On October 3, 1951, in the 75th year of the National League, the cross-town Giants-Dodgers rivalry provided a finish that belonged on a storyboard in the office of a Hollywood producer debating whether he should take his wife to Ciro’s and his latest casting couch conquest to the Trocadero. Or vice versa.
It was a moment that fueled Don DeLillo’s novella Pafko at the Wall, provided the backdrop for Sonny Corleone’s assassination by the Barzini family on the Long Beach Causeway in The Godfather, and turned M*A*S*H‘s Charles Emerson Winchester III from a Bostonian steeped in cultural elite activities since the womb into a rabid baseball fan with unparalleled fury at having lost an ample sum on the once sure-thing Brooklyn Dodgers.
When Bobby Thomson’s home run sailed over Andy Pafko’s head, Brooklyn came to a standstill. Even the fish in Sheepshead Bay stopped swimming. It was like the times you discovered that your security blanket got ruined in the wash, your crush liked somebody else, and Santa Claus did not exist, all rolled into one swing of the bat that finished a battle of catastrophic proportions not seen since the Olympians overthrew the Titans.
Under the vise-like pressure of a deadline reinforced by Thomson’s last-minute heroics, sportswriters chronicled this chapter in baseball mythos with the disbelief shared by the nation. The Brooklyn Dodgers, ahead in the standings by 13 1/2 games in mid-August, fell to the New York Giants on one swing of the bat in the 9th inning of the last game of the season.
Shirely Povich wrote, “And so it came down to the absolute last pitch of the 157-game season before it was decided that the Giants, not the Dodgers, would be in the World Series against the Yankees.
“Hollywood’s most imaginative writers on an opium jag could not have scripted a more improbable windup of the season that started in April and had its finish today in the triumph of Bobby Thomson and the Giants.”
In his October 4th column entitled Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction – So Are Giants, Red Smith began by submissively, though shamelessly, admitting the fallacy of reporting the Thomson home run, the Dodgers’ collapse, and the Giants’ achievement.
“Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”
Hal Burton of Newsday saw Thomson’s home run as a restoration of justice.
“Dodger fans may object that the result was more than unjust, but I beg to differ. It has been, of late, downright unpopular to speak a word for the Giants or, in fact, for anyone but the Brooklyn team. The Dodgers, who started out in baseball as the underdogs, have of late become lordly and somewhat arrogant. Their fans will brook no dissenting comments. You must be a Dodger fan, or a heel – take your choice.
“This is the way things often happen in a democracy. Americans love to root for the underprivileged, which indeed the Dodgers were. When the rooting goes on long, the underprivileged become the over privileged. It is the swing of the pendulum. Once the Giants were lords of the universe, but over-confidence reduced them to the rear rank. This year, they were the least esteemed team in the league. Nobody wanted to root for them.
“The 9th inning yesterday changed all this. I am sure that the Stadium and Polo Grounds, will be a little less colorful with the Dodgers not present. I will miss the leather-lunged ladies who are a fixture at Ebbets Field, likewise the home talent bands emitting horrible sounds. But I don’t believe these people represent the real Brooklyn. They represent the Brooklyn of the fictioneers and the magazine writers – a phony vision built up by adroit press-agenting to the virtual extinction of the neighboring Giants.”