The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the Worldby Joshua Prager
This is the untold story behind baseball's most legendary moment:The Shot Heard Round the World. A Washington Post Best Book of the Year.
At 3:58 p.m. on October 3, 1951, Bobby Thomson hit a home run off Ralph Branca. The ball sailed over the left field wall and into history. The Giants won the pennant. That moment—the Shot Heard/b>/i>
This is the untold story behind baseball's most legendary moment:The Shot Heard Round the World. A Washington Post Best Book of the Year.
At 3:58 p.m. on October 3, 1951, Bobby Thomson hit a home run off Ralph Branca. The ball sailed over the left field wall and into history. The Giants won the pennant. That moment—the Shot Heard Round the World—reverberated from the West Wing of the White House to the Sing Sing death house to the Polo Grounds clubhouse, where hitter and pitcher forever turned into hero and goat. It was also in that centerfield block of concrete that, after the home run, a Giant coach tucked away a Wollensak telescope. The Echoing Green places that revelation at the heart of a larger story, re-creating in extravagant detail and illuminating as never before the impact of both a moment and a long-guarded secret on the lives of Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
—The New York Times Book Review
“Thrilling. . . . captures the enduring impact of the memorable moments that mark our lives.” —The Washington Post Book World
“The most comprehensive account ever written of the most famous play in sports history.” —Newsday
“This wonderful book is an absolute treasure. A master storyteller, Prager captures the reader from beginning to end.”
—Doris Kearns Goodwin
“A delightful book . . . You don’t have to believe that the Giants stole the game to enjoy The Echoing Green. You don’t even have to like baseball. That moment defined a generation.”
—The New York Times
“Compelling and thoughtful, the book meditates on the meaning of that home run in the legacies changed forever by a single crack of the bat.” —The Miami Herald
“A seat along the first base line. . . . Prager, like a good hurler with a command of many pitches, delivers nuance even when you're expecting a fastball.” —The Plain Dealer
“Prager turns his remarkable powers of investigation on the men involved in the scheme. The result is an absorbing critique of the competitive ethic that too often rules not only America's playing fields but its boardrooms as well.” —Sports Illustrated
“The depth of Prager's research staggers the mind. . . . A must-have for baseball mavens.” —The Buffalo News
“You will not find a better-reported book on any subject than The Echoing Green.” —New York Post
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Read an Excerpt
The Echoing Green
By Joshua Prager
Random HouseJoshua Prager
All right reserved.
Now do you understand serendipity?
--horace walpole, letter to
Horace Mann, January 28, 1754
The sky above brooklyn darkened in seconds, a borough plunged into dusk five minutes after noon. It was July 18, 1951, and in offices downtown, people turned on lights and peered out windows. A squall in Brooklyn Heights toppled a tree on Willow Place onto three parked cars. A bolt of electricity cracked, hailstones big as marbles pelting Borough Hall. Gusts of wind rocked Sheepshead Bay, small boats radioing distress. The temperature freefell from a balmy 80 to 69 degrees and it began to pour, sheets of rain flooding Prospect Park, empty garbage cans afloat in Flatbush, eighteen inches of water cascading onto the tracks of the Grand Army Plaza subway station. Service halted.
The blitzkrieg stopped abruptly at 12:40 p.m. And born of a cold front in Canada, it all but sidestepped Manhattan, the IRT leading to the Polo Grounds just fine. Still, it was the second-to-smallest crowd of the season that wended this Wednesday to the Harlem field, just 3,538 folks come to watch Giants versus Cubs.
Turnout would no doubt have been smaller still were it not for Willie Howard Mays Jr. Mays was a rookie. The child of an Alabaman railroadporter, he had joined the Giants just twenty years, eighteen days old, the youngest black ever called to the major leagues. And on that May day had all New York excited. For in thirty-five AAA games, the center fielder had hit a startling .477.
Harlem had pulsed with pride when Jackie Robinson turned Dodger, Larry Doby Indian, Monte Irvin Giant, Sam Jethroe Brave. But it was the great black ballplayers in Brooklyn to whom Harlem gave its 700,000 hearts. Wrote poet Langston Hughes in 1950:
On sunny summer Sunday afternoons in Harlem
when the air is one interminable ball game
and grandma cannot get her gospel hymns
from the Saints of God in Christ
on account of the Dodgers on the radio. . . .
