Injury = Opportunity

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.




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8 responses to “Injury = Opportunity

  1. Don’t think lightning strikes the same way twice. Love got little to no play before Big Al tore his ACL. He was little more than a rebounding sideshow before he was forced into the spotlight.

  2. You can’t go there without a Wally Pipp shout out. Wait, maybe you can:

  3. Eric in Madison

    Spent the last 24 hours trying to fake my way to optimism about this situation. Not my usual approach, but I thought I would try. I failed. This injury sucks.

    • Agree. This post was intended as more of an [unread] message to Derrick Williams than a positive spin on the situation.

      • I think it’s a unanimous vote with Eric here – this is going to be devastating, at least for a while, unless something unforeseen happens.

        Does the prospect of signing Hassan Whiteside to sit on the bench for 6-8 weeks get anyone’s juices flowing? (Me neither.)

  4. Dave A.

    The Bobby Thompson trade didn’t set well with my father, a huge Milwaukee Braves fan. The Braves traded pitcher Johnny Antonelli to the Giants for Bobby Thompson. Antonelli won 21 games and lost only 7 in 1954 for the NY team and played in four straight All-Star games. Yes, the Thompson injury made room for Aaron who jumped all the way from Class C Eau Claire to Milwaukee. But the Thompson trade also took one of the very top National League left handers out of Milwaukee. Milwaukee could have had both Aaron and Antonelli if that trade had never been made.

  5. Dave A.

    Your point was a good one – injury creating opportunity. I could’t resist giving the rest of the story on the Thompson for Antonelli trade. My teen years centered on Milwaukee Braves baseball. Our family traveled there for games before free-ways. Aaron was always better than Mays. Hank is baseball’s greatest player, in my opinion (and that of Bert Blyleven). My daughter Erin named her son Henry and I wanted his middle name to be Aaron. She picked David.