Famed home run hitter Bobby Thomson dead at 86

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NEW YORK (AP) - We’ve heard the frenzied call forever, echoing through baseball lore. “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

Bobby Thomson, the man immortalized with his “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951, died Monday night at his home in Savannah, Ga. He was 86 and had been in failing health for several years, the Fox & Weeks funeral home said Tuesday.

He was a good player, not a Hall of Famer. Yet on that October afternoon, with one swing, Thomson transformed a pennant race for one season into a baseball moment for the ages.

He hit perhaps the sport’s most famous home run, connecting off Ralph Branca for a three-run drive in the bottom of the ninth inning that sent the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the decisive Game 3 of their National League playoff.

The drive into the left-field stands at the Polo Grounds and broadcaster Russ Hodges’ ecstatic declaration _ four times shouting “the Giants win the pennant!” _ remain one of the signature moments in major league history.

“I never thought it was going to be that big. Hell, no,” Branca told The Associated Press from his home in suburban New York. “When we went into the next season, I thought it’d be forgotten.”

“I’ll miss him,” Branca said. “I mellowed over the years and we became good friends. I enjoyed being around him.”

A three-time All-Star as an infielder and outfielder, Thomson hit .270 with 264 career home runs and 1,026 RBIs from 1946-60 with several teams. He led the league in a hitting category only once, and that was for triples.

But the fly ball that flew over the wall vaulted “The Flying Scot” to a place of almost mythic status. There have been plenty of historic home runs over the years _ Bill Mazeroski, Kirk Gibson, Carlton Fisk and Joe Carter, to name a few _ but Thomson’s shot stands as the giant among them all.

The tall, lanky and self-effacing Thomson, however, was stunned that in a lineup that included future Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Monte Irvin, he would hit the pennant-winning homer. He called himself “the accidental hero.”

Thomson never quite understood all the fuss the homer created. On its 40th anniversary in 1991, he said, “I can’t believe we’re still talking about it.”

Bobby Thomson will always hold a special place in our game for hitting one of the signature home runs in baseball history. ‘The Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ will always remain a defining moment for our game, illustrating the timeless quality of the national pastime,” commissioner Bud Selig said.

The home run decided one of the most memorable pennant races, and later led to one of its most-debated questions: Did he know Branca was going to throw the high-and-inside fastball that Thomson hit out of the park?

More than a half-century later, it was revealed the Giants during the season had used a buzzer-and-telescope system to steal signals from opposing catchers. Helped by the inside information, the Giants overcame a 13 1/2-game deficit to the Dodgers, won 37 of their final 44 games and forced a playoff.

Thomson always insisted he did not know what pitch was coming when he connected. Branca was never quite so sure.

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