It was however a black Giant who now bunked at the corner of St. Nicholas and 155th Street, Mays renting the first floor of a boarding house owned by a woman named Ann Goosby. And quickly did Harlem take to Mays as it had to no Giant before. For the pheenom brought to the north end of Sugar Hill not only three 34-ounce bats but humanity. Willie, not William, was his given name. He weighed just 170 pounds, stood two inches shy of six feet. His black wool cap flew off mid- gallop. He scolded his Rawlings mitt when it dropped a ball. One hitless night in Philly, well along an anemic 1-for-26 start at bat, Mays sobbed. But oh that first hit--a home run off Warren Spahn that left its mark on both the left-field roof of the Polo Grounds and Leo Durocher. Cooed the Giant manager, "I never saw a fucking ball get out of a fucking ball park so fucking fast in my fucking life." Harlem was in love.
Mays was the sure antidote to a proud organization's thirteen-year pennant drought. It seemed no coincidence that with his arrival, New York won three straight to slip above .500. And so a manager protected him, teammates marveled at him and fans adored him, bestowing by summer a nickname on he who greeted all with a chummy "Say hey!" Just one person in fact had reason not to celebrate the Say-Hey Kid--the man manning center field before the kid arrived.
Bobby Thomson was in his fifth full season. Twice an all-star, he possessed power at the plate and skill afield--fast enough to play shallow yet still cover the enormous expanse that was center field at the Polo Grounds. But Thomson had neither the arm of young Mays nor his preternatural glove. And the day Mays turned Giant, Durocher alerted the papers (even before his center fielder) that Thomson was shoving over to left.
"Every time a kid comes up and takes your job, you're not going to like it," says Mays. "But I never heard Bobby complain. Actually, Bobby and Al Dark helped me how to play the hitters." Dark went so far as to wag behind his back before most every pitch of the remaining 1951 season one or two fingers to alert the baby-face in center to what was upcoming.
Thomson, twenty-seven, received no such care. Batting just .229 when Mays arrived, yielding his position further bled his confidence. Over the next month, Thomson hit but three home runs and lost his spot in the starting lineup, Durocher using him only as pinch-hitter and defensive replacement. And as baseball's June 15 trade deadline approached, the manager sought to unload him. Dangling Thomson and infielder Jack Lohrke, Durocher contacted Cub skipper Frankie Frisch to see if he might trade for Andy Pafko. Pafko was perfect, a left fielder who in 1950 had hit .304 with 36 home runs and a .591 slugging percentage. The slugger was off flying again with 12 home runs through 49 games. But when midnight struck on June 15, Pafko was a Brooklyn Dodger.
The deal was engineered by Emil Bavasi, a rookie general manager who had in the minors assembled five pennants. Just thirty-five, the wunderkind had wangled Pafko in person, flying to Chicago the day before to meet Cub general manager Wid Matthews at Wrigley Field. The trade was Bavasi's first for Brooklyn and most in baseball felt it assured the club the pennant. When it was completed--eight players and $25,000 changed hands--Brooklyn senior scout Ted McGrew telegrammed the young Catholic general manager all called Buzzie. Read his note: "And a little child shall lead them."
Desperate for help, Durocher picked up Earl Rapp, a minor league outfielder in Oakland. But in thirteen games in New York, the lefty contributed one single. Durocher would have to live and die with Thomson.
Thomson began July on a home run binge, belting six in eight games. But hitting just .231 at the all-star break, his .944 fielding percentage the worst of his young career, Thomson continued to sit more than he played. The fans did not seem to miss him--when in the ninth inning on July 15 he spelled Don Mueller in right, they booed.
And so now two days later at the Polo Grounds, Thomson was but a spectator, number 3,539 left this afternoon to watch Giants versus Cubs, to ooh when Mays hit a solo shot deep to left field, to aah when righty reliever George Spencer loaded the bases down 4-3 in the eighth.
