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January 31, 1994 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 1994-01-31

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The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, January 31, 1994 - 3


The man who hit one of baseball's most
famous home runs discusses his life

Close But No Sugiura

Bobby Thanson knows what it
feels like to g from an ordinary
ballplayer to a legend overnight.
Thomson wilfforever be recognized
as the man rho hit the legendary
"ShotHeard 'oundthe World "That
home run liftd the New York Giants
to a dramati playoff win over the
Brooklyn Dolgers and into the 1951
World Series
Following stints with the Milwau-
kee Braves, Boston Red Sox and Bal-
timore Orioles, Thomson retiredfrom
baseball in 1960. He finished with a
career .2 70 batting average and 264
home runs in his career.
Recently Daily Sports Writer Tim
Smith talked to Thomson, 70, about
the home run, his life as a retired
* player and the state of the game.
D: What wereyou feeling preced-
ing your famous it-bat against Ralph
Branca (the Dodgers' pitcher) in the
one-game playof in 1951?
-.T: Itwas a one-in-a-lifetime situ-
ation. All I can do, looking back on
e'drything thatappened and just ra-
tionalizing it, issay that Ijust got back
tp fundamental;.
There was something that pre-
ceded my at-bit which I think was a
plus for me. Whitey Lockman hit a
double and Dot Mueller slid into third
base and hurt '.is ankle severely.
Now insted of men on second
and third andme getting right up to
bat against Dm Newcombe, Mueller's
tirt ankle stipped the game. He was
lying on theground and he was in
pain. So I wA down there with the bat
in my hand, nd my mind was taken
cOmpletely )ut of the game by that
It wasn'tintil they carried him off
the field tha I got back into baseball.
It just took ny mind off the game.
"'The at-bit was aonce-in-a-lifetime
situatibn foime. As I walked to home
plate, I reaized that I had to get up
there and co something. I talked to
myself, psyphing myself up, which is
something never had done in my life
-,I'm teling myself, "Get up there
and give yourself a chance to hit. Do
a good job'That's all I wanted to do.
Doing a god job means sitting back,
relaxed, aid waiting for the ball.
I kep elling rmyself'towait aid
watch.I kipt calling myself an S.O.B.
"You S.CB, get up there and give
yourselfahanceto hit. Waitand watch,
wait and vatch." I had never done that
I didi't even know that Branca
had repllced Newcombe. It's an odd
D: Vhen you hit it, did you know
it was gne?
T: feah, I thought I had a home
run beciuse I really hit it well.I made
good ontact. It was a high inside
fastbaf Actually, it was a ball, but it
wasn'tthat far inside that I wasn't
able to jump on it.
I As pretty quick with my hands,
and when the ball is inside, you have
to be iery quick with your hands to
get out in front of it.
-It took off when I hit it. It was a
line drive heading for the upper stands,
and allofa sudden I saw the ball had
tremer ious spin on it, and I thought,
"It's not a home run. It's only a base
hit." I emember that thought going
througi my mind.
I gwss I was about halfway to first
when tIe ball disappeared in the stands.
D: Vhat were your feelings when

