October 3, 1951, is a landmark date in baseball history. It's the day the New York Giants' Bobby Thomson hit a walk-off home run against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the third game of a post-season playoff series, handing the Giants the National League pennant and sending their longtime rivals to bitter defeat. That the Giants subsequently lost the World Series to the New York Yankees has become somewhat of an ironic historical asterisk, mainly because both local and national attention on the Dodgers-Giants match up was huge, fueled by an enthusiastic media. Joshua Prager's The Echoing Green offers a wide-ranging account of the main event rendered with uncommonly high levels of surrounding detail.
Prager specifically charts the lives and careers of the principals Thomson and Ralph Branca, the Dodgers' pitcher who served up the fateful pitch and also provides an interesting rundown on some of their teammates as well as the season-long battle for first place, as the Giants charged hard to make up lost ground against a Dodgers squad that seemed predestined for the league championship. He also expends a great deal of ink relating a tantalizing subplot involving the Giants' colorful manager, Leo Durocher, and his elaborate scheme to steal opponents' pitching signs at the Giants' home field.
Expanding on a story he first covered for the Wall Street Journal, Prager infuses his text with a solid, '50s-focused sociological underpinning, charts the emotional roller coaster experienced by devoted fans and offers keen insight into the nature of the predominant print and radio reportage of the day. The writing style here is decidedly higher-toned than typical sportswriting, with inverted phrasings and a rarefied vocabulary ( puissant, lacuna, etc.) that risk putting off the casual reader. But clearly, Prager's magnum opus is directed toward thoughtful, historically inclined baseball fans the ones who know why the Thomson round-tripper is one of the game's most important moments, or who may even remember it happening. Martin Brady is a writer in Nashville.