It was a wonder Spencer, twenty-five, could pitch at all. For mid- game he had learned that wife Billie was in labor and rushed to the hospital. Cub pitcher Frank Hiller extended his lead off third and Spencer fired to Hank Thompson a pickoff throw. Hiller slid in ahead of the tag. Safe, his spikes pierced Thompson's right foot, a black shoe welling with blood. Eleven outs later the game ended: Chicago 6, New York 3.
As after every Giant loss, a maintenance worker named Henry Colletti raised high above the clubhouse in center field a red flag. And in the green concrete below him, Anthony Palermo sewed a stitch into Thompson's right big toe, the Giant doctor estimating the lefty hitter would sit at least ten days. New York needed another third baseman. And in Minneapolis, they had one.
Ray Dandridge was a minor league star. Property of New York, the bowlegged third baseman was batting in AAA .317 with 8 home runs and 53 runs batted in. He possessed a glittering glove besides. Dandridge in fact had but one drawback. He was black.
On February 28, a group of NAACP lawyers had walked into the federal district court at 424 South Kansas Avenue and on behalf of thirteen parents filed a class-action suit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The parents wished for their twenty children entrance to a nonsegregated elementary school. As just one of the thirteen parents was a man, a black welder named Oliver Brown whose daughter Linda was eight, the suit bore his name. The trial of Brown versus the Board of Education began on June 25, and the national pastime, having wrestled with segregation, awaited its verdict.
Though four seasons had passed since Jackie Robinson trotted onto a diamond, the black major leaguer remained very much a statement, a conspicuous reflection of team policy. Just five of sixteen clubs had seen fit to employ a black player. And the major league owner who did, finger held to the wind of public opinion, remained careful to pussyfoot about the matter of race. He knew that many shook their heads when on July 7, in a Southwest International League game at Hidalgo Park in Mexicali, a man named Emmett Ashford was arbiter of foul and fair, the first black umpire in the twentieth century not in the Negro leagues. He knew that many bristled when on June 3, with two out in the second inning of a game at the Polo Grounds, Irvin, Mays and Thompson got aboard, white bases flush for the first time with black men. And he knew that many approved when on May 24, having called Mays up, New York at once sent down another black player, infielder Artie Wilson.
That unwritten quotas continued to hamstring black players was widely known. And it was certainly known by Dandridge. When in 1949 New York signed Dandridge, the son of a semipro catcher, it mattered not that in nine seasons in the Negro National League he had hit an estimated . 315, an estimated .343 in an additional nine seasons in Mexico. It mattered not that his mitt was renowned, that he was en route to the Hall of Fame. He was black and thirty-five, and so off not to New York but Minneapolis. And when there in 1949 Dandridge promptly batted .362 with 6 home runs and 64 runs batted in, still New York did not call him up. And when the next season Dandridge was named his league's Most Valuable Player, still New York did not call him up. And when he continued to shine after his roommate Mays was promoted in May 1951, still New York did not call him up.
That Mays would become the fourth black in five years to be named Rookie of the Year did not matter. Since signing its first black player, fastballer John Ford Smith, on January, 27, 1949, New York had been careful to field only so many Negroes.
But Hiller had now spiked Thompson. And owing a stitched toe, the New York Giants were at last on July 18, 1951, primed to overlook race--if only until Thompson mended.
Dandridge, though, was suddenly unavailable. Three days prior, before a doubleheader at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis, the third baseman had felt an acute pain in his side and been relieved in Asbury Hospital of his appendix. Dandridge would not play again until August 19.
Thus did a bloody digit and enflamed appendix now convene Durocher and Horace Stoneham in New York's center-field clubhouse. And minutes after their 6-3 loss, so desperate were Giant manager and owner to scrounge up a third baseman that they settled on Bobby Thomson.
Thomson had not played third base in five years, had not played any infield position since April of 1947. But serendipity had smiled on Thomson. And Stoneham and Durocher had now three pronouncements for the New York press: Thompson would be optioned to the Ottawa Giants of the International League, Ottawa pitcher Al Corwin would fill his roster spot, and Thomson would take over for Thompson at third.
