“A guy commits murder and he gets pardoned after 20 years, I didn’t get pardoned.”
Former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca died today at the age of 90. His son, John, confirmed his father’s death through his publicist, Diana Baron, but no cause of death was given.
Ralph Branca was born in Mount Vernon, NY, as the fifteenth of seventeen children. Branca was a 3 time National League All-Star with the Dodgers, with a record of 88-68, and a career high of 21 wins in 1947. However, Ralph Branca is not remembered for any of this.
The Brooklyn Dodgers were in first place by 13 1/2 games in the 1951 Pennant Race going in to mid-August, but the Giants came back to tie it in the final weekend of the season. There was a three game series that would decide the winner. Branca lost Game 1 giving up homers to Monte Irvin and Bobby Thomson, but the Dodgers won Game 2 in Brooklyn. Both team’s seasons would be decided in Game 3.
The score was 4-1 with the Dodgers leading in the bottom of the ninth. The Giants got one run across and put two runners on base, and up came Bobby Thomson, who had already hit 31 home runs that year.
Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca were warming up in the bullpen. Manager Charlie Dressen chose Branca to face Thomson. Branca threw a fastball that Thomson took for a strike. Then on the second pitch of the at-bat something happened that would change baseball history forever… Branca threw another fastball that Thomson took deep. Time stood still for a moment.
“There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be … I believe — the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”
The Giants went on to play in the World Series, but lost to the Yankees in six games.
Branca later found out that the Giants were using an illegal sign stealing system. The Giants had someone in the dugout with a telescope stealing signs from the catcher. Details of the elaborate scheme were revealed in his book called “The Echoing Green”.
Branca had further misfortune after that fateful pitch that was heard around the world. In Spring Training of 1952 Branca tipped over in a chair on newly waxed floor, and threw his back out. Whether it was the pitch, age, the injury, or a combination, Branca was never the same pitcher again, only winning 16 games from then until he retired in 1956.
After he retired, he became an insurance salesman and served as president of the Baseball Alumni Team, who help needy former baseball players with financial or medical issues.
“My only regret,” Branca told The Times in 1974, “is that I wasn’t able to pitch effectively after that ’51 season, that I wasn’t able to show people that the home run didn’t affect me. According to the article Ralph Branca, Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who gave up ‘the shot heard round the world,’ dead at 90
It is unfortunate that Ralph Branca never was able to bounce back and show us what he could do after the 1951 season. But his performance the years before the ‘shot heard around the world’ gives a good idea of the quality pitcher and person that Branca was. The baseball world will miss you. After all, without Ralph Branca, there may have never been a Bobby Thomson Shot ….