Did the Giants’ 1951 Playoff Victory Over the Dodgers Come Via Stolen Signals?

Rethinking the “shot heard ‘round the world”

1951 home run
Bobby Thomson ''The shot heard 'round the World'' Thomson's historic home run in the 1951 Playoffs to beat the Dodgers.
Sporting News via Getty Images

In baseball history, there are certain moments so significant that they’ve known by iconic names. One of the most famous examples is the “shot heard ‘round the world” — Bobby Thomson’s game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, leading the New York Giants to victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1951 National League title.

That home run doesn’t only occupy a place in sports history; it also factors into Don DeLillo’s acclaimed novel Underworld, ensuring its place in literary history as well. But new details of Thomson’s home run have emerged, and it suggests that Thomson’s triumphant hit may not have been quite as unexpected as previously believed. 

Writing at The Wall Street Journal, Joshua Prager explored a timely question: did the Giants decode the Dodgers’ signals, thus alerting Thomson to what pitches he might be facing?

Prager establishes a series of comparisons between the Giants’ victory and the signal stealing that the Houston Astros engaged in during their 2017 championship season. Prager also notes that rumors surrounded the 1951 Giants, suggesting that they might be stealing signs; Major League Baseball’s commissioner addressed those rumors in 1962, and one member of the Giants’ coaching staff, Herbert Franks, was conspicuously silent on the subject.

Prager spoke with several former Giants for a 2001 article, where they confirmed that a system was in place to alert them when a pitcher was about to throw a fastball. (He’s also the author of The Echoing Green, a book on the legendary home run.) And while Thomson was one of those players, he denied that his home run was the direct result of a stolen signal.

In this new article, Prager reveals new information that Franks imparted to Prager shortly before his death. It offers the fullest picture yet of the Giants’ method of stealing signals in 1951 — and it makes a convincing case for Thomson’s home run being less the product of skill and more the product of a calculated series of events and illicit information. Sometimes history isn’t what you think it is; baseball history is no exception.

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