Brooklyn pitcher gave up ‘Shot Heard Round the World’
Ralph Branca, the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who gave up one of baseball’s most dramatic home runs — “the Shot Heard Round the World” hit by the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson in 1951 — died Wednesday. He was 90.
Branca’s son-in-law, former Los Angeles Dodger Bobby Valentine, announced the death on Twitter. No cause was given.
“One of the greatest guys to ever throw a pitch or sing a song is longer with us,” Valentine tweeted. “Ralph Branca passed this morning.”
A three-time All-Star, Branca won 88 games during his 12-year major league career, including 21 for the Dodgers in 1947. But the right-hander’s accomplishments were overshadowed by a game he lost — the third and deciding game of a playoff for the National League pennant and a World Series berth in 1951.
Thomson’s ninth-inning home run gave the Giants a 5-4 victory and made him a legendary figure. Branca went back to the Dodgers’ clubhouse and wept.
“Bobby was the hero, but the fellow who came out of that incident 10 feet tall was Ralph Branca,” Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said after Thomson died in 2010. “Ralph to me carried the cross exceptionally well. After a while it had to be excruciating.”
There was no escaping the moment. “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” screamed the team’s broadcaster, Russ Hodges, in a radio call that would be replayed relentlessly over the years.
Published reports decades later that the 1951 Giants were stealing signs from the opposing catcher — and thus batters knew what kind of pitch was coming — seemed to provide Branca with a measure of vindication.
“My tongue has loosened because the
Go to baltimoresun.com /schmuckstop to read Peter Schmuck’s thoughts about the late Ralph Branca truth has set me free,” Branca told the Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y., in 2001. “I don’t think Bobby understands the ramifications of what stealing signs did. They stole the pennant from the Dodger fans, still the greatest fans who ever lived. They stole the opportunity of Dodger players to go to the World Series and maybe beat the Yankees. They stole the glory and money from the Dodger owners.”
Thomson maintained that although he knew which pitches were coming the first three times he hit in the decisive playoff game, he chose not to know what Branca was going to throw when he came to the plate that final time.
“We did steal signs, and I did take some, and I don’t feel good about it. But I didn’t get the sign on that pitch,” Thomson told the Journal News in 2001.
Branca told The Times in 2010: “I think [Thomson] didn’t want to demean what he did, but in my mind, I think he would have been a bigger man if he admitted it.”
Despite the controversy, Branca and Thomson became friendly over the years, linked by the home run and frequent appearances for charities and memorabilia shows.
Ralph Theodore Joseph Branca was born Jan. 6, 1926, in Mount Vernon, N.Y., the 15th of 17 children of Katherine and John Branca. Branca debuted with the Dodgers in 1944 and had his best season in 1947 when he won 21 games and led the team to the World Series.
Branca won only 12 games after Thomson’s home run. He was out of baseball at age 30.
The Giants’ Bobby Thomson, left, and the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca engage in horseplay before the 1951 World Series. Thomson’s homer off Branca won the NL pennant.