Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” to win the 1951 National League Pennant is the most famous highlight in baseball history. But Thomson wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He was an All-Star outfielder for the New York Giants in 1948, 1949, and 1952. In 1953, his final season in New York, Thomson hit .288 with 26 homers and 106 RBI’s. That is why it seemed like terrible news for his new team, the Milwaukee Braves, when he broke his ankle in spring training in March 1954. The veteran–the known commodity–would be replaced by a skinny 20-year old minor leaguer named Henry Aaron.
Of course, Aaron became an all-time great. “Hammer” made 21 All-Star Teams, won 3 Gold Gloves, won an MVP and World Series in 1957, and hit more steroid-free home runs than any player in the 100+ year history of the game. It would be easy to assume that a player this talented would have made it whether Thomson hurt his ankle or not. But consider that Aaron’s rookie numbers were relatively modest. He hit a respectable .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI’s in 122 games. Aaron was worthy of a starting outfield spot, but not exactly making the decision to call him up a “no-brainer.” It was in his second season that he broke out, hitting .314 with 27 homers and a .540 slugging percentage. By that time, Hank had arrived and he’d begin that incredibly-long run of All-Star appearances.
It’s impossible to know how his career would’ve played out, had Thomson not been hurt in Spring Training ’54. An injury creates an opportunity.