George J. Ames '37:   Financier and   Philanthropist
Those Were the Days,   My Friend!


Roar, Lion Roar!

Nicole Marwell '90
Mignon Moore '92
Joshua Harris Prager   '94
Cristina Teuscher '00

Did the Giants Steal the Pennant?

By Jonathan Lemire '01

Joshua Harris Prager '94
Joshua Harris Prager '94

When 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!"

But now, thanks to the research of Joshua Harris Prager '94, there is reason to believe that they actually stole it.

In a 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?

Some 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 achievement.

"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."

The 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 story.

"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 in 1951.

"I asked Halper if he thought [the rumors] were true," Prager relates. "He quickly said no. But I was fascinated and set off on my story."

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.

"I'm 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 overwhelming."

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 world.

"My intent is to let people know that [sign-stealing] happened in 1951," he says. "They can then decide on their own if it affected the outcome."


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