The lineup, though, needed more than to add Corwin and shed a P. For the 1951 season was half gone and the orange and black trailed the Brooklyn blue by seven and a half games. Durocher was exasperated.
The fiery manager had come to New York from Brooklyn in July of 1948 and vowed to rebuild the team in his image. He had. Gone were sluggers Johnny Mize, Sid Gordon and Walker Cooper. In were scrappers Alvin Dark, Eddie Stanky and Wes Westrum.
The new Giant warp and woof had meshed under Durocher in little more than a season, the team running up baseball's best record in the second half of 1950. And on February 19, 1951, the very first day of the spring training that followed, Durocher chirped to the media that his boys would grab the pennant.
The press agreed, ninety-nine members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America fingering as pennant-winners New York. (Brooklyn, with sixty-nine votes, was runner-up.) "A new era has dawned," wrote Arthur Daley in the New York Times on April 20. "The hustling Leo Durocher finally has assembled a team of hustlers, and hope actually is blazing in the lee of Coogan's Bluff."
The Giants lost 12 of their first 14 games.
The team righted itself--winning 21 of 33 to pull within 4 games of first-place Brooklyn on July third. But their loss to Chicago on July 18 was their ninth in 14 games. The team was heading south.
Facing reporters after the game, Durocher fumed. He ripped his team for its poor play, umpire Dusty Boggess for tossing second baseman Eddie Stanky, clubhouse-man Eddie Logan for not confiding that he had told Spencer that his wife, Billie, was in labor. Durocher then stamped from the clubhouse, a trail of Fabergé cologne behind.
With evening, the rains returned. They forced the DC-3 flying Corwin from Ottawa to Manhattan to land at 1:00 a.m. in Albany. They slicked Spencer's drive to Jewish Memorial Hospital, where Billie gave birth to a baby that was dead. And at 46 East 61st Street, they rapped the windows of Durocher's apartment where a terrier named Briney Marlin and a boxer named Slugger greeted the manager at his door. Durocher always went straight home after a loss, stepped onto the baseball diamond etched into his linoleum floor, put on silk pajamas and his RCA television. And always, as Perry Como or Milton Berle entertained, he scavenged for any edge to win the next damn game.
"As long as I've got one chance to beat you," Durocher later wrote
in his autobiography, "I'm going to take it. I don't care if it's a zillion
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Meet the Author
Joshua Prager writes for publications including Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, where he was a senior writer for eight years. He has three times been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. Joshua was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 2011 and a Fulbright Distinguished Chair at Hebrew University in 2012. He was born in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, grew up in New Jersey, and lives in New York.
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Reconstructing events from more than a half century ago with the skill of a great detective and the writing ability of a master storyteller, Mr. Prager makes you feel as though you're back at the Polo Grounds in 1951, when an electrician may well have been as instrumental in the Giants' miracle comeback as any player on the roster. Prager's thorough research sheds irrefutable new light on what had been rumored for decades. Along the way, he explores the different paths that brought Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson to that one October moment which would link them forever in baseball history. (You'll even learn of the connection between George Washington and the Polo Grounds!) This book will become the definitive history of that incredible 1951 NL pennant race. It is truly a "can't put it down" book for anyone interested in baseball history, the history of New York, or simply a study in human nature: of winning, losing,- and "how you play the game!"
As someone who, as a kid, saw the home run on a 10' television in New York and had the delight to be the first to tell his Dad that OUR Giants did something WONDERFUL, I had the opportunity to go back in time, to have a very fine writer reconstruct the sum and substance, to FEEL it again. No. It went beyond that... I had the opportunity to learn what was really happening and -in the process -understand that what I saw was much more than a benchmark baseball game. I appreciate Mr. Prager's writing for giving me the chance to realize that I was witnessing a human drama much deeper than a pitch and a hit ... after nearly 60 years I came to understand aspects of my perception that I don't think I've ever considered consciously before! Thank you Mr. Prager ! To fellow readers : this book IS special, do yourself a sizeable favor to read it soon !!!
