Tag Archives: Branca

Ralph Branca dies at 90.

Yankee Stadium Frieze

The scene, on grainy black and white, is still poignant 65 years later. Bobby Thomson hits a 3-run HR to win the pennant for the NY Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 3, 1951. The Giants were 13 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in mid-August. The Giants would go on to lose the World Series to a Yankees team that for that one year, featured Joe DiMaggio AND Mickey Mantle.

65 years later, you still hear Russ Hodges’ call of that home run by heart.

The pitcher who gave up that home run, Ralph Branca, died yesterday at the age of 90. The announcement was made by his son-in-law, ex-major league player and manager, Bobby Valentine.

For 65 years, Branca carried that HR with him. But he carried it with great dignity. Often, he and Thomson would tour or appear together, and they became great friends.

When I think of that, I think of Donnie Moore, who by contrast, never got over the HR he gave up in the 1986 ALCS that helped cost the Angels a WS berth, and who killed his wife and himself three years later.

Branca showed true class, dignity and sportsmanship, even when it came out in 2001 that the Giants were stealing pitches and that Thomson may have known what pitch was coming.

The Polo Grounds was shaped like a bathtub. Short down the lines (way under 300 feet) and deep (over 440) to the power alleys. Thomson’s HR barely cleared the 16′ high wall at the 315 mark. If it were hit in Fenway Park today, it most likely would be a single off the scoreboard, not even a double with the short wall.

Branca was more than that one pitch. He was only 18 when he made his major league debut in 1944—a year where the majors were devastated by players having to be in the service due to WWII; a year when the St. Louis Browns—the BROWNS—won their only pennant.

At the age of 21 in 1947, Branca won 21 games. There was no CYA then, since Cy Young wouldn’t die until 1955. Branca was an All-Star and finished 11th in the MVP voting.

More importantly, he befriended Jackie Robinson, who that year, as he was breaking the color barrier, was being ostracized by many, including his own teammates.

The movie “42”, about that year of Robinson’s life, portrays Branca very well.

Branca started Game 1 of the WS against the Yanks in 1947, pitching four scoreless innings before the Yanks tagged him for 5 runs in the fifth for a 5-3 win. Branca pitched a couple of innings in relief in Game 3, and got the win in Game 6, pitching a couple of innings in relief in the “Al Gionfriddo” game.

A 3x All-Star, Branca finished 21st in the MVP voting in 1948. He started, and lost, Game 3 of the 1949 Series to the Yanks, giving up just 1 run for 8 innings before tiring and giving up 3 in the top of the ninth. The Dodgers scored two in the bottom half of the ninth but lost 4-3.

Branca was 1-2, 6.35 in four WS games.

He pitched for the Dodgers from 1944-1953, then was with the Tigers 1953-1954, Yankees (5 games, 3 starts, 1-0, 2.84) 1954, was out of the majors in 1955—ironically the only year Brooklyn won the WS—and got in one more game, fittingly with the Dodgers, on September 7, 1956.

His MLB career was over before he turned 31.

He then helped with BAT, an assistance program for ex-players.

He went 88-68, 3.79 in his MLB career, ERA+ 105. His average year would have been 25 starts, 18 relief appearances, and 12-9, 3.79.  As a hitter, he hit .142 with 2 HR.

He and Thomson are both gone,as are most of the players from that game (Willie Mays, 85, was the on deck batter when Thomson homered).

That moment, however, will live forever.

