But in the last 59 years that phrase has been borrowed, for keeps, apparently, by the national pastime. This second usage has been so large that it seems to have subsumed the first. That indicates how big baseball is, although you hope that the rest of us might also keep in mind the original meaning.
Bobby Thomson hit the home run that gave the New York Giants the 1951 National League pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers. The playoff victory capped a remarkable comeback for the Giants, who trailed the Dodgers by as much as 13 1/2 games in mid-August of that season.
Thomson died Tuesday at age 86. His home run against the Dodgers, though, will have life as long as the game of baseball is played.
Lasting for baseball eternity along with the Thomson home run will be the call of Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
This just goes to show you that if the circumstances are dramatic and unlikely enough, all the announcer needs is a simple, declarative statement of facts, along with the requisite vocal excitement. Russ Hodges has been immortalized for this call; the Giants' miracle run to the pennant, capped by Thomson's home run, needed no further embellishment.
Thomson, "the Flying Scot," was born in Glasgow, and was, by all accounts, a fine fellow, the kind of man who wore this achievement well. "A true gentleman, Bobby was a perfect choice to have earned one of the game's most memorable moments," Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said in a statement issued Tuesday.
On the other side of this issue was the gentleman who will be forever known as the pitcher who served up this historic homer, Ralph Branca of the Dodgers. Branca had a fine career -- he won 21 games in 1947 -- but he will be forever known as the man who gave up the Shot Heard 'Round the World.
Fortunately, Branca also wore that designation with dignity and grace. He and Thomson appeared together at numerous events over the years and became good friends.
Branca had at least some redemption when reports surfaced that the Giants had been stealing signs during the 1951 playoff for the pennant. Thomson denied knowing what pitch was coming on the home run in question, saying that he was looking for a fastball, anyway, and got one. But Branca believed the reports and so did many people on his side of the argument.
The home run happened at a time when baseball was alone at the top of the structure of American professional sports, and New York with its three clubs was the epicenter of the sport. The Yankees were dominating the American League. From 1951 through 1956, the Dodgers won four NL pennants while the Giants won two.
The world was not a smaller place then, but it might have been a simpler place, and Thomson's homer certainly must have seemed like a shot that could have been heard round the world.
So that is Bobby Thomson's immortality. And it is also indicative of how one baseball moment can be so transcendent that it attains an everlasting life of its own.
But while the rest of us remember Thomson and the moment, we might do well to recall that Shot Heard 'Round the World still is a tribute not to a home run, albeit a very big home run, but to the bravery of a small group of American patriots. Without them, the many blessings of our American republic may never have been bestowed upon the rest of us. And without them, Bobby Thomson would probably have been playing cricket.