Ralph Theodore Joseph Branca was born on January 6, 1926 in Mt. Vernon New York. Branca was an all around athlete in college, playing baseball & basketball at New York University. The six foot three right hander, was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. He quickly made his debut
the next season.
He began his pitching career as a reliever going 0-2 in 21 games for the 1944 Dodgers. He eventually got into Brooklyn’s starting rotation, although at times he was still used as reliever, in between starts. In 1947 he had his best season, going 21-12 with 148 strike outs (both second best in the NL). He posted a 2.67 ERA (3rd in the NL) with four shut outs 94th in the NL). He led the league in starts with 36, pitched an incredible 280 innings, and struck out 147 batters (also 2nd in the league).
He struck out a seson high ten batters on May 27th at the Polo Grounds as he beat Dave Koslo & the Giants 7-3. On July 6th of that year he threw a three hitter against the Boston Braves then came back a week later a tossed a one hitter at Ebbetts Field against the St. Louis Cardinals.
That season he made the first of three straight All Star appearances.
Post Season: He opened up the 1947 World Series but took the loss, allowing five runs on only two hits, while exiting in the 5th inning. He came in to pitch relief in Game #3 getting no decision. In Game #6 he got the win, coming in relief of Vic Lombardi pitching 2.1 innings of work allowing one run. It was later in this game that Al Gionfriddo’s made his classic game saving catch at the 415 mark in centerfield, off the bat of Joe DiMaggio.
Branca returned to go 14-9 in 1948,as the Dodgers fell to third place. In 1949 they were back on top winning another pennant, as Branca was third on the club in wins behind Don Newcombe (17) & Preacher Roe (15). He was 13-5 with the best winning percentage in the NL at .722%. He struck out 109 batters (4th in the NL) and went to another World Series. Branca pitched in Game #3 of the World Series holding a tie score until the 9th inning, then ended up taking the loss. The Dodgers did score two runs in the bottom of the inning but came up short 4-3.
He dropped to 7-9 with one his worst ERA’s of his career (4.69) in 1950 as Brooklyn finished in second place. Over that season & the next he was perfect on the field leading the league with a .1000 fielding %.
1951 was the season the Dodgers blew their huge August lead and the New York Giants caught them with an incredible September run. The two teams were tied on the last day of the season, leading to a three game playoff series. In the final game of the 1951 season, it was Branca who was on the wrong side of the most historic HR in baseball history.
Branca began the year with a win against the Giants on April 21st. He took a loss to the Giants on June 28th as Monte Irvin hit a HR off him. He followed up with a Fourth of July win, a complete game4-2 win in Brooklyn, giving him a 6-2 record. He then lost to the Giants on August 15th & on September 1st.
He went 13-12 on the season with 118 strike outs (9th in the NL), allowing 19 HRs in 204 innings, with a 3.26 ERA. His 13 wins were fifth most on the staff as he had pitched the third most innings on the team as well (204 innings).
In Game #1 of the 1951 Playoff Series, played at Ebbetts Field, Branca went up against Jum Hearn . Branca served up a two run HR to Bobby Thompson and a solo shot to Monte Irvin. He took the 3-1 loss. The Dodgers evened the Series in Game #2 with a big 10-0 win.
In the final game, Brooklyn had a 4-1 lead going into the 9th inning. As Dodger starter, Don Newcombe was tiring, the call went to the Brooklyn bullpen. Coach Clyde Sukeforth said Carl Erskines curve ball was bouncing but Branca was ready to go. Ralph Branca was brought in to a 4-2 game with two runners on base, and Bobby Thompson coming to bat.
He fired a fastball right down the middle for strike one. The next pitch was drilled down the left field line and went over the wall for the pennant winning HR, forever remembered as “The Shot Heard Round the World”.
Branca who wore the unlucky #13 made the long walk across the field with his head hung low. He laid on the steps of the clubhouse devastated.Years later it was revealed that the Giants may have possibly stolen the signs, although Thomson himself denied using the signal in that at bat. Branca was not convinced.
Brooklyn fans were brutal; they sent him hate mail, death threats, shouted insults at him & his family members in public.
Branca called on a family member, Father Pat, who was priest and asked him “why me”? Father Pat told him, "Because God knew your faith would be strong enough to bear this cross."”. It helped him cope better.
Eventually he took it in stride and made public appearances with Thompson and the two developed a friendship. They appeared on television shows together, where they would sing a parody song ‘Because of you”. (Branca by the way has a great singing voice.)
It wasn’t until the 50th anniversary of the HR that the story would break that the Giants were stealing signs using a telescope in their centerfield clubhouse. A sign would then be relayed to the batter at home plate. All this would have to happen in a split second, so there is speculation on whether the system was actually effective.
In 1952 Branca was limited to only 16 games (seven starts) and went 4-2. In 1953 he was traded to the Detroit Tigers going 7-10 over parts of two seasons. He was sent to the AL New York team for a brief period, before one last hurrah in Brooklyn in 1956, for one game.
Branca finished a 12 season career 88-68 with 19 saves 829 strike outs 663 walks 12 shut outs & 71 complete games in 1484 innings pitched in 322 appearances and a 3.79 ERA.
Retirement: Through the years Branca has made many public appearances he has made with Thompson, at charity events & memorabilia shows. He has also appeared on many television shows such as; The Perry Como Show, Toast of the Town, the Way It Was & many interview shows.
Ralph was a contestant on the game show Concentration in 1963 where he won 17 consecutive games. He also appeared in Concentration's 1963 Challenge of Champions.
For a time in the sixties he also did Mets broadcast post & pre game shows.
He was on site, as the wrecking ball destroyed the Polo Grounds in 1964.
Branca was a close friend to Jackie Robinson & in 1997 when the New York Mets honored the 50th Anniversary of Robinsons MLB debut, Branca was on hand with Rachel Robinson.
Family: His daughter is married to former Mets manager Bobby Valentine. I
had the pleasure to meet him a few years back and he was a true gentleman, with a great sense of humor. Branca is a member of the Italian American Hall of Fame.