Did the Giants Steal the Pennant?
By Jonathan Lemire '01
Bobby Thomson's famed "Shot Heard Round the World" cleared the
left-field wall at the Polo Grounds to give his New York Giants an
improbable comeback victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1951
National League pennant, radio announcer Russ Hodges immortalized
the moment with his repeated call, "The Giants win the pennant! The
Giants win the pennant!"
now, thanks to the research of Joshua Harris Prager '94,
there is reason to believe that they actually stole it.
front-page story for the Wall Street Journal on January 31,
Prager, a feature writer for the newspaper, asserted that the
Giants had been using an elaborate system to steal opponents' signs
for most of the second half of that 1951 season, including the
one-game playoff against the Dodgers.
Prager's article raised passions and triggered questions among
baseball fans. Did Thomson know what pitch was coming - which he
denies - when he belted Ralph Branca's offering out of the park?
Moreover, how much did their theft of signs contribute to the
Giants' ability to make up a 13-game deficit with a month and a
half left in the season, and does it taint what many regard as the
greatest pennant race in baseball history?
baseball scholars, including Ray Robinson '41, who touched
upon the sign-stealing story in his book, The Home Run Heard
Round the World, believe that even if the Giants were getting
signs, it shouldn't diminish the magnitude of their
"Josh Prager should be praised for his research," says
Robinson, "but I just don't agree with his conclusion. The Giants -
including Thomson - did it on their own."
Prager offers a different take on the matter. "There is no way
that [the sign-stealing] didn't make any difference," he says. "In
fact, it only had to affect one game to alter the pennant race,
since the season ended in a tie."
"However," Prager concedes, "whether or not Thomson got the
sign beforehand doesn't matter. He still had to hit the pitch, with
all the pressure in the world on him."
love of baseball that led Prager to the sign-stealing story was
evident during his four years on Morningside Heights. He wrote an
op-ed column for Spectator titled "The Iron Discourse,"
after his idol Lou Gehrig '25's nickname of "Iron Horse."
Ironically, it was Gehrig who led Prager to the Thomson
"When, in 1990, at the age of 19, I was in a bus accident and
suffered a spinal cord injury, my admiration for Mr. Gehrig grew
even deeper," says Prager. "In the face of death, he remained
defiant, hated maudlin displays, and considered himself 'the
luckiest man on the face of the earth.'"
After Prager purchased a piece of Gehrig memorabilia at an
auction of famed collector Barry Halper's collection, he began a
friendship with Halper (a Columbia parent) that eventually led to a
discussion of the long-whispered rumors that the Giants stole signs
asked Halper if he thought [the rumors] were true," Prager relates.
"He quickly said no. But I was fascinated and set off on my
Prager's quest for the truth led to 4 1/2 months of research,
including conversations with all 22 surviving members of the '51
Giants. It also led to national attention once the story broke,
attention that was intensified by the upcoming 50th anniversary of
Thomson's home run.
surprised by it all," says Prager, who started at the
Journal as a news assistant whose primary job was to file
faxes before becoming a feature writer in 1998. "It's a little
Prager, whose first feature story for the Journal, a
piece on Albert Clarke, heir to the publishing fortune of Margaret
Wise Brown, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, recently signed a
lucrative contract to expand his sign-stealing story into a book.
He began a one-year leave in April to work on the book, and
currently plans to return to the Journal upon its
completion. He says his motivation for writing the book is the same
as it was for authoring the article on the game he loves, an
article that has made him a rising star in the publishing
intent is to let people know that [sign-stealing] happened in
1951," he says. "They can then decide on their own if it affected