Archive for Thursday, February 1, 2001

Stealing signs helped ‘51 Giants

Players say deception sparked New York to amazing comeback

February 1, 2001


— The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!

For a half-century, fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers claimed that's what Bobby Thomson and the New York Giants did in 1951. Now, there's evidence that maybe it happened just that way.

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday quoted Hall of Fame outfielder Monte Irvin, catcher Sal Yvars and pitcher Al Gettel as admitting they stole catchers' signs to overcome a 131/2-game deficit and win baseball's most famous pennant race.

"Every hitter knew what was coming," Gettel said. "Made a big difference."

Irvin said the Giants have nothing to be ashamed of.

"Everything we did was on our own," he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Our accomplishments were true and genteel."

The AP reported the sign stealing on March 22, 1962, citing an unidentified source who was with the Giants.

Stealing signs by players and coaches is a long-standing tradition in baseball. Opponents suspected New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine of employing cameras to do it in 1997 and Boston manager Jimy Williams accused Cleveland of doing it in 1999.

Valentine, by the way, is the son-in-law of Ralph Branca the pitcher who surrendered Thomson's homer that ended the 1951 pennant playoff.

Thomson's three-run drive in the bottom of the ninth inning at the Polo Grounds lifted the Giants over the Dodgers 5-4 in the deciding Game 3.

The "Shot Heard 'Round the World" became the most replayed moment in baseball history, with Giants announcer Russ Hodges screaming, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

Thomson said he didn't take stolen signs when he connected off Branca. "It would take a little away from me in my mind if I felt I got help on the pitch," he was quoted as saying. "My answer is no."

"Stealing signs is nothing to be proud of," Thomson said.

Several players said the Giants stole signs during home games in the last 10 weeks of the 1951 season. New York trailed the Dodgers by 131/2 games on Aug. 11 before making up the deficit in only 53 days.

The Journal said infielder Henry Schenz and coach Herman Franks relayed signals from the Giants' center-field clubhouse the wall was 483 feet from home plate to the bullpen with a buzzer system created by electrician Abraham Chadwick. Yvars said he then relayed signals to hitters.

"My wife never liked me to talk about it," Yvars told the Journal. "She gets embarrassed"

Franks refuted the account.

"I haven't talked about it in 49 years," he said. "If I'm ever asked about it, I'm denying everything."

Irvin contradicted him, saying: "He's sitting there with a telescope and he'd relay it to the bullpen."

Thomson homered with one out. At the time, Whitey Lockman was on second base and Clint Hartung was on third.

Lockman said he was unable to pick up the signs by Brooklyn catcher Rube Walker, who was playing in place of injured Roy Campanella. With a runner on second, as is the practice, Walker switched the signs and made them more elaborate.

"I didn't recognize the sequence," Lockman said.

Thomson and Branca are scheduled to appear together Sunday night at a Manhattan hotel at the New York Baseball Writers' dinner, starting the 50th anniversary celebration of that great moment.

A few years after Thomson homered, rumors began to circulate that the Giants had stolen signs in late 1951.

"When I heard those rumors and innuendoes, I made a decision not to speak about it," Branca said. "I didn't want to look like I was crying over spilled milk."

"Bobby and I are really, really good friends," he said. "He still hit the pitch."

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