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Ralph Branca

Pitcher
Born: January 6, 1926 (1926-01-06) (age 84)
Mount Vernon, New York
Batted: Right Threw: Right 
MLB debut
June 12, 1944 for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Last MLB appearance
September 7, 1956 for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Career statistics
Win-Loss     88-68
earned run average     3.79
Strikeouts     829
Teams
Career highlights and awards
  • Participated in the 1947 & 1949 World Series
  • National League All-Star in 1947, 1948, 1949

Ralph Theodore Joseph Branca (born January 6, 1926 in Mount Vernon, New York) is a former starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. From 1944 through 1956, Branca played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1944–53, 1956), Detroit Tigers (1953–54), and New York Yankees (1954). He batted and threw right-handed.

Branca was known as a very good starter during his years in Brooklyn. Branca debuted on June 12, 1944 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and put up a 3.04 ERA in 109.2 innings pitched in 1945, his rookie year. A three-time All-Star, he won 80 games for the Dodgers with a career-high 21 wins in 1947. He is perhaps best remembered for one infamous relief appearance in a 1951 playoff game against the crosstown rival New York Giants. Branca entered the game in the ninth inning and surrendered a walk-off home run known as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" to Bobby Thomson, giving the Giants the National League pennant.

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 2001, when Giant Sal Yvars admitted that he relayed to Thomson the stolen signs for Branca's fastballs.[1] 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.

Prior to facing Thomson, Branca had been warming up in the bullpen with Carl Erskine. Dodger 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 One. (The Dodgers fired Sukeforth shortly thereafter.)

Branca did not express bitterness over the gopher ball, but begin 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.

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 No. 12 in 1952, but resumed wearing No. 13 in 1953. [2]

In a 12-year career, Branca posted an 88-68 record with 829 strikeouts and a 3.79 ERA in 1484.0 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 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. Thirteen years after Bobby Thomson's electrifying home run, he watched the stadium come crumbling down. The site is now occupied by a housing project.

Branca lives at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, where he has been a member for about 40 years. He is also a member of the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.

Lore

  • The book Carl Erskine's Tales from the Dodgers Dugout: Extra Innings (2004) includes short stories from former Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine. Branca is prominent in many of these stories.
  • Branca originally wore the uniform number 12, but switched to number 13, one of the few players of that time to wear it, due to a long-standing superstition that the number brings bad luck. After the Shot Heard 'Round the World, he briefly returned to number 12, but then changed back to 13.
  • On Opening Day 1947, which was also Jackie Robinson’s Major League Debut, Ralph Branca lined up on the field beside Robinson, when other players did not want to. [3]
  • Branca was engaged to be married to Ann Mulvey, whose cousin, Father Pat Rowley, was a priest. When Branca asked, "Why me?" Father Pat told him, "Because God knew your faith would be strong enough to bear this cross." Ralph married Ann a few weeks later.
  • Ralph and Ann Branca's daughter Mary married a later Dodger player, later manager of the New York Mets, Bobby Valentine.[4]
  • Ralph was a contestant on Concentration, where he won 17 straight games.
  • In his final spring training appearance, Branca was relieved by Sandy Koufax, whose first major league strikeout was Thomson.

References

  1. ^ Joshua Harris Prager. "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 Jan 31, 2001.
  2. ^ Baseball A Doubleheader Collection of Facts, Feats, & Firsts. St. Louis, Mo.: The Sporting News Publishing Co.. 1992. ISBN 0-88365-785-6.  .
  3. ^ Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season, p.56, Jonathan Eig, Simon & Schuster, 2007, New York, ISBN 978-0-7432-9461-4
  4. ^ Cavanaugh, John (17 July 1977), "A Homecoming for Valentine." New York Times. Sunday edition, Long Island Opinion: 355. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10F16FA3B5815768FDDAE0994DF405B878BF1D3

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