The next entry on our list of the greatest walk-off home runs of all time might surprise you. No, the shock doesn’t come from its inclusion, for these historic moments are why lists like this exist in the first place. But rather, the placement of this homer might cause a few eyebrows to rise and a few heads to swivel about in classic double takes. Yes, dear readers, our next subject is “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World,” and it’s only coming in at number 12. “But wait,” you say, “this shouldn’t be a possibility. That’s one of the most famous home runs ever hit, walk-off or otherwise!” Indeed, Bobby Thomson’s classic moment of heroism definitely ranks up there with the best in baseball. However, the scoring system this writer used hit a bit of a snag.
Before now, the home runs had all been judged on their impact on both their franchise as a whole and their title hopes for that year, along with its historical significance. The dozen entries left on our journey through the greatest walk-off home runs all tied with perfect scores of 30. So, the criteria were broken down even further. More to the point, the home runs are now going to be judged based on the game itself, the type of home run hit, and the ability of the opposing pitcher. These will be referred to as their “secondary scores.” Unfortunately for Thomson, and fans of the San Francisco Giants, his legendary home run came in a regular season game and came off a pitcher that wasn’t quite the cream of the crop.
The 15 Greatest Walk-Off Home Runs
#12: Bobby Thomson-October 3, 1951
Secondary Score: 22
This story of one of the greatest walk-off home runs begins with a singular number: one. That’s the amount of wins it would take for the then-New York Giants to win their first National League title since 1937. They had fought all throughout the 1951 season to get to this moment. That included an unprecedented 16-game winning streak in the middle of August. They went from being 12 ½ games out on August 12 to five out on the 27th. Coming into the 157th and final game of the season, they’d won eight of nine and were tied with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Their opponents for the day were those same Dodgers, who sought their second pennant in three seasons.
The Giants were led by two future Hall of Famers: Monte Irvin and Willie Mays. Irvin, who had been a star in the Negro Leagues, was in his second season with the Giants. He hit .312 with 24 homers and 174 hits while finishing third in MVP voting. Mays took home Rookie of the Year honors after crushing 20 homers with 127 hits in 121 games. Then, there was leadoff man Eddie Stanky. He was in the twilight of his career, but still walked 127 times and posted an OBP of .401. Add to that Thomson’s team-best 32 homers and you had the recipe for one potent offense.
A Pitcher’s Duel
The Dodgers sent Don Newcombe to the mound while the Giants countered with Sal Maglie. Both men were considered aces and both had notched 20 or more wins in 1951. Maglie got things off to a rocky start for the Giants. He walked back-to-back batters before giving up an RBI hit to Jackie Robinson. However, he settled in and retired Andy Pafko and Gil Hodges to minimize the damage. Unfortunately for the Giants, Newcombe was on his game as well, as he only allowed three baserunners through the first four innings.
The duel continued until the bottom of the seventh, when the Giants finally broke through against Newcombe. Irvin led off the inning with a solid line-drive double. He then advanced to third when Whitey Lockman reached on a fielder’s choice gone awry. In true classic run manufacturing style, Thomson hit a sacrifice fly, tying the game and giving the Giants new life. The Dodgers appeared to be in trouble with a man on and Mays coming to the plate. However, Newcombe was able to get him to hit into a 6-4-3 twin killing.
A Historic Home Run
In the top of the eighth, the Dodgers responded en masse. Maglie gave up back-to-back hits to Reese and Snider before delivering a wild pitch to Robinson that allowed Reese to come in. After intentionally walking Robinson, Pafko picked up an RBI hit, pushing the Dodgers lead to 3-1. Maglie got Hodges to pop out innocently before giving up another RBI single to Billy Cox, bringing home Brooklyn’s third run of the frame. It was 4-1 in the blink of an eye. Just as suddenly, the Giants were staring down the final six outs of their season. Heroism is often birthed in such environments and, fortunately for the Giants, this story wasn’t over.
Following an uneventful eighth, the Giants came to bat in the ninth facing the same deficit. Newcombe remained in the game as Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen attempted to get a complete game out of him. Al Dark led off the frame with an infield hit before Don Mueller grounded one through the hole into right field. Newcombe managed to get Irvin to pop out before giving up an RBI double to Lockman. Next came Thomson, with his team down 4-2. Dressen called on starting pitcher Ralph Branca to face him, and two pitches later, it was all over. Thomson’s three-run homer gave the Giants a pennant and a berth in the World Series.
Today In 1951: “The Giants Win The Pennant!” ~ Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” walk-off HR at the Polo Grounds becomes one of #baseball‘s most memorable moments! #MLB #SFGiants #History pic.twitter.com/mGZSTBCE7j
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) October 3, 2023
The Greatest Walk-Off Home Runs: A Ranking Controversy
Again, some might be asking themselves why this historic moment only comes in at number 12 on this list of the greatest walk-off home runs. Looking at the situation, and grading it by the aforementioned criteria, it becomes somewhat apparent. The game happened in the regular season (albeit in a three-game tiebreaker series), which knocks it back a few pegs. Yes, it did vault the Giants to the World Series, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it was still a regular-season matchup. Secondly, Branca was not the Dodgers’ best pitcher. If the homer had been hit off Newcombe or Preacher Roe, then it would have been pushed a bit further up the list. But, that does nothing to lessen its place in baseball lore. It truly was The Shot Heard ‘Round The World.
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