The Best Radio on TV

Sep 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Tom Jicha

“The shot heard ’round the world” is the call that still resonates more than a half-century later.

In a sport fueled by argumentative comparisons, there are few things about which so many fans and experts agree. One is that Russ Hodges’ call of Bobby Thompson’s walk-off home run in the third and decisive game of a 1951 National League playoff to give the New York Giants the pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers is the most memorable in the history of the game.

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Mr. Hodges kept shouting this mantra until he punctuated it with, “They’re going crazy! They’re going crazy!”

It stands out so glaringly that television has lifted it as its own, even though Mr. Hodges actually made the call on radio. His partner on the Giants broadcasting team, Ernie Harwell, who would go on to become a legend in Detroit, was doing the game on TV on Oct. 3, 1951. Over the years Mr. Hodges’ call has been grafted onto the black-and-white TV picture and presented countless times as if they were one.

A similar thing happened with Red Barber’s description of a game-saving catch by Al Gionfriddo of the Dodgers in the sixth game of the 1947 World Series. The Dodgers trailed the Yankees in the Series, three games to two, but led in the game 8-5 when Joe DiMaggio came to the plate. The Yankee Clipper crushed a drive that appeared headed for a game-tying home run.

“Back goes Gionfriddo,” Mr. Barber called. “Back, back, back and he makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen.” As stunning as the game-saving catch was the emotional reaction of Mr. DiMaggio, who hardly ever let his feelings show. This time, he kicked at the infield dirt.

The drama of Mr. Barber’s call was such a perfect complement to the pictures that whenever they have been shown since, it is with Mr. Barber’s voice over them. However, in reality, Mr. Barber was working the game on radio.

Another legendary announcer made a call reminiscent of Mr. Hodges’ years later, and many fans regard it among the sport’s most memorable. Jack Buck was doing Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series when Ozzie Smith of the Cardinals came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with St. Louis and the Dodgers tied 2-2. The shortstop, who hardly ever went deep, laid into a Tom Niedenfuer pitch.

“Smith rips one into right. Down the line. It might go,” Mr. Buck told his audience. Putting the cart before the horse, he exclaimed, “Go crazy, folks. Go crazy! It’s a home run, and the Cardinals have won the game.”

Baseball’s unofficial poet laureate Vin Scully was there for many of the sport’s milestones, but his best-known call is for what Southern Californians have voted as the greatest moment in local sports history.

The overachieving Dodgers trailed Oakland 4-3 heading to the bottom of the ninth in the first game of the 1988 World Series, and the Athletics had their almost invincible closer Dennis Eckersley on the mound. With a man on first, the Dodgers called on Kirk Gibson, who was so hobbled by an aching knee he had been unable to start.

With the tying run on base, Mr. Gibson winced in pain as he muscled a pitch over the right field fence. “She’s gone,” said Mr. Scully. Then, allowing the stadium’s roar to reach full pitch, he added, “In the year of the improbable, the impossible has happened.”

Sean McDonough’s call of Joe Carter’s ninth-inning home run in the 1993 Series marked the only time a team came from behind to close out a Series with a game-winning home run. “Now the 2-2 … well-hit down the left-field line. Way back … and gone. Joe Carter with a three-run homer. The winners and still world champions, the Toronto Blue Jays.”