Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Home Run Heard Round the World: The Dramatic Story of the 1951 Giants-Dodgers Pennant Race”

9780486480589_p0_v1_s260x420The Home Run Heard Round the World: The Dramatic Story of the 1951 Giants-Dodgers Pennant Race. By Ray Robinson. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2011 ed.

This is a classic work of baseball history. Originally published in 1991, it tells the story—and it is a very journalistic account as written here—of the 1951 National League pennant race in which the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers battled for the chance to meet the New York Yankees in the World Series. Of course the Giants earned the pennant, and were dispatched in the World Series by the Yankee juggernaut led by future Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra.

To get to that point, however, the Giants made a dramatic come-from-behind late season surge to tie the Dodgers for the National League title. Both the Giants and the crosstown rival Dodgers finished the regular season with identical 96-58 records. They then had to play a best-of-three game extension of the season to determine who advanced to the World Series. It was in the last game of that extension that Bobby Thompson hit his dramatic bottom-of-the-ninth homer to defeat the Dodgers 5-4. Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges captured the euphoria of the moment in his in-air chant, “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT, THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT, THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT.” It was the perfect response to a great moment in baseball history.

Getting to that point was not easy, however. As of August 11, Brooklyn held a commanding 13½-game lead over the Giants. They managed to catch the Dodgers by winning their next 16 games, and 37 of their last 44 games, while Brooklyn played the rest of the season at a 26–22 clip. The Giants then tied the Dodgers for the league championship on the last day of the regular season when they beat the Philadelphia Phillies, only one year removed from their pennant-winning “Whiz Kids” season in 14-innings to force the best-of-three-games showdown. The Giants and Dodgers split the first two games of this series, and the Giants come-from-behind win in the third sealed the deal.

This is an excellent narrative of that epic struggle. It was written by a veteran baseball writer with a real feel for the telling anecdote and the dramatic scene. Republished in 2011 by Dover, after having been out of print from HarperCollins for many years, it now reappears at the time of the 60th anniversary of this most stunning of all walk off homers, excepting perhaps only Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 World Series homer, in major league history.

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