Monday, September 25, 2006

The Echoing Green by Joshua Prager

The 1951 regular season was as good as over. The Brooklyn Dodgers led the New York Giants by three runs with just three outs to go in their third and final playoff game. And not once in major league baseball’s 278 preceding playoff and World Series games had a team overcome a three-run deficit in the ninth inning. But New York rallied, and at 3:58 p.m. on October 3, 1951, Bobby Thomson hit a home run off Ralph Branca. The Giants won the pennant.

"The Echoing Green" [written by Joshua Prager] follows the reverberations of that one moment–the Shot Heard Round the World–from the West Wing of the White House to the Sing Sing death house to the Polo Grounds clubhouse, where a home run forever turned hitter and pitcher 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 spyglass would remain undiscovered until 2001, when, in the jubilee of that home run, Joshua Prager laid bare on the front page of the Wall Street Journal a Giant secret: from July 20, 1951, through the very day of that legendary game, the orange and black stole the finger signals of opposing catchers.

The Echoing Green places that revelation at the heart of a larger story, re-creating in extravagant detail the 1951 pennant race 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.

A wonderfully evocative portrait of the great American pastime, The Echoing Green is baseball history, social history and biography–irresistible reading from any angle.

Comments from Dave Smith, Retrosheet:

From: "David W. Smith"
Subject: New book by SABR member Josh Prager

I write this message with a strong endorsement of Josh Prager's new book, "The Echoing Green", which was published this week by Pantheon Books. The subject is ostensibly the home run that Bobby Thomson hit off Ralph Branca to win the 1951 National League pennant over the Dodgers in their playoff series.

However, this book is much, much more than just a story about a home run.

It is an incredibly thorough examination of the lives of these two men, both before and after the moment which defines them for most baseball fans. But Josh makes it clear that these players are not just cardboard cutouts frozen in a single moment. He draws the reader in and the drama builds as he painstakingly explains how their lives came to intersect on October 3, 1951.

Their personal stories are compelling and set against the backdrop of the 1940s and 1950s, we can get a special appreciation of the role that baseball played in the society at large and New York in particular during this era.

Josh has written on this topic before, with a bombshell of an article in the Wall Street Journal in January of 2001, detailing a sign-stealing scheme that the Giants implemented in July of 1951. In reconstructing that part of the story, Josh not only talked to all the surviving players and family members of some of the deceased, he also brings us in contact with the utility infielder with the telescope (Hank Schenz) and the electrician (Abraham Chadwick) who installed the the buzzer system that was used. There can be no doubt that the sign-stealing took place and that it happened just as Josh describes.

The sign-stealing is an undeniably important and exciting part of the 1951 picture, but it is truly secondary to the real story, which is the people.

And it is more than Branca and Thomson. It is their teammates, the fans, and the managers, Charlie Dressen of the Dodgers and Leo Durocher of the Giants who had a bitter and long-standing rivalry. Thanks to the exhaustive interviews Josh conducted, we have a remarkably full picture of that storied season from a wide variety of viewpoints. Thomson and Branca were generous to Josh with their time and we should all be grateful. Throughout the story Josh provides detailed and accurate statistical data, but always for the purpose of advancing the larger story.

I must close with a comment on the quality of Josh's writing. There is not much baseball writing that can be described as erudite, except perhaps the work of the late Leonard Koppett. Josh clearly belongs in that company, a compliment I do not offer lightly. It is a pleasure to read a well-constructed narrative that has genuine literary quality with sophisticated references and vocabulary. In summary, I can't improve on what SABR member Rob Neyer writes on the dust jacket: "This is a great baseball book, of course. But it's also a great book."

Dave Smith
Courtesy of SABR-L Digest - September 23, 2006

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tale of Two Artists

Courtesy of the L.A. Daily News
Vin Scully & Greg Maddux - A Couple of Shooting Stars
Light up Los Angeles. Catch Them While You Can.
By Devra Maza,
Special to the Daily News
LA Daily News

Several seasons ago, I was researching a baseball screenplay and the Dodgers opened their stadium to me. I was sitting with the scouts during an extra-inning game when two pitchers got up for the Braves in the visitors' bullpen. The scouts, busy with their radar guns, asked me to ID the relievers with my binoculars.

