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A Replay of That Fateful Homer in '51

July 11, 2001|STEVEN LINAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you're a Dodger fan, it still cuts deeply to hear announcer Russ Hodges yell those immortal words, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

At the risk of reopening old wounds, make it a point to catch "Shot Heard 'Round the World" (8 p.m. HBO), a nifty, nostalgic documentary recalling the dramatic ninth-inning home run that Bobby Thomson hit against Ralph Branca, leading the New York Giants to a stunning playoff victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951.

Written by Steven Stern, this bittersweet hour features interviews with the two principals--close friends to this day--as well as teammates, authors, celebrities and longtime fans of both teams, including Larry King and Jerry Lewis.

Though the story has been told countless times, HBO's suspenseful and exquisitely edited version deals with the controversy behind the victory, revealing how the Giants devised and executed an elaborate spyglass system to steal signs from opposing catchers, thereby turning the season around after short-fused manager Leo Durocher's squad trailed by as many as 13 games in August.

According to the documentary, most players deny that any cheating took place in their three-game playoff, with the sole exception of the Giants' backup catcher, who insists Thomson was tipped off on Branca's fateful pitch.

Regardless of who or what you believe, the amazing events still pack an emotional wallop a half-century later.

Branca, who has always been gracious in defeat, sums up the significance of that memorable afternoon in simple terms: "I still think it's the greatest moment in baseball history."

Tough to disagree.

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