Fred, Tommy or Bobby: Which Thom(p)son Will History Remember?

by Stuart Rothenberg June 7, 2007 · 12:05 AM EDT

And Fred makes two. Two Republicans named Thompson running for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination, that is.

Bobby Thomson, the third Thom(p)son mentioned in the title of this column, now lives in New Jersey and is 83 years old. He was born Oct. 25, 1923, making him less than a month older than Alaska GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, the former chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

But unlike Fred Thompson, Tommy Thompson or, for that matter, Ted Stevens, Bobby Thomson never can be elected president of the United States. He was born in Scotland, making him constitutionally ineligible for that office.

Each of the three Thom(p)sons has a noteworthy résumé. Tommy began his political career in the Wisconsin state Assembly, but he gained national recognition by serving as governor of Wisconsin for four terms and then as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services during President Bush’s first term.

Fred was the minority counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee before he became an actor (“Die Hard 2,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “Law & Order” are among his many acting credits). He returned to Capitol Hill as a Tennessee Senator in 1994, winning the right to fill the last two years of Al Gore’s unexpired term and then winning a full term for himself. But instead of seeking another term, Fred Thompson returned to Hollywood.

Bobby played major league baseball for 15 years, putting together a pretty fair career that included 264 home runs and three selections as an all-star. But the former major league ballplayer never made it to the top of his profession, if that is measured by his years on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Bobby Thomson received votes for the Hall of Fame from 1966 to 1979, but his best showing was 13 votes in 1968, which constituted support from just 4.59 percent of those 283 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who cast Hall of Fame ballots that year — not even within hailing distance of the 75 percent support needed to be voted into the Hall of Fame.

In terms of longevity, Tommy Thompson’s “major league” political career (as governor and cabinet secretary) already has exceeded Bobby’s major league baseball career, with Fred Thompson’s “major league” tenure (the Senate for eight years) being the shortest.

That’s another way of saying that Fred Thompson’s record is relatively thin, though it is longer than Jimmy Carter’s service (four years as governor of Georgia) when he was elected to the White House.

In terms of impact, it’s no contest. Fred was one of 100 Senators, and the one legislative item I remember him for was his support of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance proposal. Tommy certainly impacted the people of Wisconsin and later the nation, as HHS secretary. But the Thom(p)son who had by far and away the greatest impact on people and on history was Bobby.

Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” in the third National League playoff game to determine the league’s representative in the 1951 World Series was the sort of stunning occurrence that causes gasps and turns lives around.

The New York Giants were lucky to be in the playoffs at all. They won 37 of their final 44 games (for a ridiculous .840 winning percentage) to erase a 13-game deficit to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Twenty-four hours before Thomson’s sudden-death home run won the best two-out-of-three playoff series for the Giants, a Brooklyn Dodgers rookie named Clem Labine pitched a 10-0 gem to even the playoffs at a game apiece.

Going into their last at bat, in the bottom of the ninth of the third and final playoff game, the Giants trailed their arch-rivals, the Dodgers, by a seemingly insurmountable three runs. But the Giants won with Thomson’s blast — a home run pulled down the left field line that is not entirely without controversy following the revelation that the Giants, like plenty of other baseball clubs before them, had a way to steal the opposing catcher’s signs and relay the pitch to the batter.

Of the three Thom(p)sons, Bobby currently has the history books to himself. What we’ve been reading over the past few days about Fred Thompson isn’t much more than conjecture.

Is the former Senator energetic enough to win the GOP nomination and the presidency? Can he raise enough money? Will conservatives rally to him? Can he build an organization quickly enough to compete in Iowa? We don’t know the answer to these questions.

Given Fred Thompson’s timing, his lack of a war chest, his lack of key state organizations and his party’s problems, a Fred Thompson presidency looks a little like a New York Giants National League pennant must have looked in the middle of the summer in 1951. Then again, look what happened a little more than 55 years ago in the Polo Grounds.