"The one on the left is John Smoltz," I told them. The scouts exchanged incredulous looks. "And the one on the right is Greg Maddux." Just as they were about to give up on me entirely, the distinctive voice of Vin Scully was heard on the radios that played throughout the ballpark, imbued with the sense of wonder and awe that would soon fill the scouts' faces: "... And look who's throwing in the pen. ... There's a combined five Cy Youngs warming up ..."

Now that four of those Cy Youngs is a Dodger, Scully has the opportunity to impart that sense of awe and wonder every fifth day when Greg Maddux makes his start. "I'll drive to the ballpark thinking I hope he has a good game, because he's such fun to watch," says Scully. "I love how he works the hitters."

While Scully admires what Maddux can do with a baseball, Maddux in turn says of Scully, "I always loved his voice, and admired what he's been able to do with a microphone. As a kid, I was a big Reds fan, and we used to come to Dodger games, and Vin Scully was always on the radio. You could hear him during the game in the stands."

Read the rest of the article here

Read the complete poem here

Hear Vin Scully read the poem here in Real Audio or MP3

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Koufax is Perfect - 9-9-1965

Courtesy of
In LA‚ a duel between Dodger Sandy Koufax and Bob Hendley of the Cubs is perfect until Dodger LF Lou Johnson walks in the 5th.

Following a sacrifice‚ Johnson steals 3B and scores on C Chris Krug's wild throw. Johnson later gets the game's only hit‚ a 7th-inning single. Koufax's 4th no-hitter in 4 years is a perfect game.

One hit by 2 clubs in a completed 9-inning game is also a ML record‚ as is the one runner left on base.

The 2 base runners in a game is a ML record. For Chicago pitchers‚ it is the 2nd one-hitter they've thrown against LA this year and lost. Ellsworth lost on May 15‚ 1965.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Kouzmanoff's Grand Slam Lifts Tribe

Kouzmanoff's Grand Slam on 1st Major League Pitch Lifts Indians Over Rangers 6-5


The Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Texas - Kevin Kouzmanoff stepped into the batter's box with the bases loaded for his first major league at bat, and his Cleveland Indians teammates had the audacity to predict a grand slam for the rookie.

Kouzmanoff, subbing for grand slam master Travis Hafner, homered with the bases loaded on the first major league pitch he faced, and the Indians went on to stretch their winning streak to five games with a 6-5 victory over the Texas Rangers on Saturday night.

"Everybody in the dugout was saying he was about to do it," Indians starter Cliff Lee said. "It's pretty impressive to do it on the first pitch he faced in the big leagues. He wasn't scared. He went up there and hit his pitch."

With Hafner out due to a bruised right hand, Kouzmanoff made a smashing major league debut as a designated hitter a few hours after he was called up from Triple-A Buffalo.
Kouzmanoff had a few nervous moments on Saturday afternoon when his flight to Dallas/Fort Worth International was delayed, but he reached the ballpark in time for batting practice.
It wasn't long before he was circling the bases on his grand slam, just like Hafner has done six times this season to tie a major league record.

"I don't really remember running around the bases," Kouzmanoff said. "I couldn't believe I did it. It hasn't sunk in yet. I still can't believe I did it."

Grady Sizemore led off the game with a homer for the fourth time this season and seventh of his career.

The Indians loaded the bases later in the first against Rangers starter Edinson Volquez (1-4). Kouzmanoff knocked Volquez's first pitch over the center field wall to give the Indians a 5-0 lead.

"He went up there ready to hit and got on one," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "Obviously it was a huge lift for us. It was a big hit early and it ended up being the difference in the ball game."

Read the rest of the article here

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

September 5, 1964

Courtesy of
Saturday, September 5th, 1964

Blue Moon Odom makes his ML debut, and Mickey Mantle greets him with a 3-run opposite field homer in the first inning. New York hangs on to win, again by a 9–7 score.

Ernie Banks belts a double and homer in the same inning, and the Cubs use the big score to beat the Cards, 8–5. Mike Cuellar takes the loss against Larry Jackson.

Sound familiar? The Yanks acquire veteran P Pedro Ramos from the Indians as pennant insurance. The Indians get two players to be named later: Ralph Terry on October 12, and Bud Daley on November 27.