Whopper of the Week: Bobby Thomson
On Jan. 31, the Wall Street Journal published a Page One story by Joshua Harris Prager substantiating the longstanding rumor that Bobby Thomson's famous "shot heard 'round the world," the home run that won the New York Giants the 1951 pennant (recently memorialized by Don DeLillo in his novel Underworld), was assisted by stealing signs from the opposing team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. The method involved rigging a telescope in the team clubhouse at the Polo Grounds, which was located in center field, and installing a bell and buzzer system connecting the clubhouse to phones in the Giants' dugout and bullpen. Stealing signs with a "mechanical device" didn't become illegal in major league baseball until 1961, but the practice was considered sufficiently dubious that members of the 1951 Giants team refused to talk about it for nearly half a century. The Journal, which interviewed all 21 surviving players from the team and its sole surviving coach, got several of them to confirm the details on the record. It even got a look at the telescope, lovingly preserved by one of the players' grandchildren. Then it asked Thomson to comment:
Mr. Thomson, now a widower, has never spoken publicly of sign stealing and has never raised the subject with [former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph] Branca. "I guess I've been a jerk in a way," he says. "That I don't want to face the music. Maybe I've felt too sensitive, embarrassed maybe."
Mr. Thomson sits on his couch, wearing the tweed jacket and tie he wore to church that morning. Suddenly, he uncrosses his legs, squares his feet with his shoulders and puts his fists together, right over left, as if gripping a bat. He hunches his torso forward and turns his head toward his left shoulder. He looks out of unblinking eyes into his fireplace.
Did he take the sign?
From the batter's box, "you could almost just do it with your eyes," Mr. Thomson says.
His hands relax. He drops his arms to his sides.
Did he take the sign?
"I'd have to say more no than yes," he says. "I don't like to think of something taking away from it."
Pressed further, Mr. Thomson later says, "I was just being too honest and too fair. I could easily have said, 'No, I didn't take the sign.' "
He says, "It would take a little away from me in my mind if I felt I got help on the pitch."
But did he take the sign?
"My answer is no," Mr. Thomson says.
He adds, "I was always proud of that swing."