The Men at the Mike
Recalling the days of sportscasting's legends—Mel Allen, Red Barber, Curt Gowdy And Others—When baseball and cigar smoke were in the air.
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96
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But many observers agree that the greatest call in baseball history was made by neither Red nor Mel. Russ Hodges--an equal opportunity smoker of Phillies, Admirations, El Productos and most anything else he came upon--broadcast the Giants from 1949 until his death in 1971.
One moment--3:58 p.m. on Oct. 3, 1951--would outstrip all his other hours and days and years in the booth. It was the third game of a best-of-three playoff series between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Dodgers led the Giants by 13 1/2 games on Aug. 7, but the Giants streaked to a 37 and 7 record in their last 44 games and drew even to force the playoff series. The teams split the first two games and now the deciding game was at the Polo Grounds. The powerful Dodgers--with Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson and Gil Hodges--clung to a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
The Giants got three hits in the bottom of the inning to close the score to 4-2. They had runners on second and third with one out when Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen called Ralph Branca from the bullpen to replace Don Newcombe. Branca would face Bobby Thomson, who had homered off Branca to win the first playoff game.
Russ Hodges' raspy voice, rising in volume as it competed with 34,320 clamoring fans, told us the rest. "Bobby Thomson up there swinging. He's had two out of three, a single and a double, and Billy Cox is playing him right on the third-base line.... One out, last of the ninth, Branca pitches. Bobby Thomson takes a strike call on the inside corner! Bobby hitting at .292.... He's had a single and a double and he drove in the Giants' first run with a long fly to center. Brooklyn leads it, 4 to 2. Hartung down the line at third, not taking any chances. Lockman without too big of a lead at second--but he'll be running like the wind if Thomson hits one. Branca throws...there's a long drive! It's going to be, I believe! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant! And they're going crazy! They're going crazy! Oh-ho...[silence in booth, pandemonium in background] I don't believe it! I don't believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson...hit a line drive into the lower deck of the left-field stands...and this whole place is going crazy! The Giants--Horace Stoneham is now a winner--the Giants won it by a score of 5 to 4, and they're picking Bobby Thomson up and carrying him off the field!"
Hodges' call forever immortalized Thomson and his "Shot Heard 'round the World." To that point, no homer had ever ended a World Series or playoff series. But as large as the event was, Hodges' call made it 10 times larger. "I called it on television," recalls broadcaster Ernie Harwell. "I said 'It's gone' and let it go at that and let the picture take over." But that's television. Hodges' call--with its crazed, raw emotion--would never have been as superb were he describing an event we could already see. Since we couldn't see it, he just had to scream about it.
"Radio is to TV as a book is to a movie," says Harwell, who is still active as a broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers. "With the radio and the book the listener uses his imagination. So the announcer on radio is bigger."
Those who love the game--including millions of us who weren't yet born when the ball reached the seats--will be eternally grateful that Hodges gave us the call he did with all its genuine unrestrained excitement.
Gowdy recalls "The Shot" like it happened yesterday. "I was driving on a highway in Massachusetts and I drove off the road! Russ captured the emotion. It was one of the glorious moments in baseball history."
Irony of ironies, the radio call almost didn't survive. "Most people don't know this," says Harwell, "but it's a miracle that we even have a recording of Russ' call. We didn't tape things back then, keep that in mind. Russ got it in the mail that winter, months after the season ended. And he got it--if you can possibly believe this--from a Dodger fan," Harwell says. "The fan said he taped Russ in the ninth inning for the sole purpose of hearing him cry. Then, I guess he felt guilty and sent it on to Russ."
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