Though born YEARS after the Miracle at Coogan's Bluff, I am a big fan of the Dodgers-Giants rivaly of that era, Mays, Irvin, Thomson, Durocher, Branca, Reese, Snyder, Maglie, Stanky, and on and on. I was so looking forward to this book, and was disappointed - probably due to my own expectations. I so much thought it was going to revisit the season, the main characters, the pennant race and then the playoff games. While it covered all of that, there was so much more in terms of historical backdrop and then the aftermath for the two protagonists I just felt the book didn't have the steam I thought it would generate and hold. Damn good book, just not great.
As a fan of baseball, this book is a very informative read on the shot heard round the world, and what led up to that moment. If you are a fan of baseball or baseball history this book is a must read.
'The Echoing Green' belongs in that select company of sports books that capture a time and place that takes you back to when you were a kid. 'The Boys of Summer' being the first and 'The Perfect Mile' being the most recent until Josh Prager brought us this fine book. Those of us of a certain age know the main characters but Prager reminds us of other baseball figures ' such as Leo Durocher and Herman Franks' that played a part in this long held secret. You will marvel at the cast of characters that the author digs up to enliven and enrich the story. Did Bobby Thomson take an active part in cheating to help him tag Ralph Brance with that'loser' image he so wrongly was burdened with all these years? Read this excellent account of what happened and make up your own mind. You might be surprised to see how ambivalent you might be about that decision.
In 'The Echoing Green,' Josh Prager gives us a thoroughly-researched and well-documented account of one of baseball's most historic moments. He adds human faces and hearts to an event that is much more than names, dates, and statistics. Prager traces the lives of Ralph Branca, Bobby Thomson, and other involved parties until they reach a confluence on October 3, 1951. Baseball fans will already be well-versed in the climax, but there is much drama before we ever reach that date. The author also shows us how, for years to come, the 'shot' impacted the lives of Branca, Thomson, family members, players, and the game of baseball itself. I learned a great deal and had hours of reading pleasure. Prager has a gift, and I hope he gives us more baseball.
Joshua Prager has written a book about one of the most talked about events in baseball history and although it happened almost 56 years ago this book reveals the pathos of the pennant series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and their hated rivals, the New York Giants,the strange array of characters who conspired to steal signals from the Dodgers in that final game that caused the Dodgers the pennant in 1951. The lives of Bobby Thomson, who hit the home run and Ralph Branca, the pitcher who gave up the home run, would never be the same again. The home run, which has been dubbed 'The Shot Heard Round The World', would become the most talked about and most remembered event in baseball history. Joshua Prager, devoting six years of research to this episode, has written one of the greatest books that deals with sports history and insights into a ballplayer's travails and psyche.This book is a must in any baseball library.
Joshua Prager's The Echoing Green delves into fascinating detail as this talented young author recreates the years, days, minutes and seconds leading up to the epochal home run hit by Bobby Thomson to give the underdog New York Giants the 1951 National League pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers. At midpoint in the season, the Dodgers- the 'Boys of Summer' led by Robinson, Reese, Campanella and Snider - held a giant-sized, if you will, lead in the pennant race, only to see that lead ebb in the final weeks of the campaign. The Giants, helped by strong pitching and the fiery leadership of manager Leo Durocher, put together a comeback that, as rumor had it for many years, was assisted in no small part by some advanced sign-stealing. Did Thomson know that Ralph Branca, the woebegone Dodger pitcher who came into the final playoff game in relief, was going to throw a fastball? Prager tells us more than any one writer has, in an easy-to-read style packed with fascinating facts, pertinent parallels and on-hand observations. The actual description of the 'shot heard 'round the baseball world' serves as a fulcrum as Prager weaves the words of dozens of witnesses into an engrossing tale.
