The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World (英語) ハードカバー – 2006/9/19
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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 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.
From Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Say it ain't so, Leo: an iconoclastic, most penetrating look at a famed 1951 clash between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Both teams long ago "deserted New York together," remarks Wall Street Journal writer Prager, yielding existential trauma yet unhealed. Well before leaving, on Oct. 3, 1951, their storied rivalry played itself to perfection in a pennant race to end all pennant races, "deadlocked after 156 games, seven innings and six months." It was, Prager writes, something that adults of a certain age would remember as surely as they did the death of JFK or FDR: Dodger Ralph Branca fires a fastball, Giant Bobby Thomson steps forward to swat it out of the park halfway to the moon, the Giants win. The moment is instantly celebrated as the greatest moment in baseball history, immortalized in novels by Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, in The Godfather and The Simpsons. Problem was, as Prager revealed on the 50th anniversary of the grand smack, Giants manager Leo Durocher, of fabulously foul mouth ("I never saw a fucking ball get out of a fucking ball park as fucking fast in my fucking life," he said of one Willie Mays homer), had stolen signals, employing spies with a telescope to suss out what the opposition was planning next. Durocher wasn't even the most masterful signal-stealer in the business, and it happened all the time, but he was also a gambler so profoundly compromised as to make Pete Rose look like a Brownie, and some writers have suggested that he be booted from the Hall of Fame for it. The whole affair was a black smudge on the game–and, as Prager patiently reveals, a dirty and tragic secret that would haunt both Thomson and Branca for decades to come.
A masterful blend of journalism, sports history, social history and even literature: one of the best baseball books to appear in a long time.
-- Copyright ©2006, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
“For anyone, like me, who followed baseball during the golden age portrayed here, this wonderful book is an absolute treasure. But it is far more than a book about baseball; it is a beautifully rendered story about the relationship between two men whose lives became permanently intertwined in a matter of minutes one October day more than half a century ago. A master storyteller, Prager captures the reader from beginning to end.”
–Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of A Team of Rivals
“Through diligent, painstaking and persistent research, Joshua Prager brings the 1951 pennant race to life in The Echoing Green. He adds Tabasco to the story by charging that the Giants were stealing signs at the Polo Grounds and that Thomson knew what Ralph Branca was about to throw him–a mediocre fast ball. This is juicy stuff and Prager's portrait of the time and the people in it is quite splendid.”
–Roger Kahn, author of The Boys of Summer
“Down-slope from Coogan's Bluff, the hollowed, hallowed ground on which Thomson bested Branca, the intrepid and indefatigable reporter Joshua Prager has revealed the dark side of the miracle.”
–Nicholas Dawidoff, author of The Catcher was a Spy
“The Echoing Green is an intriguing, groundbreaking, and always riveting story of one of the greatest games ever played and its aftermath. A terrific read.”
–Kevin Baker, author of Paradise Alley
Mr. Prager adds abundantly to baseball's rich literature and, while he's at it, reminds us that boys will be boys, with no apologies to the politically correct among us, even down the stretch of a classic pennant race that turned out to be both more and less than there actually was. (Now, if only Dodger bullpen coach Clyde Sukeforth could have remembered that, yes, curve ball pitchers do bounce curves now and then as a matter of course, and that having a splendid pitch-blocking catcher behind the plate negates the bounces, it might have been Carl Erskine and not Ralph Branca facing Bobby Thomson, who was slightly more vulnerable against curve balls, in the fateful moment . . .)
Prager has meticulously researched the book, but unfortunately it seems he never met a fact he didn't like. Every writer has to weigh his information and decide what to use and what not to use. I find it hard to believe, however, that Prager didn't use every shred of research he had. Do we really need to know the shoe sizes of Ralph Branca, Bobby Thomson and Herman Franks? There are countless cases where too much information weighs down the story. It's amazing some of the information Prager unearthed, but much of it isn't germane to the story.
Prager could have been forgiven for an awkward sentence or too, but his anachronistic writing style is often confusing at times, and distracting. Examples of this are included in other reviews. In the chapters where he writes about the families of Branca and Thomson, he frequently jumps back and forth between the two without any transition. Again, the result is that the reader is confused.
Despite these shortcomings, Prager has told an interesting and compelling story. And, some parts of the book are brilliant.
Rivalries were especially real among the teams in New York. So this game at the end of the season in 1951 was especially important. Joshua Prager has an eye for detail and an ability to weave a narrative that keeps the reader engaged. There are many odd things about this story. For years after the Giants stole the sign and won the game -Bobbie Thomson and Ralph Branca appeared together in baseball memorabilia events with Thomson keeping the secret. Also the secret was kept by all who knew about it for many years. One of the eternal discussions among baseball fans was did this one event actually make a difference. The Giants were way down in mid-August and went on a legendary tear winning 37 of their final 44 games and coming from way down in the league to tie the Dodgers at the end of the season and force a playoff. Then the playoff exchanged the first two games. The final (third game) became monumental. Early in the game the Dodgers went up and looked to win the pennant but then came Thomson's home run. (The Giants eventually lost the 1951 World Series to their another cross town rival - the Yankees.)
If you like baseball, this is one of the best books on a now obscure point of history - Prager again brings it (and all the Runyonesque characters) to life.