EVEN IF YOU KNOW IT'S A FAST BALL, YOU STILL HAVE TO HIT IT
by David Sisler
"The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
The year was 1951 and Bobby Thomson just hit a ninth inning home run off of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca. Russ Hodges' call from the Polo Grounds is one of the most memorable and most recognizable replays in sports.
The Giants entered the bottom of the ninth down 4-1. Before Thomson came to bat with one out, the Giants scored a run to make it 4-2 and had runners at second and third. Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen brought in Ralph Branca to face Thomson. After taking the first pitch for a strike, Thomson connected on the next delivery, a fastball that was high and inside.
The ball was smashed down the left field line just above the 315-foot sign and landed five rows deep in the stands. Thomson's home run gave the Giants a 5-4 victory over their biggest rival and a trip to the World Series.
What has been rumored for years has now been confirmed. The Giants were stealing the Dodgers' signs and on October 3, 1951, Thomson may have known that a heater was coming.
Henry Shens, a utility infielder who joined the Giants in June, brought a telescope with him. Shens, and later Herman Franks, zoomed in on opposing catchers as they flashed signs to the pitchers, then signaled the bullpen with a simple buzzer system – one buzz for a fast ball, two for a curve – just like the fingers that the catchers were putting down. The pitchers in the bullpen would toss a baseball in the air, or cross their legs, or in some other prearranged fashion signal the batter what was coming. The Giants overcame the 13 ½ game lead the Dodgers had built up, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1954 a player mentioned to Branca that the Giants had been stealing signals. Branca went on to become best friends with Thomson and they often appeared together at shows and gatherings, but never spoke once about the sign-stealing.
"To me, it was a forbidden subject," Branca said. "And I didn't want to demean Bobby or seem like I was a crybaby."
At a recent New Jersey Sports Writers Association's banquet, the two stars from that incredible game talked about those specifics for the first time.
"I felt kind of relieved to talk about it with him, to be honest," Thomson said. "It had been on my back for a while."
Thomson admitted to taking signs, but on "the shot heard ‘round the world," he says he did not know what was coming.
"I don't care whether he had to the sign or not on that pitch," Branca said. "It's irrelevant – he hit a good pitch."
Would it make a difference to an average hitter, let alone a good hitter, to know that the next pitch would be a fast ball instead of a curve?
Of course it would make a difference.
But you still have to hit it.
Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are not baseball players, but they have hit home runs in the publishing business with their best selling Left Behind series. This fictional account of the days before Jesus returns to planet earth has made the theology of the Second Coming front page news again. Interestingly, the references in the Bible to the Second Coming of Jesus, the Messiah, outnumber the references to his birth in Bethlehem by four to one.
Scholars, and ordinary students of the Bible, debate the time line, tossing out words which frequently cloud the issue. Pre-trib. Mid-trib. Post-trib. What's a trib? But one thing is certain. Jesus will return. He will set up his kingdom and, together with his saints, rule in peace and righteousness. The important thing is not when he is coming, but that he is coming, and since the date remains a secret which only Father knows, being ready becomes paramount.
Henry Shens may have signaled Bobby Thomson that Ralph Branca was about to throw a fast ball. Thomson still had to hit it.
Jesus is coming. You have been given the sign. You still have to make a personal, inside decision, to receive him as Savior and follow him as Lord.
Knowing the pitch is coming does not help if you leave the bat on your shoulder.
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Copyright 2001 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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