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Fessin' up: N.Y. Giants stole signs to win '51 pennant

Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca talk about the controversy surrounding the 1951 season on SportsCenter.

 Fessin' up
ESPN's Dan Patrick talks with Bob Thomson and Ralph Branca about the Giants stealing signs.
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 Giant telescope not aimed at Big Dipper
Dodgers great Ralph Branca says he knew the Giants where stealing signs but never said anything.
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 1951 uncovered
Josh Prager of the Wall Street Journal on his article revealing the 1951 Giants' sign stealing.
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 1951 uncovered
The Wall Street Journal's Josh Prager explains the Giants complicated system used to steal signals.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Private talk a 'cleansing' for Branca, Thomson
Associated Press

EDISON, N.J. -- "Hiya, Hoot," Ralph Branca said, offering a big smile and his right hand.

"Hey, good to see you," Bobby Thomson brightened. "Come over here, will you?"

With that, the two old friends drifted back a half-century Sunday, linked by perhaps the most memorable home run in baseball history. And for five private minutes, they talked in person for the first time about the secret they'd kept, yet never shared.

"It was like getting something off my chest after all those years," Thomson said. "I'm not a criminal, although I may have felt like one at first."

"It's been a cleansing for both of us," Branca said. "He knew that I knew. It's better this way."

Hours later, they were even singing together, putting on a little skit at a Manhattan dinner appearance before more than 1,000 cheering fans.

"This past week has changed a little bit of the story," Branca said.

A few days earlier, it had been revealed Thomson and the New York Giants rigged up an elaborate spyglass-and-buzzer system to steal catcher's signals and chase Branca and the Brooklyn Dodgers in the famous 1951 NL pennant race.

The Giants overcame a 13–-game deficit, tied the Dodgers and forced a playoff. Thomson hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning off Branca to win the deciding Game 3 at the Polo Grounds.

"The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" screamed radio announcer Russ Hodges in a much-replayed broadcast.

Branca learned the source of the Giants' magic a couple of years later. Then in 1962, The Associated Press reported the Giants had used a spy system, but without such intricate details.

Still, Branca went on to become best friends with Thomson and they often appeared together at shows and gatherings, but never spoke once about the sign-stealing.

"To me, it was a forbidden subject," Branca said. "And I didn't want to demean Bobby or seem like I was a crybaby."

Said Thomson: "Maybe I felt too sensitive, embarrassed maybe."

When the story appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the secret was out. That day, Branca phoned Thomson.

"I felt kind of relieved to talk about it with him, to be honest," Thomson said. "It had been on my back for a while."

Thomson did not apologize for the Giants' chicanery or the "Shot Heard 'Round the World." But near the end of the call, he did ask Branca, "Do you feel exonerated?"

So, did the Giants steal the pennant?

"This could very well take the glow off the whole event," Thomson said.

"Sure, I've taken signs, obviously, in the not-very-nice way the Giants did it," he said. "But did it happen on that fateful pitch? No, it didn't. If you want to believe me, that's fine. If not, OK."

On Sunday, as the 50th anniversary celebration of the "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff" began, Branca and Thomson met at the New Jersey Sports Writers Association's banquet.

Before the festivities started, Thomson, 77, made sure he got a few moments alone with Branca, 75.

Later, they sat next to each other on the dais and traded jokes -- almost like Abbott and Costello -- from the podium in front of 1,000 people at the Pines Manor in Edison, N.J.

In fact, those who attended the luncheon got a poster of Branca and Thomson, and former players spent a half-hour autographing the souvenir.

On Sunday night, Thomson and Branca appeared at the New York baseball writers' dinner in Manhattan. To the tune of the old standard "Because of You," they took turns singing the song to tailored lyrics -- just like they did when the dinner was held in January 1952.

"Because of you, I should never been born. Because of you, Dodger fans are forlorn," Branca warbled.

Carl Erskine, who was warming up in the Brooklyn bullpen when Branca was summoned on that afternoon of Oct. 3, 1951, introduced the pair.

"Ralph, you should sleep well tonight, finding out after 50 years that it's not your fault," Erskine said.

Earlier in the day, Branca said he wasn't having any problems with the past.

"This has not affected my friendship with Bobby at all," Branca said. "I have no anger toward him. I blame Giants' ownership and management for what happened."

"It wasn't illegal, it was just immoral," he said. "I don't care whether he had to the sign or not on that pitch. It's irrelevant -- he hit a good pitch. But I would like to know: Without the sign stealing, could they have won?"

Thomson was glad the truth was out.

"Ralph has been vindicated, and I feel the same way about myself. My conscience is clear," he said. "I just wonder what some of those Brooklyn fans are going to be like."

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