Famed home run hitter Bobby Thomson dead at 86

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Branca then relieved Newcombe and on an 0-1 pitch, Thomson connected. And the rest, really, was history.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Thomson was named after an uncle who was killed in World War I. He came to the United States in 1926 when he was 3 years old and the family settled in Staten Island, N.Y., where he played high school and semipro ball. He worked out for both the Giants and Dodgers and after signing a contract with the Giants in 1942, he spent three years in the military during World War II.

When Thomson came to the major leagues in 1947, he was a fleet center fielder, often called “The Staten Island Scot,” and lauded for his speed, but he was an anomaly in a lineup of slow-footed sluggers.

The Giants hit 221 homers in Thomson’s rookie season and he had 29 of them. By 1949, Thomson was a prominent hitter in the lineup, batting .309 with 27 homers and 109 RBIs.

The rivalry with the Dodgers was as intense as any in sports, two teams in the same city, playing in the same league. There seemed a genuine dislike for each other by the players and sometimes it overshadowed the games.

When he hit the homer, Thomson recalled the emotion of the moment. “I remember thinking, `We beat the Dodgers! We beat the Dodgers!’” Then, almost as an afterthought, “We won the pennant!”

The home run made him an immediate New York icon. There were television appearances, banquet speeches, the whole range of spoils for a low-profile outfielder who won a pennant with one dramatic swing.

But sentiment goes only so far in baseball front offices and in February 1954, the Giants traded Thomson to the Milwaukee Braves for four players and cash.

In a spring training exhibition game, Thomson broke his ankle trying to break up a double play. His roster spot went to a rookie who would fill in admirably for the Braves. Hank Aaron went on to set a record with 755 home runs.

Thomson spent two seasons with the Braves and then was traded back to the Giants in 1957, their last season in New York. Then there were cameo appearances with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.

Thomson was a businessman after he retired and stayed around the New York area for many years.

“He was a real gentleman and I think he handled his role well, too, being the hero of that series,” said former Brooklyn pitcher Carl Erskine, who was warming up in the bullpen when Branca was summoned. “I think he and Branca turned that incident into two real pros who handled that in a real class way.”

Thomson joined other members of the 1951 Giants team at AT&T Park in San Francisco for a celebration in July 2002.

“Many of us in the organization had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Bobby and for that we will be forever grateful,” Giants managing partner Bill Neukom said.

Thomson’s survivors include two daughters, Megan and Nancy.

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