Branca, pitcher who gave up ‘Shot Heard ‘Round World,’ dies

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OBITUARIES - By Ben Walker FRI­DAY, NOVEM­BER 25, 2016

Ralph Branca’s ca­reer was de­fined by that one high-and-inside fast­ball.

The Brook­lyn Dodgers pitcher who gave up Bobby Thomson’s famed “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” still echo­ing more than six decades later among the most hal­lowed home runs in base­ball history, died Wed­nes­day. He was 90.

His son-in-law, for­mer big league manager Bobby Valen­tine, said Branca died at a nurs­ing home in Rye Brook, New York.

Branca was a three-time All-Star and spent 12 sea­sons in the ma­jors. Brought in from the bullpen in the bot­tom of the ninth in­ning dur­ing the de­cid­ing Game 3 of the National League pen­nant play­off on Oct. 3, 1951, he gave up a three­run homer to Thomson that gave the ri­val New York Giants a stun­ning 5-4 vic­tory.

The one-out line drive into the left field lower deck at the Polo Grounds prompted the fre­netic call from an­nouncer Russ Hodges, “The Giants win the pen­nant! The Giants win the pen­nant!” The team and its fans cel­e­brated wildly as Thomson breezed around the bases while Branca, wear­ing his un­lucky No. 13 jer­sey, trudged off the mound.

“You know,” Branca told The As­so­ci­ated Press in 1990, “If you kill some­body, they sen­tence you to life, you serve 20 years and you get paroled . ... I’ve never been paroled.”

Thomson, who also home­red off Branca in Game 1, capped a sen­sa­tional come­back for the Giants, who trailed the Dodgers by more than a dozen games head­ing to­ward mid-Au­gust.

For the next 50 years, Branca and Thomson of­ten ap­peared to­gether at card shows, cor­po­rate events and base­ball func­tions, re-telling the story of the home run that grew into a sports leg­end. They al­ways were friendly at the af­fairs, some­times even team­ing up to sing about the big mo­ment.

“I was closer to Ralph than to any other Dodger,” Dodgers broad­caster Vin Scully said in a state­ment. “He car­ried the cross of the Thomson home run with dig­nity and grace.”

It wasn’t un­til many years later that it was re­vealed that the Giants had a lit­tle ex­tra help.

That’s when it came to light that the Giants em­ployed a tele­scope-and­buzzer sys­tem that sea­son to steal signs from op­pos­ing catch­ers. With that ad­van­tage, Giants hit­ters got a boost in their swings.

And for years, the ques­tion re­mained: Did Thomson know the high-and-inside fast­ball from Branca was com­ing?

Thomson firmly as­serted that, no, he didn’t get a sign in ad­vance. A three-time All-Star him­self, Thomson stuck to that claim un­til he died in 2010 at age 86.

Branca, how­ever, wasn’t so sure about that.

In 2001, the Giants’ sign­steal­ing op­er­a­tion was de­tailed in a story in The Wall Street Jour­nal.

A few days af­ter that, Branca and Thomson saw each other for the first time at an event in Edi­son, New Jer­sey. They talked in pri­vate for five min­utes, about a se­cret they’d both known about but never shared.

Later, they spoke about their dis­cus­sion.

“It’s been a cleans­ing for both of us,” Branca said then. “He knew that I knew. It’s bet­ter this way.”

“To me, it was a for­bid­den sub­ject,” the righthander said. “And I didn’t want to de­mean Bobby or seem like I was a cry­baby.”

Said Thomson: “It was like get­ting some­thing off my chest af­ter all those years. I’m not a crim­i­nal, al­though I may have felt like one at first.”

And then, hours later, Thomson and Branca ap­peared to­gether in Man­hat­tan at the New York base­ball writ­ers’ din­ner. In front of a ball­room full of fans, they took turns singing about the fate­ful pitch and swing, to lyrics writ­ten to the old stan­dard “Be­cause of You” — a reprise of the act they per­formed when the same din­ner was held in Jan­uary 1952.

His matchup with Thomson was re­counted by Don Delillo in a 1992 Harper’s Mag­a­zine story “Pafko at the Wall,” in­cluded five years later in the novel “Un­der­world.”

“Yes. It is Branca com­ing through the damp­ish glow. Branca who is tall and stal­wart but seems to carry his own hill and dale, he has the aura of a man en­cum­bered. The droop­ing lids, clod­hop­per feet, the thick ridge across the brow. His face is set be­hind a somber nose, broad-bridged and loom­ing.”

One of the last re­main­ing Boys of Sum­mer, Branca was 88-68 with a 3.79 ERA in his big league ca­reer. He spent the first 11 years with the Dodgers, then played for Detroit and the Yan­kees be­fore re­turn­ing to Brook­lyn for a fi­nal game in 1956.

Branca made his de­but as a teen in 1944 and went 21-12 with 15 com­plete games dur­ing Jackie Robin­son’s first sea­son in 1947. Branca added an­other win that year at Yan­kee Stadium in the World Se­ries.

“Branca to me was a hero,” for­mer Dodgers manager Tommy La­sorda said in a state­ment. “Ralph and I be­came very close, my fam­ily and his fam­ily. I al­ways en­joyed be­ing around him. He was a tough one in ev­ery way and I re­ally ad­mired him.”

Branca co-founded the Base­ball As­sis­tance Team, which aids mem­bers of the base­ball fam­ily in need of fi­nan­cial, med­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal as­sis­tance, and served as its pres­i­dent for 17 years. He was a pall­bearer at Robin­son’s funeral in 1972.

“Ralph’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ was eclipsed by the grace and sports­man­ship he demon­strated fol­low­ing one of the game’s sig­na­ture mo­ments,” base­ball Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said in a state­ment. “He is bet­ter re­mem­bered for his ded­i­ca­tion to the mem­bers of the base­ball com­mu­nity. He was an in­spi­ra­tion to so many of us.”

Branca is sur­vived by wife Ann and daugh­ters Patti and Mary — the lat­ter the wife of Valen­tine.

A funeral is sched­uled for Tues­day at the Church of the Res­ur­rec­tion in Rye.


In this Oct. 10, 1951, file photo, Bobby Thomson, left, of the New York Giants, and Ralph Branca of the Brook­lyn Dodgers, en­gage in horse play be­fore a World Se­ries game at Yan­kee Stadium in New York. Branca, the Brook­lyn Dodgers pitcher who gave up the home run dubbed the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” has died at the age of 90. His son-in-law Bobby Valen­tine, a for­mer ma­jor league manager, says Branca died Wed­nes­day, Nov. 23, 2016, at a nurs­ing home in Rye, New York.


In this April 15, 2012, file photo, for­mer base­ball player Ralph Branca throws out the first pitch be­fore a base­ball game be­tween the Bos­ton Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays in Bos­ton.

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