you wee rounding the bases?
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T: It was excitement that I never
experienced. During your baseball ca-
reer, I think you're sometimes the
goat and sometimes the hero. You
have your exciting moments during
your life span, but this was something
I was hyperventilating running
around the bases and I knew I wasn't
running my usual home run trot.
D: What was it like going from a
non high-profile player to a celebrity
T: I don't know. I never consid-
ered myself a celebrity type, high-
profile player.
The next spring I came up to bat
against the (St. Louis) Cardinals, and
that home run aura was still around
my head. We were losing by three
runs in the last half of the ninth, and I
came up to bat with the bases loaded,
and I hit a home run.
Things like that didn't continue.
My career was fairly inconsistent.
D: Do you find it interesting that
you still receive a lot of attention for
your home run, even though it's been
over 40 years since you've hit it?
T: Oh yeah. I've always been
amazed about the attention it gets.
I've enjoyed the attention obviously,
and it's nice to be remembered, be-
cause having a job and having a fam-
ily keeps it in the proper perspective.
D: What have you been doing
since you retired from baseball?
T: I took aptitude tests when I
retired because I'm a high school
graduate. I went right into baseball
after high school, so when I got out of
baseball I had to see if I had enough
brains to get myself a job.
I took these aptitude tests at Stevens
Institute and that took me into sales in
the paper business. I worked as a sales-
man for the world's largest producer of
corrugated boxes and bags, which was
located in Chicago.
D: Was it tough for you to adjust
to life in the real world after living the
dream life of a Major League baseball
T: Oh sure. I lived out in Jersey in
the country side and I had to commute
to New York. At best it was aone-and-
a-half hour trip each way, so it was at
least a three-hour round trip. I had to
take fodr'trains'each way. I would
drive to the station and take four trains
to get to the office.
I became what they call a strap-
hanger. In the summertime it would
be very crowded and like a steambath.
I realized what I was going
through, and I said,;"Well you have to
do it."
D: Were you longing for your
baseball days when you were dealing
with the daily grind of a working
T: No, oh no.Iwas realistic enough

to know it was time to go to work and
baseball was finished. Iremembersay-
ing to myself that all it takes is a sense
of humor.
Working gave me a lot of satisfac-
tion; growing up a bit, finding out
what was going on in the world. For
the first time it gave me the satisfac-
tion of learning what the word work
meant. It gave me a sense of value
about work and money and a lot of
D: Do you think retired players
receive enough financial assistance
from Major League Baseball?
T: Money has played such a big
part in all sports. I've always won-
dered if management couldn't have
educated these players how to handle
their money and how to conduct them-
selves. Maybe there are some teams
who have that kind of thing to help the
guys grow up faster.
I try to picture myself coming out
of high school or even college, and all
of a sudden walking around with a
couple of million dollars in your
pocket. That's quite an adjustment.
D: Do you keep in touch with any
of your former teammates or friends
from the game?
T: Occasionally. It's funny, Iprob-
ably talk to Branca, the guy who threw
the home run pitch to me, more than
We go to different baseball func-
tions together and we've become
friends. We kind of go together.
D: It's a little bit of trivia that
Willie Mays was on-deck while you
were batting, in what was his rookie
season. What were the Giant players'
feelings about Mays?
T: The first night he showed up,
we were playing Philadelphia. I re-
member he musthave had like a dozen
bats with him. We watched him in
batting practice hit the ball out of the
park. Then he had trouble getting a hit
once he got into the game. It took him
a while to break in to the League, but
he looked like something special. He
was just a young kid who looked like
he was born to play baseball.
D: Having seen both Willie Mays
and his godson Barry Bonds, how
would you compare them?
T: I can't compare Barry Bonds,
because he hasn't been around that
long. Just the little bit I saw him last
year, he's quite a player. In terms of
what they do on the field, I'm not
going to say one's better than the
other. We've got to give Barry a few
more years to see how he continues to
perform before you compare him to
Willie Mays.
D: I noticed you were at the 1993
Dodgers-Giants series in which the
Giants were in a heated battle for the
division crown with the Atlanta
Braves. Did you have visions of an-

other one game playoff?
T: Well, no. Peter McGowan, who
runs the Giants and was responsible
for keeping them in San Francisco,
contacted me and thought that if I
were out there that it might bring the
Giants luck.
Naturally I enjoyed going out there
and rooting for them, but I certainly
never expected to make a difference
in winning or losing. They won the
first three games but they lost the last
one. That was the difference.
In fact, if they had won the last
one, they were going to have me go to
San Francisco and throw out the first
D: Did Joe Carter's World Series-
winning home run against the Phillies
bring back any memories of your own
famous shot?
T: Oh sure. It brings back memo-
ries of all the home runs. I thought of
Bill Mazeroski's homer to win the
series. Mine wasn't to win the series,
it was to win the pennant.
D: Do you think today's players
are better than the ones of your era?
T: It's hard to say. I don't see
enough baseball games. It's so easy
for the old guys to say that these new
guys aren't as good as we were, be-
cause I heard the same thing when I
played. They said we couldn't play
with the old guys.
There are players today who are
every bit as good as players we had.
Of course they have a lot of guys who
maybe couldn't have played with us
that are playing today because of ex-
D: Do you think today's baseball
salaries have gotten out of control?
T: Oh yeah. How much money
can you spend, and where's the money
coming from? It doesn't sound to me
like it's good economics. Television
is not going to continue to throw
money away.
It's too bad. The value system has
just been shotdown in terms of money,
D: What do you think Major
League Baseball can do to improve
T: Of course I don't know any of
the economics of the game, and who's
making money and who isn't, but it
would seem to me that the sooner it
gets run on a sensible business basis it
will improve.
My concern is for the fans. I was
always concerned about fans when I
played, and the fans seem to be left
behind the way these guys switch
clubs to get another million dollars.
It's too bad.