New book forthcoming by Ralph Branca

From Adam Rifenberick:
I’m proud to offer up longtime Dodger Ralph Branca’s new memoir on life, baseball and a “shot heard ’round the world” in “A MOMENT IN TIME: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak and Grace, by Ralph Branca with David Ritz (Scribner, September 27, 2011, details below).
Branca’s prose is clear, candid and compelling as he discusses the ins and outs of being baseball’s most famous goat for half a century, only to be “vindicated” by a shocking Wall Street Journal article in 2001. It’s a great read and a timely one as October 3rd marks the 60th anniversary of Thomson’s pennant-winning home run.
An American Story of Baseball,
Heartbreak and Grace
by Ralph Branca
The bat cracked like thunder. The ball flew long, long, finally arcing over
the wall, into the left field stands. And as the crowd’s cheers rose from loud
to deafening, the words of the announcer beamed through the radio, “The Giants
win the Pennant! The Giants win the Pennant!” Bobby Thomson rounded the bases, ending the October 3, 1951 game between the Giants and the Dodgers with “the Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” while the announcer’s words etched his victory into the annals of baseball’s greatest comeback stories. Those same words also marked one of the game’s most stunning defeats for pitcher Ralph Branca, who served up the final pitch.
For the past sixty years, Branca has been famously reserved about that
game, the pitch, and about the eventual revelation that the Giants had set up an
elaborate system for stealing signs, leading them to victory.  Now, “the goat”
finally breaks his silence in A MOMENT IN TIME (Scribner;
On-Sale September 27), a remarkable memoir of a man who could have been
destroyed by extreme professional disappointment—but wasn’t. One of the great
stories in baseball lore finally has its last chapter.
From a tight-knit, baseball-crazed family in Mount Vernon, Branca was a
well-known player in his day, a three time All-Star who had pitched in the World
Series twice. He was a staple of the Dodgers’ teams throughout the 1940s. No one
play should have defined his career, but one did for 50 years. After that
fateful pitch on October 3, 1951, Ralph Branca had gone from a baseball legend
to “the goat”. His life after the “The Shot Heard ’Round the World” was one of
humiliation and constant reminders. When he wasn’t getting standing ovations
from Giants fans around New York, his family was receiving angry calls from
devastated Dodgers fans. “Drop dead, Branca!” “Ya, bum, ya!” He was defeated.
Branca remained silent about the game and the pitch, but when the Wall
Street Journal
revealed in 2001 that the Giants had stolen signs and that
Bobby Thompson most likely knew a fastball was coming on that fateful pitch, the
news made international headlines and Branca was finally vindicated. The world
was shocked, but Branca was not. He had learned the same news from a teammate in 1954.  For years, as rumors surfaced, Branca declined to comment. Now, with A
Moment in Time, Branca is ready to share his story of coming to terms, not only
with the defeat, but with the cheating that was a part of it.
Bright & endearing at 85-years-old, Branca tells the stories of his young
life and his early years with the Dodgers.  He remembers the days when he and
his iconic teammates—Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, Preacher Roe, Eddie Stanky  and Don Newcombe—held court at Ebbets Field for some of the most outrageous and avid fans from any generation. He takes readers behind the scenes in 1947 when his friend Jackie Robinson changed the world. He details the run-up to the great playoff series vs. the Giants in 1951 and recounts the controversial aftermath of that series.
In A Moment in Time, Branca also discusses his contract negotiations with the great Branch Rickey, his notorious first manager for the Dodgers, Leo Durocher, how he was almost traded for Bobby Thomson in 1948, and how he and Bobby Thomson actually became close in later years and formed an unlikely “partnership.”
About the Authors
Ralph Branca was eighteen years old when he signed his professional contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1947, Branca won twenty-one games and lost twelve with an ERA of 2.67. He appeared in three All-Star games and was the starting pitcher in the 1948 All-Star Game at the age of twenty-one. He played professional baseball for twelve seasons from 1944 to 1956, during which he won eighty-eight games and lost sixty-eight. Branca is today a successful businessman living in Rye, New York, with his wife Ann.
David Ritz is the only four-time winner of the Gleason Music Book Award. He has collaborated with Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Smokey Robinson, and Don Rickles. He also co-wrote, with Gaye, the song “Sexual Healing.”
TITLE: A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak
and Grace
/AUTHOR: Ralph Branca with David Ritz /PUBLICATION DATE:
September 20, 2011 / ISBN: 978-1-4516-3687-1/ PRICE: $25.00 hardcover