Winning From Behind

Bobby Thomson - 1951 New York GiantsFall is in the air, and that’s good news for baseball fans. It means playoffs are here and the 110th World Series is in sight. Wild Card are tomorrow and the Division series start this week.

Baseball is a classic game and, like many sports, makes for great stories. Some of the best movies revolve around baseball, but some of the best sports history moments come from actual baseball games. I’m not a huge baseball fan (I think I played one season of little league), but I do love a good story.

One of the most interesting to me is the story of the 1951 New York Giants.

The Giants had endured a horrible year. Coming into August, they were 13 ½ games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers, who led the National League. Everyone figured their season was finished. No team could possibly hope to overcome such a deficit.

But then, inexplicably, something changed. The Giants somehow found new life. Teammates challenged each other and each player vowed to give everything they had through the home stretch. They won 16 games in a row. By October, they had managed to tie Brooklyn for the lead, winning 37 out of their last 44 games.

New York and Brooklyn split the first two games of the playoff series – the first ever in National League history. It came down to the third and final game of the series. The winner would become league champions and go on to face the Yankees in the World Series.

That game didn’t unfold as the Giants had hoped. By the ninth inning, they trailed 4-1. Fans began heading for the exits as Brooklyn prepared to pitch for the game. Three outs and it would all be over.

But once again, the Giants rallied. A couple of singles and a double moved the score to 4-2, with runners on second and third base. Outfielder Bobby Thomson, a fairly consistent hitter, came to plate and rookie Willie Mays moved to the on-deck circle. The Dodgers sent in relief pitcher Ralph Branca – presumably to walk Thomson so he could pitch to the rookie.

Somehow, Thomson connected with the second pitch, sending it into the left field stands. It was ‘the shot heard ‘round the world,” and the underdog Giants were now the National League Champions. Fans stormed the field. Radio announcer Russ Hodges screamed “The Giants win the pennant!” He kept screaming it until he lost his voice. The celebration continued for hours.

How does your team react when the odds are against them? We’re about to enter the 4th quarter of 2014 and many who read this are behind on their annual goals. For some, the deficit may seem too huge to overcome. Is it time to cut the losses and hope for a better 2015? Or is it time to refocus and reenergize?

Time and again, history has shown that the greatest champions aren’t those who coast to victory. The real champions are those who overcome the odds – those who find a way to win when the game is on the line. Those are the victories that mean the most.

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