Big Ten hoops in need of
some work, Mr. Delaney
D ear Commissioner Delaney:
My heartiest congratulations on what looks like another fine season
for your conference. The Big Ten won four bowl games, and there
is talk that eight men's basketball teams will make the NCAA tournament.
The Penn State women's team is No. 1 in the country and Iowa isn't far
behind. You're looking pretty good.
That said, I'm coming to you with a suggestion. Name me two problems
with Big Ten basketball. Right, the nonsense that is the men's basketball's
schedule and the weak attendance for women's basketball at some schools
(like mine).
Let's look at the men's case first. The midweek games have got to go.
How do you justify taking players out of class during the middle of the
week to play road games? Television is the only reason, and that is pretty
disturbing. ESPN needs entertainment for weeknights, and who better to
entertain than Juwan Howard or Alan Henderson?
Let's conveniently forget the fact that while they're out there earning
money for their schools and ESPN, they're also expected to earn good
grades, in spite of the handicap of missing all those classes. Talk about
perpetuating the dumb-jock stereotype.
True, charter flights have reduced the amount of class time players
miss. But if there's nothing wrong with it, then how come every other sport
plays almost all of its games on the weekends? Commissioner, if the Big
Ten cared about its basketball players as students, you would never let this
farce happen.
OK, I've vented my spleen. We can now move onto the attendance at
women's basketball games, a smaller problem. Or should I say minuscule?
Yes, some teams, like Iowa's, draw well, but that is very much the
exception. I'm assuming that, like Michigan, most schools offer admission
to these games for nothing, or next to it.
Even still, when our women's team plays its Friday night games at
home, I think the library gets a bigger draw than Crisler does.
What gives? Like you, I don't buy the argument that no one comes
because the game is boring. I've been to a handful of games, and while I'm
no expert, I do know that I remained alert and awake the whole time, which
is more than I can say for my trips to the library.
People here can say they don't want to see a losing team, but that
doesn't explain the poor showings at other schools. Furthermore, I'm sure
that if the men's team were as bad, there would still be plenty of people
I just think the game needs a little push, something to bring fans out to
see that this game isn't so bad.
That's where I come in, Commissioner. I'm here, ready and waiting,
with my catch-all suggestion. I won't even copyright it, so you can use it
for free.
Play Friday night doubleheaders with the men and women, 5 p.m. for
the women, and 7:30 p.m. for the men.
I've been thinking this one over for awhile, and I really believe it can
work. Here's why:
I'm sure that other fans, like they do here, come out early for the men's
games to get good seats. And if they're already there, why not give them
something to watch? If simply getting people to watch women's basketball
is the problem, then you've got the problem licked right there.
I think this is the biggest boost you could give to the women's game,
short of resorting to violence. Fans will realize they can watch two good
games for the price of one, and will start coming out earlier to see the
women play.
If the game fails to draw fans, then I guess it actually is boring, and I
just failed to realize it.
And while this is going on, the men will be able to go to'class and earn
better grades. Then if they still do poorly, I guess they are dumb, and I just
failed to realize it.
That was a joke.
Seriously, it would make life a lot easier for the players. True, half of
the time they would still have to leave Thursday nights for the away Friday
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