Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rant #314: The Shot Heard 'Round the World

Sports today is a business. Sure, sports was a business way back when, too, but today it is so blatant that it is ridiculous.

And players, such as Lebron James, have marketed themselves and their talents much like businesses promote themselves.

Back in 1951, sports was a business, but the business side wasn't so obvious. Sports was run by businessmen, but they were more "sportsmen" than anything else. Or at least that's how they were portrayed.

And back on Oct. 3, 1951, the most famous home run in baseball history was hit by a very good, but not great, player by the name of Bobby Thomson.

This was a time that New York dominated the baseball scene, with the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees winning just about every year.

This particular season--an auspicious one in the annals of New York sports and sports in general as it was the rookie season for both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays--the New York Giants trailed the hated Brooklyn Dodgers by 13 1/2 games late in the season, but a collapse by the Dodgers and a surge by the Giants had them tied by the end of the regular season. A three-game playoff ensued, which was settled by Thomson, who hit a homer off Ralph Branca that gave the Giants the pennant.

And who can forget broadcaster Russ Hodges' classic call: "The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!"

The home run became to be known as "The Miracle of Coogan's Bluff," and even non-sports fans know all about it, as it has become a part of Americana.

Thomson died yesterday at age 86, and although he and Branca were linked together for life by the home run, could you imagine if a similar incident happened today?

First off, ESPN would be all over it. You would see the replay of that home run over and over and over until it had lost its significance.

Sports marketers would offer Thomson the world as far as endorsements. He would become wealthier from things he pitched than from actually playing the game.

Collectors' plates, coins, Christmas ornaments and the like would become a cottage industry revolving around the home run.

Not that Thomson, and Branca, didn't make off well from the home run. They constantly appeared together on TV and on the sports autograph circuit, and I am sure they did very well making the rounds during the past decades.

But if something like this happened today, it would prove a bonanza that was unheard of back in 1951.

And it would be beaten to death on the clip shows that all sports fans watch.

And by the way, Russ Hodges' call, which most people assume was the TV call, was actually from the radio broadcast. Even way back when, marketers were crafty, and grafted that call onto the grainy black and white film of the home run that we have had for generations.

So, with the 59th anniversary of the home run right around the corner, only Branca survives from that classic confrontation. He and Thomson, two very good players who became very good friends due to their link in history, live in any baseball fan's memory, even if they weren't born yet, like me.

I see that film, and the call, over and over in my mind, and it cements one of the greatest moments in sports history, even though I wasn't around yet.

I just wonder what ESPN would do with this, and if people who weren't born yet would have a similar reaction that I do to Thomson's homer, even though I was born roughly six years after it happened.

After the Lebron James "The Decision" debacle, who knows?

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