History, whether sport or politics or warfare is made by the daily actions and attentions of ordinary people who are swept into our attention for their moment in the limelight and pass on to quiet anonymity. Prager's book is 'The Greatest Generation' of baseball. Ordinary men - and a few resilient women - in the limelight once, act out the history of the game, and then remember their combat - forever. Is there great value to Prager's new and obsessively researched detailing of that long-past day, the forces that spawned it and its lifelong impact on the participants? Absolutely! I inhaled it. I was devastated on 10/3/51 when Bobby Thomson's home run sent all of Brooklyn into mourning. And I attended one of the earlier games Ralph Branca pitched that Prager accurately describes in this book. But what I found there was not the accumulation of numbers nor the unusual sentence structure but the great stories of ordinary - and some very extraordinary - men reminding us that life at its best is that steady search for doing the next right thing. Thomson and Branca's lifetime of almost brotherly love and conflict echo a relationship that Prager may not recognize. These two men have the same bond that combat soldiers have: complex and loyal. I have a friend, a tank commander from the Battle of the Bulge, just a year older than Thomson. He will journey anywhere in the world to attend the funeral of a comrade. Mark this. Branca or Thomson will die. And the other one will be in the front row of the service. All as result of a pitch and a hit in 1951.
This is a sports epic which is far more then 'the shot heard 'round the world', even though the combatants, Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca are the crux and the glue of the story. Mr. Prager spent the better part of five years of superb research in gathering information for his book. He deserves high marks in terms of empirical data and interviews with people both inside and outside of baseball. Those who were alive on October 3, 1951 and who were baseball fans, have forever ranked that day of joy and infamy along with November 22, 1963, December 7, 1941 and April 12, 1945 as unforgettable. The essence of the story, in this reviewers opinion, is about honesty and hoped for justice. 55+ years have come and gone since Thomson hit the home run to become an instant hero and Ralph Branca was unfairly branded as a goat.Since its inception in the days of Abner Doubleday, there have been many documented instances in major league baseball games, where dishonesty has gone unpunished. In this single incident, the 1951 National League pennant (the prize) was awarded unfairly to the wrong team.Much has been written and discussed about whether Thomson knew or did not know that Branca would throw a fastball on the 0-1 count. I believe it doesn't matter because Thomson still had to hit the ball. But what about the methodical use of a telescope and an electrical signal, followed by a hand signal to the batter from the Giant bullpen...........manifold times over the course of New York Giant home games between mid-August and the end of the 1951 season ? That is 'THE ISSUE'. Because any individual instance where cheating in this fashion resulted in a favorable outcome for the Giants and became a methodical building block which culminated in Thomson's home run. There are those who will say that the Giants cheating broke no law. But the ostensible 'moral code' was broken. And Prager's presentation of both fact and informed opinion from a multitude of sources, makes for a compelling story. I highly recommend this book to all who know and love the game of baseball and its history as our national pastime.
I finally finished The Echoing Green, all 350 pages of text. There are an additional 149 pages of notes, a dissertation-length bibliography, a gazillion acknowledgements, and an index. Although there's a great story in there someplace, the book mostly drove me nuts. The first 200 pages should have been ruthlessly slashed by an editor to about 50 pages. I found those pages almost unreadable, every sentence packed and dragged down by so many facts that reading was less a pleasure than a sensation akin to tramping through a field of rock-filled mud. Prager seems determined to include in his narrative every last little fact he accumulated in the course of what can only be called compulsive research. Every subject mentioned gets traced back to the Stone Age every person mentioned gets not a capsule but a quart jar-sized biography. The narrative, such as it is, slows down to a crawl and pretty much disappears beneath the weight of all this largely irrelevant material. I kept wondering: does this author have a brother or some other relative who's an Ivy League English literature professor, a snooty fellow who looks down on poor Joshua for not earning a doctorate, and for his choice of a career in mere journalism? Prager seems determined to show how erudite he is, with those high-falutin' quotations from literary works both famous and obscure bedecking the opening of each chapter, and references within the text that serve no other purpose than to show off. Does a (needlessly exhaustive) discussion of the history of signs and sign-stealing in baseball really have to drag in Ferdinand de Sassure, the ' father of semiotics,' as Prager helpfully tells us ignorant sports-folks? There's a disease worse than Writer's Block and a