Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ralph Branca, 90, legacy reached far beyond iconic baseball moment

Ralph Branca, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who is most famously remembered for surrendering the home run to Bobby Thomson that catapulted the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series, passed away September 23rd, 2016 in Rye, New York. He was 90.



The Mount Vernon native and New York University grad stayed true to his local roots when he first suited up for the Dodgers in 1944 at the tender age of 18. His debut began a 12-year major league career that included one 20-win season, three All-Star appearances, and spanned 11 of those seasons with the Dodgers, interrupted by stints with the cross town rival New York Yankees, as well as the Detroit Tigers.

Ralph Branca (r.) with Bobby Valentine in 2011 / N. Diunte

While many know him for his involvement in, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” Branca didn’t let that moment define the entirety of his career. In his post playing days, Branca immersed himself in charity work, first with the Baseball Assistance Team, helping out former major leaguers who fell on hard times, and later assisting youth sports organizations through his own Sports Angels foundation.

“I was chairman of the board of the Baseball Assistance Team, and worked especially with the dinner committee," Branca said in 2009. “When I resigned, they all resigned at BAT. We worked together for 15 years. I said, 'Why don't we continue as another charity?' We decided to organize Sports Angels.”

Branca, who was one of the last surviving players from Jackie Robinson’s major league debut, was featured prominently in the movie, “42,” where Branca often gave a kind hand to Robinson during rough patches in his rookie season. He took every opportunity to stress the cultural and historical significance of that event, something he felt the newspapers at the time overlooked.

"That day, if you read the papers, basically, they didn't mention that he was breaking the color barrier,” Branca said in 2009. “It was a strange new territory; people didn't know how to react or behave and the papers themselves didn't note it as a historic event, just as a write up of the game period. The papers said, ‘Robinson went 0-3, walked, scored a run, and bunted successfully.’ It never mentioned that it was a great event in the history of the world. I say the world because he helped baseball number one, but also as baseball integrated, the country took a different view of blacks. It took the government seven years to pass a civil rights law which was to the benefit of everyone, lessening our countries' prejudice.”

In 2011, Branca published his memoir “A Moment in Time,” with David Ritz. In the book, Branca had the opportunity to clear the air one final time about his famous pitch and his place in baseball history.

“They’ll find out who I really am,” Branca said in 2011. “I’m not the goat; the goat is the Giants team. They did the most despicable act in the history of the game by going off the field, using a telescope, using a buzzer system, which nobody else did. Stealing signs on the field is part of the game and that includes the dugouts, but to go in your locker room and hook up a buzzer system … that’s totally despicable.”

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