Some DeLillo In Memory of Bobby Thomson, Who Hit The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

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08/18/2010 3:56 PM |

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.”

2 Comment

  • so just reading the news of that day, wed 3rd, thurs 4th : “If I was a good hitter I’d have taken that one.” That’s what Bobby Thomson said in the clubhouse yesterday after his three-run homer had ended the third play-off game and plunged the Giants into the world series against the Yankees….

    “Overcast skies and a threat of rain cut the attendance at the final play-off game to 34,320 yesterday, more than 4,000 less than that which witnessed the first Polo Grounds contest on Tuesday”

    “Baseball fans, still talking about the Giants’ dramatic victory over the Dodgers, began lining up outside the bleacher entrance at the Yankee Stadium last night for today’s first game of the world series between the Yankees and the Giants….”

    and this:
    DUBLIN, Ga., Oct. 3 (AP)–A Negro man and his wife reported today that they had been flogged with an ax handle and a strap yesterday by a band of men wearing white robes….

    U. S. CASUALTIES UP 2,131; Battle Toll in Korea Now 87,650, Defense WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 (UP)–Official United States battle casualties in the Korean war now total more than 87,650, an increase of 2,131 over the number reported a week earlier

    WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 (UP)– Senator Paul H. Douglas, Democrat of Illinois, said today that the action of a Cicero, Ill., grand jury on recent riots there was “a denial of every principle of American decency.”

    ah, stay the same, never change…

    my dad was 8 my mom was 6

  • A very sad day for me. Not only was a I rabid Giants fan (I was even at the time and actually watched the game on my twelve-inch Dumont TV set!), but it inspired me to write my second novel, ONCE UPON A FASTBALL. Anyone who loves baseball would, I think, enjoy this novel, available at I also have learned to admire Ralph Branca in terms of the way he has handled this gaffe his whole life. The greatest moment in sports history, in by humble opinion. –Bob Mitchell