Bobby Thomson and the breaks of the game

The talks about trading Bobby Thomson (of “the Shot heard ’round the World” fame)  began to catch fire at the baseball winter meetings in December, 1953.

Giants’ manager Leo Durocher expressed a willingness to trade the outfielder for more pitching (see, the more things change, the more they remain the sames) and his young outfielder was returning from a season and a half of military service (that would be Willie Mays, who ended up leading the NL in hitting in 1954 with a .345 average and making a catch in the World Series). He expressed his willingness  to trade Thomson if he got value in return, pitchers like Warren Spahn or Robin Roberts. Durocher would take either man and as Louis Effrat wrote in the New York Times, “Who wouldn’t?”

A deal was finally consummated on February 1, 1954,  when Bobby Thomson was traded by the New York Giants with Sam Calderone to the Milwaukee Braves for Johnny AntonelliBilly KlausDon LiddleEbba St. Claire and $50,000. Antonelli was the big get for the Giants and the lefty didn’t disappoint in 1954 going 21-7 with a league low .230 ERA.

The goal was for Thomson to serve as the Braves leftfielder.

But Spring Training springs surprises and on March 13, 1954, in the very first exhibition game, Thomson, who had broken Dodgers’ hearts three seasons earlier, broke his ankle sliding into second base trying to break up a DP against the Yankees.

“I started my slide too late.” Thomson said at the hospital. “It was terrible luck. Charlie Grimm (Cholly was the Braves manager) had told me he was going to take me out the next inning.”

Thomson didn’t return to action until July 14 and didn’t get his first start in the outfield until August 24. It should be noted, in the “payback is is bitch” category on July 25, Thomson pinch-hit a walkoff single off Hoyt Wilhelm, as the Braves defeated the Giants, 3-2.

Meanwhile, the Braves opened the season with a 20-year-old rookie — Hank Aaron.

Aaron recalls that he had been preparing to return to the minors for the 1954 season, either heading to Triple A Toledo or Double A Atlanta, where he and Felix Mantilla would have been that team’s first black players.

The Braves signed Aaron to a big league contract on the last day of Spring Training and Aaron had a solid season, hitting .280 with 13 homers in 122 games. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting (Wally Moon won, followed by Ernie Banks, Gene Conley, and Hank). He didn’t make the All-Star team, an occurrence not to be repeated  until Aaron’s final season in 1976.

Aaron’s 1954 season ended early on September 5 when Aaron, at the end of a 4-for-4 game against the Reds, tripled and when sliding into third, you guessed it, broke his own ankle.

The pinch runner who came in for Aaron was, you guessed it again, Bobby Thomson.

PS: I’m sure you know that in that great game in which Thompson hit baseball’s most favorite homer, Ralph Branca came in relief specifically to face Thomson. He was delayed in delivering his first pitches to Bobby because on the preceding play, Don Mueller was injured and had to be removed from the game.

Mueller had broken his ankle.