LOT worse than Writer's Cramp, and Prager has a raging case of it. The ailment is Writer's Tic: a repetitious and terminally annoying prose affectation. In Prager's case you could call it the 'Throw Mama From the Train a Kiss Construction.' All too often Prager uses a backwards sentence structure that's right up there with Chinese Water Torture-- you keep wondering when the next drop is going to fall. Examples: 'a quartet of well-dressed women who sat every game beside the right-field foul pole ' 'gathered in the Forbes Field clubhouse, sat silently Durocher's new team ' 'Maglie...then gave up to Robinson a single to left.' And so on and on. I started making a little red dot in the margin each time I came across one of these constructions, and the margins look like they have the measles. How any editor could have allowed this tic to reach the printed page is beyond me. But I didn't think the book was all bad. After struggling through the first 200 pages, we FINALLY get to, and past, the actual home run. This is where the real story begins-- the story of how Thomson and Branca have come to be yoked together for all eternity, NOT the entire history of baseball, of sign-stealing, and of everyone with any connection whatsoever to the story that fills those endless 200 previous pages. The last 150 pages are wonderful-- even the Throw Mama Syndrome can't completely ruin this part of the book, where the story really soars. Although the sub-title calls the book 'the untold story' of the famous home run, everything in the first 200 pages has been told before, albeit in less overwhelmingly detailed form. After all, it was Prager himself who broke the story in 2001 in the Wall Street Journal, and as he points out, snippets of the story had been floating around in print since the early 1950s. What's new is his insightful account of how Thomson and Branca have dealt with their fame/notoriety during those subsequent decades, and how their mutual knowledge of the sign-stealing secret affected the way each man reacted to the other, and to what fate dealt him. This could have been a great LITTLE book, instead of a badly flawed BIG book.
It's amazing what REALLY awful writing can do to ruin a terrific story. I opened this book ready to be enthralled, but instead I was bored, annoyed, and finally outraged by the horrible quality of the prose. Aren't there any editors out there would could have taken this author aside and given him the literary equivalent of a trip to the woodshed? How did ANY editor worth his salary allow writing this bad to be published? Very few times in my life have I ever bought a book and then returned it to the store where I bought it, with the explanation that it wasn't worth the purchase price. But that's exactly what I did with this book. What a shame-- the author has done some amazing research-- TOO MUCH, really-- but he pretty much missed the main story, the lives of Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca AFTER The Home Run. That story is tacked on at the end, but it should have been the main theme. The sign-stealing story is VERY old news. I remember reading about it in a book published in the early 1990's-- Ray Robinson's 'The Home Run Heard 'Round the World.' And Prager himself published an 'expose'' about it in the Wall Street Journal in 2001. So what's untold? Only the mind-numbing number of irrelevant details that Prager felt compelled to include in this unreadable book.
When I heard about a new book about the '51 baseball season I initially felt no need to read another recollection of Bobby Thomson's magical blast but I was totally overwhelmed by the in-depth study of not just the home run that will live forever but the beautiful story of the lives of all the 'players' involved in that historic event. Joshua Prager has written a masterpiece for not just baseball lovers but for all sports fans who appreciate exquisitely detailed prose. Prager exposes the great Giant plot to steal the signs of their opponents from mid-season on through October 3, 1951 and in doing so, delves into the lives of the many characters involved and that lends to hours of reading enjoyment! This book is a classic (I felt I was back in the 1940's and '50's) and deserves to be ranked with Roger Kahn's 'Boys of Summer' and David Halberstam's 'Summer of '49' and 'October 1964.' Read it and become immersed in a literary gem!
Stealing signs notwithstanding, the Bobby Thomson homerun put an exclamation point on a miraculous season. This book tells the story again, but with copious, engaging detail, and much affection for the players and their time. The Leo Durocher stories alone are worth the price of admission.
I will never forget my father sitting me down when I was 12 years old expressing to me pitch by pitch with heartache how his life changed because of the outcome of this one game. He clearly defined his interest in sports by this one game, so therefore I so wanted to read and enjoy Pragers book as I envisioned it taking me back to another era, Well, it didn't! Pragers writing is simply horrific! I was board out of my mind reading fact after fact which was not needed. There was simply no structure to his writing style with me thinking he had something to prove with boring fact after fact. Pragers writing is tedious and if he cut his facts in half, it would have been an exceptional read. Don't waste your time unless you have plenty of time to waste.