Branca in 1953.
January 6, 1926 |
Mount Vernon, New York
|June 12, 1944, for the Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 7, 1956, for the Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Earned run average||3.79|
|Career highlights and awards|
Ralph Theodore Joseph Branca (born January 6, 1926) is an American retired baseball pitcher who played 12 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB), from 1944 through 1956. A starting pitcher, Branca played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1944–53, 1956), Detroit Tigers (1953–54), and New York Yankees (1954). He threw and batted right-handed.
Branca was born in Mount Vernon, New York. Although Branca was raised Roman Catholic, in 2011 reporter Joshua Prager revealed in the New York Times that his mother was Jewish. His mother, Kati (née Berger), immigrated to the United States in 1901 from Sandorf, Hungary (now Prievaly, Slovakia). His uncle Jozsef Berger was killed at the Majdanek concentration camp, and his maternal aunt Irma died at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942. His father was John Branca, a trolley car conductor from Italy.
Branca was signed as a free agent by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. He debuted on June 12, 1944, with the Dodgers, and put up a 3.04 earned run average (ERA) in 109 2⁄3 innings pitched in his rookie year.
A three-time All-Star, he won 80 games for the Dodgers with a career-high 21 wins in 1947. In 1947, he was second in the league in wins, innings pitched (280), and strikeouts (148), third in ERA (2.67), and sixth in won-lost percentage (.636). In 1948, he was ninth in the league in wins (14) and won-lost percentage (.609). In 1949, he led the National League (NL) in won-lost percentage (.722). In 1951, he was tenth in the NL in ERA (3.26).
He is perhaps best remembered for one infamous relief appearance in a 1951 NL playoff game at the Polo Grounds against the crosstown rival New York Giants. Branca entered the game in relief of Don Newcombe in the bottom of the ninth inning with one out and Whitey Lockman on second base and pinch runner Clint Hartung on third base and surrendered a walk-off home run known as the Shot Heard 'Round the World to Bobby Thomson, giving the Giants the pennant and the win to Larry Jansen. In an ironic coincidence, Branca wore uniform Number 13 for the 1951 season.
Branca later learned from Detroit Tiger Ted Gray that the Giants had stolen the signs to the two pitches he threw Thomson. That rumor was confirmed in The Wall Street Journal in 2001, when Giant Sal Yvars admitted that he relayed to Thomson the stolen signs for Branca's fastballs. Joshua Prager detailed the revelations in a book entitled The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and The Shot Heard Round the World. Thomson acknowledged to Prager that the Giants had stolen signs in 1951 but denied that he had foreknowledge of the pitch he hit off Branca for the pennant-winning home run. According to Branca, Thomson admitted to accepting the stolen signs during his first three at-bats of that game, but claimed that he did not do so in the final at-bat; Branca indicated that he did not believe Thomson's denials and remained convinced that Thomson was in fact tipped off on the fateful pitch.
Prior to facing Thomson, Branca had been warming up in the bullpen with Carl Erskine. Dodgers coach Clyde Sukeforth noticed that Erskine was bouncing several curveballs in the dirt and instructed manager Charlie Dressen to call on Branca—this despite Thomson having homered off Branca in Game 1.
Branca did not express bitterness over the gopher ball, but began a friendship with Thomson that lasted into each man's old age, including many joint television appearances. Branca's experience is in stark contrast to that of Donnie Moore of the California Angels, who gave up a dramatic home run to Boston's Dave Henderson in the 1986 American League Championship Series, and committed suicide three years later in the midst of severe career and marital problems.
Triskaidekaphobics have noted that Branca wore uniform number 13 in 1951. Branca was photographed on Friday, April 13, 1951, flaunting the number and holding a black cat. Branca forsook the number 13 for the number 12 in 1952, but resumed wearing 13 in 1953.
In a 12-year career, Branca posted an 88–68 record with 829 strikeouts and a 3.79 ERA in 1,484 innings pitched. A back injury suffered during spring training in 1952, and not the reaction to the previous year's home run, cut down on his effectiveness and cut short his career.
"The Shot Heard Round The World" is reputed to be the most exciting moment in the history of baseball and has forever immortalized the Polo Grounds. After the Giants left New York City for San Francisco in 1958, the stadium remained empty for five years until the New York Mets occupied it during the 1962 and 1963 seasons. Nostalgia ran wild when the Giants and Dodgers returned to the Polo Grounds to play the Mets. In 1964, the Mets moved to Shea Stadium in Queens, and the Polo Grounds was demolished. Branca was interviewed at the demolition site when the wrecking ball was thrown against the wall.
Ralph Branca was a long time member of Westchester Country Club. He now lives in Vero Beach, Florida. He was born and raised in Mt. Vernon, New York where he has been a member of the Westchester County Hall of Fame for about forty years. He is also a member of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.
- On Opening Day 1947, which was also Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut, Branca lined up on the field beside Robinson, while other players refused.
- Branca was only the second player in MLB history to be ejected from a World Series (and the first who was not actually in the game at the time), in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 1952 World Series vs. the Yankees. He was ejected from the dugout, by home plate umpire Larry Goetz, for bench jockeying.
- Ralph was a contestant on Concentration starting in 1963, where he won 17 consecutive games. He appeared in Concentration's 1963 Challenge of Champions.
- In his final spring training appearance, Branca was relieved by Sandy Koufax, whose first major league strikeout was Thomson.
- Branca was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson's funeral in October, 1972.
- In the 2012 movie, "Parental Guidance," Branca makes a cameo appearance as a judge during a scene involving an audition for a music school. During the scene Billy Crystal's grandson takes to the stage and recites the radio broadcast of, "The Shot Heard Round the World."
- Branca is portrayed by Hamish Linklater in the 2013 film 42, which is a biographical sports drama about the career of Jackie Robinson.
- Branca is the subject of the 2013 documentary "Branca's Pitch," produced by Andrew J. Muscato.
- Prager, Joshua (August 14, 2011). "For Branca, an Asterisk of a Different Kind". The New York Times. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
- "Ralph Branca Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved August 16, 2011.
- Prager, Joshua Harris (January 31, 2001). "Inside Baseball: Giants' 1951 Comeback, The Sport's Greatest, Wasn't All It Seemed --- Miracle Ended With 'The Shot Heard Round the World". Wall Street Journal.
- Holmes, Baxter (August 24, 2010). "Ralph Branca's solid baseball career still is defined by one inglorious moment". Los Angeles Times.
- The editors of the Sporting News (1992). Baseball A Doubleheader Collection of Facts, Feats, & Firsts. St. Louis, Missouri: The Sporting News Publishing Co. ISBN 0-88365-785-6.
- Howard Cosell (April 1964). The Polo Grounds: Requiem for an Arena.
- Eig, Jonathan (2007). Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-7432-9461-4.
- Cavanaugh, John (July 17, 1977). "A Homecoming for Valentine". New York Times. p. Long Island Opinion: 355.
Bell, Christopher; Scapegoats. Baseballers whose careers are marked by one fateful play. (c) 2002 McFarland and Company.
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