round The World goes silent
By†Dave Long email@example.com
This is the third column this summer thatís been inspired by deaths in baseball. And as the notices keep piling up for people like Robin Roberts, George Steinbrenner and now Bobby Thomson, who passed last week in Georgia, it is a growing reminder that time just keeps marching on and of my mortality.
While George was bigger than life, in terms of a moment on the field Thomson is the biggest of the three as there was perhaps never a greater moment in baseballís 110-year history than his shot heard round the world. It gave the New York Giants a walk-off win (long before the phrase was coined) in their famous playoff with archenemy Brooklyn to claim the NL pennant in 1951 and put him into the history book forever and made Ralph Branca, who threw the pitch, the Bill Buckner of his era.
It also got me thinking about who the winner would be if that isnít the gameís greatest moment. Here are my contenders:
I Consider Myself the Luckiest Man: It wasnít an actual playing moment, but it sure was grace under fire when Lou Gehrig stepped to the microphones at a packed Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, to utter those words a few weeks after learning he had an incurable and fatal disease. He was dead less than two years later, but the moment still lives on to give me goose bumps every time I hear it.
Ripkin Passes Gehrig: No sadness, just joy on September 6, 1995, when the banner came down to show 2,131. And it brought the warmth back to baseball from fans turned off by the strike of 1994 that wiped out the World Series. And the homer he hit that night was icing on the cake.
McGwireís 62nd Home Run: I know ó itís tainted. But on that night it was magic. It climaxed my favorite baseball summer and somehow the steroid story canít wipe out that memory, in part because of the classy way Mark McGwire conducted himself ó which may be something all those condemning him over the íroids might do well to recall.
Aaron Passes The Babe: It only grows in stature after you learn of the hate mail and the like heaped on him as it became inevitable the homer mark was going to fall. For the record Curt Gowdy made the TV call on a rare prime time broadcast. Dodger lefty Al Downing threw the pitch and Braves reliever Tom House caught it in the bullpen as it came to earth.
Don Larsonís Perfect Game: I didnít see it, but youíve got to figure there was high tension in this one since (A) thereís never been a World Series no-hitter, (B) it was the Series so the win was more important than the no-no, and (C) it was a close game so with one wrong move it could have been curtains for the Yanks, especially since it was in the pivotal Game 5 with the Series tied at two apiece.
1960 Maz homer beats the Yankees: Better by FAR than the Carlton Fisk homer, because, unlike the Sox, the Pirates won the series and Bill Mazerowski was a much less likely figure to hit a Series-winning homer. It also came in the greatest game ever as this Game 7 had a lead change every half inning from the top of the sixth until Maz ended it in the bottom of the ninth.
Jacksonís Third Homer in Game 6: I get to mention this since Iím not bringing up Bucky Dent. Itís the single greatest in-your-face answer to critics ever. True Reggie Jackson brought it all on himself with his ďstraw that stirs the drinkĒ crack, but he was clutch when it counted by hitting five homers in the 1977 series. Three came in the final game, with the last a titanic shot into the center field bleachers at Yankee Stadium as Howard Cosell elbowed Keith Jackson out of the way to horn in on the call.
I Donít Believe What I Just Saw: I loved crippled Kirk Gibson hitting one of baseballís most improbable home runs ever. Not quite Larry Bird getting knocked out cold in the í91 playoffs against the Pacers and coming back in the second half to lead the Cís on to a critical win. But his shot off the Eck won Game 1 of the 1988 Series and started his Dodgers to win it all.
Griffey Scores from First: A captainís choice like in the Ryder Cup as itís not quite up there with the rest. But since it did beat the Yankees I figured what the heck. It was the 1995 ALCS. Yanks score in the top of the 11th to take a 5-4 lead over the Mariners. Edgar Martinez rips one over third that goes to the wall. Joey Cora scores from second and Junior, taking strides that seem longer than Secretariat at the Belmont, comes all the way round from first to slide in ahead of the tag to climax the most exciting play Iíve ever seen.
The Mays Catch in the 1954 Series: Does anyone besides me know that (A) Vic Wertz hit the ball that Willie caught in dead center of the Polo Grounds that day, (B) it was the only out Wertz made in a 4-for-5 day and (C) Bob Feller told me he didnít think it was that great a catch because the Indians knew Mays had it all the way?
Jack Morris Kicks His Manager Off the Mound: God I wish Red Sox pitchers would do this to Tito sometimes. Itís the eighth inning of a 0-0 tie in Game 7 in the 1991 World Series. With two on and no out Twins manager Tom Kelly comes out to check on starter Jack Morris ó who tells him to get the blank off the mound and get back to the dugout. He does, Morris gets out of it and the Twins win in 10 in part because Bobby Cox yanked John Smoltz in the eighth despite his not giving up any runs. Good move, Bobby. The grittiest-pitched game Iíve ever seen
The Red Sox Finish Off the Yanks with Four Straight: Saved the best for last. The Dave Roberts steal, Bill Muellerís hit to tie it in Game 4, Big Papiís game-winning heroics, the bloody sock and the Game 7 massacre. But in doing something no one had ever done to the team that had tortured them for 86 years there simply could not have been a better way for the torment to end than with how the Sox exorcised their New York demons.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.