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The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World Hardcover – September 19, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. October 3, 1951, 3:58 p.m., Polo Grounds, New York City: "Branca throws. There's a long drive. It's gonna be, I believe—the Giants win the pennant!" That's the way New York Giants' announcer Russ Hodges described what is arguably the greatest moment in American sports, the shot "heard round the world," as the Giants defeated the Dodgers to win the National League pennant. Prager, a senior special writer at the Wall Street Journal, has written a brilliant narrative not only about the most famous homerun in baseball history but also about the mystery that haunts it. Americans love a conspiracy, be it the grassy-knoll variety or perhaps a more innocuous one, like the stealing of baseball signs. For that is at the crux of this book: did the Giants know what the Dodger pitchers were going to throw before they threw it? (It should be pointed out that there is no baseball rule prohibiting stealing the opposing team's signs.) Prager, who first broke this story for the Wall Street Journal in 2001, tells a tale worthy of a "Deep Throat." The sign heist was ingeniously simple—all that was involved was a telescope, a buzzer and an isolated bullpen catcher.The baseball story is exciting, but Prager concentrates on what happened to the protagonists: Ralph Branca, the pitcher, forever branded a loser; Bobby Thomson, the phlegmatic gentleman, equally haunted by his heroics. We see the change in Branca when he learns the truth years later from Sal Yvars and the bitterness it engendered toward Thomson, a God-fearing man uncomfortable with his legal cheating. Finally we see a reconciliation between old adversaries, who became business partners, lucratively exploiting their infamy, becoming friends along the way.Although Prager does have a tendency to overpsychoanalyze both ballplayers, he paints a marvelous portrait of New York City baseball in the tradition of The Boys of Summer and Summer of '49, bringing to life once again a genuine piece of Americana.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Don DeLillo wrote a novel about it (Underworld 1997); public figures of every stripe, from Frank Sinatra to Harold Bloom, have shared their memories of it; and an entire borough never recovered from it: Bobby Thomson's home run, the "shot heard round the world," won the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants, besting their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, in a three-game playoff, but in the end the home run became not only baseball's most-remembered moment but also the ultimate expression of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat (Thomson's triumph was paralleled by the dejection of Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, immortalized by a photographer after the game, hands on head, moaning, "Why me? Why me?"). The story of the 1951 Giants has been told many times before, of course, but Wall Street Journal reporter Prager brings to the tale both a revealing focus on the entwined lives of Thomson and Branca and the first in-depth examination of the scandal that lurked beneath the surface of the Giants' victory: throughout their remarkable comeback, the team had been using a centerfield telescope to steal the opposing catchers' signs. Did Thomson know beforehand that Branca's second pitch would be a fastball? He says no--his mind was on the moment, not the sign--but the widespread disclosure of the telescope gambit in the 1990s did much to tarnish a nation's near-sacred memories of the event. Prager rides the sign-stealing hobbyhorse a bit too hard here--ladling on heavy-handed foreshadowing--but he does expose multiple layers of fascinating backstory to the drama within a drama, and his psychobiographies of Thomson and especially Branca are unfailingly compelling. Only his convoluted and overblown prose style ("the sportswriter had mined for gold dust the tedium of spring training") keeps this from being one of the best baseball books in decades. But content finally trumps form in what is still the biggest sports story of the last century. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (September 19, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421548
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421549
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,455 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By "dave in milwaukee" on October 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I deducted one star that I might otherwise have awarded. I agree with the reviewer who felt this was a good book that could have been done even better.

The positive: Mr. Prager tells a great story and clearly did very painstaking research and preparation. The book left me with a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for both Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson, both of who for many years have borne their yoke of fame and/or infamy with character, grace and dignity that is hardly if ever seen in today's professional athletes. I especially liked the way Mr. Prager humanizes, as well, even the minor characters in the story, especially the very tragic Abe Chadwick. Even the scheming of the alleged "villains" in the story, Franks and Durocher, seems quaint and not especially evil in comparison to today's "win at any and all costs" professional sports environment. In that regard, I also give credit to Mr. Prager for reminding his readers that for all of Leo Durocher's many character flaws, with the Dodgers in 1947 he displayed a great deal of moral character and courage to stand up for what is just and right, as he served as Jackie Robinson's first major league manager.

The negative: I agree with the reviewer who complained that the book is often difficult to read because of sentences that seem overly verbose and/or strangled in their structure. I frequently found this distracting and annoying (example, p. 316: "For as painful to Branca as a home run had been traumatic and a secret shocking, was that the laying bare of a telescope had not one iota changed his lot, the helicopter come to his rescue departing without him." HUH?????). There were also a few missed details that, while not horrifying, did interrupt the flow of the story. For example, at p.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Elman on November 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I was thrilled to hear about this book, having thoroughly enjoyed Joshua Prager's excellent Wall Street Journal story in 2001. If only the book lived up to its promise.

Prager does a terrific job of setting the stage for Bobby Thomson's dramatic home run and describing the famous game itself. Plus, his insights into the relationship between Thomson and Ralph Branca are very interesting.

But he seems more concerned with waving his extensive research in our faces than with using it judiciously to tell the story. There are pages and pages of background on every person in this book. I mean everyone, including the surgeon who treated the electrician who installed the buzzer in the Polo Grounds. And do we need to know where everyone Prager ever met, heard of, saw on TV, read about or admired was when Thomson hit the home run? We get the point.

Far more troublesome were the myriad factual errors. In the chapter on the famous playoff game, for example, Prager writes, "Now, after Dark popped out to Robinson to lead off the bottom of the fourth and the count went 2-2 on Pafko, Dressen also inched down the line." In other words, a Giant (Alvin Dark) led off, then a Dodger (Andy Pafko) came to bat.

Another reviewer here notes Prager's claim that Bobby Thomson lived in the Milwaukee area on the shore of Lake Superior, when Milwaukee is actually on Lake Michigan.

My personal favorite is Prager's wonder-filled claim that no team before or since the Thomson blast ever won a playoff game after being down three runs in the ninth inning. In fact, the Mets did just that in game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A reader on November 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I finally finished The Echoing Green, all 350 pages of text. There are an additional 149 pages consisting of notes, a dissertation-length bibliography, a gazillion acknowledgements, and an index.

Although there's a great story in there someplace, the book mostly drove me nuts.

The first 200 pages should have been ruthlessly slashed by an editor to about 50 pages. As it stands I found those pages almost unreadable, every sentence packed and dragged down by so many facts that reading was less a pleasure than a sensation akin to tramping through a field of rock-filled mud. Prager seems determined to include in his narrative every last little fact he accumulated in the course of what can only be called compulsive research. Every subject mentioned gets traced back to the Stone Age; every person mentioned gets not a capsule but a quart jar-sized biography. The narrative, such as it is, slows down to a crawl and pretty much disappears beneath the weight of all this largely irrelevant material.

I kept wondering: does this author have a brother or some other relative who's an Ivy League English literature professor, a snooty fellow who looks down on poor Joshua for not earning a doctorate, and for his choice of a career in mere journalism? Prager seems determined to show how erudite he is, with those high-falutin' quotations from literary works both famous and obscure bedecking the opening of each chapter, and various references within the text that serve no other purpose than to show off. The reference to Hank Schenz's father being a letter carrier leads Prager to tell us that the US Postal Service motto, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat..." etc. comes from Herodotus. Herodotus??? How did HE get into a baseball book?
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