When New York Giants announcer Russ Hodges uttered the immortal words “The Giants win the pennant!” the legacy of Bobby Thomson was indelibly etched into baseball history. Bobby's October 3, 1951, home run off Ralph Branca was ranked number one on The Sporting News' "Greatest Baseball Moments".
Bobby Thomson was born on October 25, 1923, in Glasgow, Scotland. His father had left Scotland for the United States five days earlier in search of a better life for his family, and in 1926, Bobby, his mother, and five siblings landed at Ellis Island in New York Harbor, ultimately settling on Staten Island, part of New York City.
Bobby attended Curtis High School on Staten Island, where he excelled in both soccer and baseball. He drew the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and played for the Dodger Rookies, an amateur team made up of area players the Dodgers wanted to keep an eye on. He first commanded the Giants’ attention in high school as well, playing on an industrial-league team made up of older players.
Despite the ongoing interest by the Dodgers, Bobby ultimately signed his first contract with the Giants in 1942. The Giants offered him $100 a month to go to Bristol, Virginia, in a Class D league [Appalachian League]. He played sparingly at Bristol, and the Giants’ front office moved him to Rocky Mount (North Carolina) of the Class D Bi-State League.
Before the 1942 season concluded, he was drafted and entered the US Army Air Corps. When he got out of the service in 1946, he was invited to spring training in Jacksonville, Florida, with the Giants’ Jersey City team of the Triple-A International League.
He landed in Jersey City, the Giants’ top farm team, to start the 1946 season. His first game at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City also happened to be Jackie Robinson’s first game in Organized Baseball. Bobby hit 26 home runs at Jersey City, and joined the Giants late in the season. He played in his first major-league game on September 9th at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Initially slotted into a competition for the job at third base, he began the 1947 season as the regular second baseman but moved to center field after nine games. He fared well as a rookie, batting .283 with 29 home runs.
His production fell off in 1948 (.248, 16 HR, 63 RBIs), but he was selected to the NL All-Star team. The Giants didn’t fare well in 1949, but Bobby had what would be considered one of his best seasons, batting .309 with 27 home runs. The Giants finished a distant 24 games off the pace.
The Giants went through a major housecleaning before the 1950 season, with a new cast of players built more for speed than power. Bobby led the team with 25 home runs and 85 RBIs.
His heroics in 1951 make prior years lose emphasis in establishing his career legacy. The season not only saw a move to third base to make room for rookie Willie Mays, but the pennant race itself was one of the most exciting in baseball history. After the season Bobby’s moniker was altered slightly to the Flying Scot from Staten Island. The dramatic home run linked Thomson and Ralph Branca for the remainder of their careers and beyond. The two remained in the New York area for years and developed a friendship, appearing at memorabilia shows and corporate functions. After the pennant winner in 1951, Thomson spent the off-season attending various events, even performing a song with Branca at the annual dinner of the New York baseball writers.
Bobby was an All-Star again in 1952, finally getting a start in the game at third base. His 24 home runs again led the the team, but the Giants couldn’t recapture the late-season magic of their previous season and finished in second place. In late 1952 the Braves, soon to move from Boston to Milwaukee, were reported to have an interest in acquiring Thomson. With Willie Mays in the Army, Bobby returned to the outfield for the 1953 season and again led the Giants in home runs with 26. The Giants struggled, however, and finished the season in fifth place. But his services continued to be a marketable commodity, and on February of 1954, the Giants traded Bobby to the Milwaukee Braves
In their first season in Milwaukee, the 1953 Braves had won 28 more games than in their final season in Boston, and with the addition of Bobby they were considered an instant contender as the 1954 season approached. But in March, he fractured his right ankle sliding into second base during a preseason game against the Yankees and the injury hampered him the entire season. The injury provided an opportunity for Henry Aaron to join the Braves’ starting lineup in his rookie campaign. It was the second time he had been replaced by a future Hall of Famer (the first was Mays).
Suffering from multiple injuries among the ranks, the Braves were left watching at season’s end as Bobby’s old team, the Giants, won the pennant for the second time in four seasons. Now 31 years old, Bobby was faced for the first time with the prospect of recovering from a significant injury. Once more he endured the offseason, and was still on the Braves roster as the 1956 season opened. His 20 home runs and 74 RBIs, ranked fourth best on a Braves team that now included such sluggers as Aaron, Mathews, and Joe Adcock.
Rumors of trades with Bobby’s name attached were again prevalent before the 1957 season. He was 33 and considered past his peak by many. The rumors were realized in June, when Milwaukee sent him to the Giants for second baseman Red Schoendienst. The Braves won the pennant and went on to win the World Series over the Yankees. For Bobby, it was the second time he was traded from a team that won a World Series the same season.
Traded again at the start of the 1958 season by the San Francisco Giants (now in San Francisco) to the Chicago Cubs. The story was the same in 1959. Although he appeared in 122 games, as his career was fading, becoming a part-time player.
With his career and his interest in baseball winding down, he was traded by the Cubs to the Boston Red Sox in December. He played just 40 games with the Red Sox in 1960 before being released in July. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles and but was soon released, marking his retirement from baseball.
He finished his career as a three-time All-Star with a batting average of .270 and 264 home runs. He never amassed more than five percent of the vote for the Hall of Fame.
In retirement, he worked as a sales executive with the Westvaco paper products Company. The Thomson family settled in Watchung, New Jersey. Elaine, his wife of over 40 years, died in 1993, and son Bobby Jr. died suddenly the same year.Remembered throughout his life by one moment in time, in the final analysis, Bobby Thomson was a shy and reserved man who consistently tried to fulfill all requests, whether for a story or a simple autograph. He died on August 16, 2010 at his home in Savannah, Georgia, at 86 years old. He had been in failing health and had taken a bad fall.