Sometimes, the first graf of the Times obituary just writes itself:
Bobby Thomson, who swatted the most famous home run in baseball history — the so-called “shot heard round the world” — for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 3, 1951, to cap baseball’s most memorable pennant drive, died Monday at his home in Savannah, Ga. He was 86.
Thomson’s homer, in the deciding game of a best-of-three playoff for the National League championship, was the phenomenally dramatic conclusion to what was, in fact, the first ever live national telecast of a major sporting event (NBC picked up the WPIX feed, broadcast by future voice of the Tigers Ernie Harwell).
The moment’s legacy is tied up in Giants play by play man Russ Hodges’s local radio call, but I’d like to propose that the national TV broadcast is of far greater significance: the first national live media event—perhaps the first-ever “where were you when?” moment, a watershed in America’s transition from a regional to a national society. And at the dawn of the 50s—the beginning of the American (half-)century.
After the Berlin Wall fell down, Don DeLillo spent much of the 1990s writing his big book about post-WWII America.
The Shot Heard ‘Round the World is Underworld‘s prologue, and, in DeLillo’s rendering, something like the primal scene of America as we know it—Thomson’s home run ball snakes its way through the rest of the book, and the Cold War—a teeming mass of headlong youthful rush, celebrity, and atomic anxiety.
The prologue of Underworld was first published in Harper’s in 1992, Pafko At the Wall. In it, DeLillo has Hodges thinking “The postwar boom has changed the way we look. We’re beginning to look younger, sleeker, we’re beginning to think of dinette sets, we’re forward-looking now.” (The line is absent from Underworld.)
He has Thomson talking to himself, “See the ball. Wait for the ball. Do your job, fool.”
He says, “Not a good pitch to hit, up and in, but Thomson swings and tomahawks the ball and everybody, everybody watches.”