Andy Pafko, who hit .298 with 12 home runs and 110 RBI for the 1945 National League champion Chicago Cubs, gained a bit of literary immortality for his involvement in one of baseball's most memorable moments.
The 1945 World Series appearance was the Cubs' last until this year. With Major League rosters still depleted by World War II, the series was considered less than stellar, although all-time great slugger Hank Greenberg, who'd returned early from the military, appeared for the winning Detroit Tigers.
Traded by the Cubs to Brooklyn, Pafko was in left field for the Dodgers in 1951 when the New York Giants' Bobby Thompson hit his "shot heard round the world" off Ralph Branca in a playoff game to win the National League pennant.
The Giants took the championship after closing a 13-game Dodgers lead.
Don DeLillo in his short story "Pafko at the Wall" saw the outfielder's attempt to catch Thompson's drive as an existential symbol of humanity's futile attempt to escape fate. DeLillo refashioned the short story, published in Harper's in 1992, as the opening chapter of his panoramic novel "Underworld."
Here's DeLillo's depiction of Giants announcer Russ Hodges' call of the famous home run:
"Russ Hodges says, "Branca throws."
Not a good pitch to hit, up and in, but Thomson swings and tomahawks the ball and everybody, everybody watches.
Russ says, "There's a long drive."
His voice has a burst in it, a charge of expectation.
He says, "It's gonna be."
There's a pause all around him. Pafko racing toward the left-field corner.
He says, "I believe."
Pafko at the wall. Then he's looking up. People thinking where's the ball. The scant delay, the stay in time that lasts a hairsbreadth. And Cotter standing in section 35 watching the ball come in his direction. He feels his body turn to smoke. He loses sight of the ball when it climbs above the overhang and he thinks it will land in the upper deck. But before he can smile or shout or bash his neighbor on the arm. Before the moment can overwhelm him, the ball appears again, stitches visibly spinning, that's how near it hits, banging an angle off a pillar -- hands flashing everywhere.
Russ feels the crowd around him, a shudder passing through the stands, and then he is shouting into the mike and there is a surge of color and motion, a crash that occurs upward, stadium-wide, hands and faces and shirts, bands of rippling men, and he is outright shouting, his voice has a power he'd thought long gone -- it may lift the top of his head like a cartoon rocket.
He says, "The Giants win the pennant."
That's not the only bit of baseball lore for which Pafko is remembered.
A mint condition copy of Pafko's 1952 Topps baseball card once brought $87,000 at an auction. The card is rare in mint condition because it was the first one printed in the series. As the top card in bubblegum packs, it was often damaged by kids when they pulled off the wrapper.
Pafko, a fine player who fashioned a near Hall-of-Fame career, is shown above in the famous photo, helplessly looking upward in that moment of eternity when Thompson's home run disappeared over the wall, breaking the hearts of Brooklyn fans.