On this date in 1951, at 3:58 p.m., with the Giants fighting to win the pennant – but losing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth – Russ Hodges delivered the most famous play-by-play in the history of baseball:
Brooklyn leads it 4-2.
Hartung down the line at third not taking any chances.
Lockman with not too big of a lead at second, but he'll be runnin like the wind if Thomson hits one.
[audible sound, bat greeting ball]
There's a long drive.
It's gonna be, I believe…
THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!
Nearly fifty years later, the San Francisco Giants opened the most beautiful ballpark in the major leagues at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. Before the year began, my Godfather put together a group of fans to purchase season tickets. Four seats, near the end of the third base line, just inside the foul pole. From that vantage, we watched a lot of Barry Bonds in his prime, witnessed lots of fabulous baseball.
Just great, great seats.
That year – 2000 – was a rollercoaster. The Giants christened their new ballpark by getting swept by the dreaded Dodgers. But then they began steaming ahead. In the middle of that summer, my Godfather called. He had a conflict with one of his games – a Thursday night at the end of September. The 21st. Nicky, he said, is there a chance we could switch tickets? You guys go then, and we'll take one of your games in June? You never know, my Nono Bill joked, they could clinch that night.
So Karen and I went, and it was electric – because the Giants had exactly that – the opportunity to clinch the West. My godfather was dying, couldn’t believe how prophetic he had been – but he made good on the switch, so Karen and I were there, not Bill and Diane. Before the game, Ellis Burks had received the Willie Mac Award – presented each year to the most inspirational Giant. He accepted his plaque as Who Let the Dogs Out thundered through the park. Burks would add to his great year by hitting a two-run homer to tie the game early.
Later in the game, with the Giants behind 6-4, Karen looked at the scoreboard and shook her head. Are they going to lose? she said. I was feeling awfully cocky that night, and just said, No. No way. Relax. They’ll do it tonight.
Still later, there stood Ellis Burks, again at the plate, and he singled in the eighth inning, part of the rally that would see the Giants take the lead for good. Take the lead, and the West.
When Robb Nen recorded the final out, pandemonium ensued.
Cheers, screams, more Dogs were Let Out – and lots of champagne spurted over many heads. Amidst the spray of Cordon Rouge that doused the Giants clubhouse–
–as we outside screamed our throats hoarse, Barry Bonds yelled, We’ve had sellouts all year. Let’s give the people out there some love.
When the players flooded back onto the field, things got even louder than they were – hard though that is to imagine because it was already plenty loud. Burks broke from the pack and pulled a Cal Ripken, taking a victory lap, giving and receiving high-fives as he went.
Because our seats were right there, Karen and I huddled next to the field, waiting. Burks slaps me a high-hard one, and I yell, Ellis.
And he goes, Yeah?
And I go, You rock.
And he goes, Yeah. I do. And he’s just smiling large the whole time.
He takes a few quick steps, slapping more hands, but then he stops and looks back at me.
But you know what? he says.
What? I say right back.
Tonight, so do y’all – and then Burks continued on his victory-lap way.
That was a fantastic night for the 40,930 fans who saw the game unfold. Great memories for us, just like the great memories that were made a few hours ago as the Giants again took the West.