Thursday, August 19, 2010


Bobby Thompson, a Giant, died on Monday night and it makes me think about my old man!
by Charlie Leck

My old man loved the New York Giants, the National League baseball team that played in the Polo Grounds in New York until about 1962. Oh my, how he loved them! This morning I picked up our local newspaper and read that Bobby Thompson – the guy who hit the 1951 home run that was called “the shot heard round the world” – had died on Monday night at his home in Savannah, Georgia. [You can read the story by Ben Walker AP Baseball Writer here!]

I went to my bookshelves and pulled down a little volume that I had written in 1995, called Essence. In it I had written about my old man and Bobby Thompson. Without the context of the whole book some of it will be vague for you, but you’ll get the picture – and, if you’re as old as I, you’ll remember the moment.

Oh, how my old-man loved the Giants. As a young man, he lived and worked in the Bronx. When the Giants played baseball in the grand, old Polo Grounds, my father would rush there from work, by trolley, to watch the Giants play. It may have been too much for him to watch the Giants miss out on winning the pennant year after year.

And then, when he took us all out to Jersey to live and grow up, he listened to them lose out to the bums from Brooklyn year after year. During those years he also had to put up with Bueska’s father, my grandpa, who loved the Dodgers and needled my father constantly.

I think my dad took some solace, however, from the fact that the Dodgers could never win the World Series. As much as he hated the Junior League, and especially the Yankees, I think he secretly rooted for them to knock off the Brooklyn Bums. It helped some when the Dodgers always lost in the great, world championship of baseball. But, he grieved that the Giants never got there. Until 1951, that is.

In August of that year, the Bums were already 13 games out in front of the Giants. My old-man was raging about firing the manager, Leo Durocher. Half the people in the Bronx and northern Jersey agreed with him. During a game, my old-man would get so angry when the Giants fell behind that he’d go over to the GE black and white and punch it off. He’d get so pissed off that he couldn’t watch.

Then the Giants made their move. They wouldn’t lose and the Bums couldn’t win. Nervously, my father watched the race tighten. Still, when the Giants fell behind in any particular game, and it looked like they’d lose, he shut down the television. The next morning he’d learn from the Herald Tribune that the Giants had won. So, it became a ritual. If the Giants fell behind in a game, off would go the telly. As the season drew to a close, it became an absolute superstition. However, he couldn’t just shut down the television. The anger had to be there. It was part of the ritual. He’d curse at Leo (the Lip) Durocher, and then he’d snap off the picture and sound.

My father was wild with hope when the Giants caught the Dodgers on the last day of the season. It forced a play-off to determine the winner of the pennant. Best two out of three. Only problem? They had to play the dreaded team that my grandpa loved. Oh how my father feared the inevitable gloating that would follow should Durocher’s team choke and lose again. Old Frank Svejda would be merciless.

The Giants managed to split the first two games and force a finale at the Polo Grounds. The advantage seemed the Giant’s. But, when it came down to the last inning, the Dodgers took a frightening 4 to 2 lead and the Giants seemed doomed. My old-man headed for the television and cursed at it and Leo. He shut it down.

I couldn’t believe it. That was it! Do or die! No tomorrow! And my old-man turns off the game. I couldn’t bear it. But, it was part of a rite.

So, I slinked into the little living quarters attached to the store. The television wasn’t as good as the one my father kept behind the candy counter in the store, but I could see the action all right. Sure enough, the superstition was having some effect again. The Giants mounted a threat! Whitey Lockman and Alvin Dark got singles. With two men on base, Bobby Thompson came to bat. This was no Babe Ruth or Mighty Casey, but he was a steady, hustling ball player and he could poke one out. The Dodgers panicked and called for a relief pitcher. Ralph Branca made the long, long walk from the deep, center-field bullpen at the Polo Grounds.

I don’t remember all the pitches. I can’t recall all the little details. I only know it had something to do with the Suderhostl’s intercession and my old-man’s ritual. My old-man missed seeing one of the all-time great moments in the history of baseball. But then, if he hadn’t shut down that TV it would not have happened. Branca would have mystified Bobby Thompson and struck him out. The very history of the game was changed because of my father’s great superstition.

The sound of the ball against the bat, as Bobby Thompson made contact with Ralph Branca’s fast ball, was awesome. The tall, lanky batter knocked one up, over the Chesterfield pack. I saw the sphere sail high above the big package of cigarettes that stuck out from the second deck at the Polo Grounds. All hell broke loose. Russ Hodges, the Giants’ television announcer, was screaming over and over again.

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

I jumped up and down and mimicked the veteran play-by-play man.

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

I screamed it as I ran through the kitchen and into the store. I was a very big kid, just turned eleven, but I flew into my father’s arms. The years of frustration and anger were finally over. I knew it!

My old-man knew it, too. He knew it would work. All he had to do was shut down that damned picture tube and block out all the sounds. Everything came together at just the right instant. The planets were aligned perfectly. My father tended to his business and ignored the game. And, the Suderhostl reached down into this huge moment in human history and touched Bobby Thompson. Destiny! It’s true! But, these three dimension all had to be miraculously inter-twined and coincidental – the alignment of the planets, my father’s superstition and the intercession of the Divine.


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