Ralph Branca: Legendary Italian / American Brooklyn Dodger Pitcher (1926-2016)

Ralph Theodore Joseph Branca was born on January 6, 1926, in Mt. Vernon New York. 

His father John Branca had come to America from Italy in 1888. He worked as a barber, trolley conductor & machinist. His mother Katherine was born in Hungary & the two were married in 1902.

Ralph named after his grandfather Raffaele, was the 15th of 17 children in the family & his middle name was inspired by President Theodore Roosevelt who was a New York state native.

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 following season.

MLB Career- Dodgers: 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 1945 he started the year in the minors getting up to Brooklyn in July, posting a save over the Cubs in his first game back. In his first start he allowed five runs to the Cardinals in St. Louis never getting out of the 2nd inning. 

In his second start he earned a win beating the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. On August 9th he pitched 12 innings in the second game of a double header to beat the Reds 4-3. He closed out the year winning his last two games including a 1-0 win at Philadelphia. 

In 1946 he appeared in 24 games going 3-1 with three saves. He had a strong September helping the Dodgers finish the season in a tie with the Cardinals. He started the first game of the tie breaking playoff series but gave up three runs in three innings & was the losing pitcher. The Cards won the next game as well to advance.

1947 Dodger Pennant Season: In 1947 Branca 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 (4th in the NL). He led the league in starts with 36, pitched an incredible 280 innings.

On Opening Day while may players refused to line up next to Robinson, Branca agreed to stand next to him. 

On May 27th at the Polo Grounds, he struck out a season high ten batters, as he beat Dave Koslo & the New York Giants 7-3. 

Branca pitched three straight complete game victories from there, with a one inning relief effort loss mixed in. 

On June 19th & 24th he combined for two complete game victories where he only allowed three earned runs in the 18 innings. On July 2nd, he matched his ten strike out season high in another win (11-3) over the rival Giants. 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 Ebbett's Field against the St. Louis Cardinals. 

All Star Games: That season he made the first of his three straight All-Star appearances but did not pitch in the game.

Post Season -1947 World Series: Branca opened up the 1947 Subway World Series & became the youngest player to ever do so. He took the Game #1 loss, allowing five runs on only two hits, while exiting in the 5th inning. 

In Game #3 he came into pitch relief in the 5th inning, going two innings allowing a HR to Yogi Berra in the 9-8 Dodger win at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers jumped out to a 6-0 lead with a six-run 2nd inning.

In Game #6 Branca got the win, coming in relief of Vic Lombardi pitching 2.1 innings of work
allowing just one run. 

It was later in this game that Al Gionfriddo’s made his classic game saving catch at the 415 mark in center field at Ebbett's Field, off the bat of Joe DiMaggio. It was one of the few times DiMaggio showed emotion as he kicked the dirt rounding second base. Branca's win forced a classic Game seven which they lost 5-2.

After the Pennant: Branca returned to go 14-9 but the Dodgers fell to third place the next
season.

1948 All Star Game: Branca was the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game played in Sportsmans Park in St. Louis. He gave up three runs including a HR to Hoot Evers in the 5-3 NL loss.

1949 Dodgers Pennant Season: The Dodgers were back on top winning another pennant in 1949. In the second game of the year he beat the Giants in a complete game one run performance. On May 3rd, he shut out the Reds on six hits while striking out seven. 

On May 12th he struck out a season high nine batters in a win over the Pirates at home. He would match that season high in a late September loss at Philadelphia. On May 24th he allowed just one run in a complete game win in Pittsburgh.

Branca started off the year with seven straight victories, going 7-0 with good run support as his ERA was 3.59 at that point in time. 

In June he was 3-0 besting his record to 10-1. On June 25th he had a horrendous outing, the worst of his career as he gave up ten runs on twelve hits in Pittsburgh in a 17-10 loss. From that point on he won just three games losing four in the next three months.

1949 All Star: Branca made his third straight All-Star team, as one of three Dodger pitchers to make the staff, along with Don Newcombe & Preacher Roe. 

Branca did not pitch in the AL's 1-7 win played in Brooklyn. Jackie Robinson started at second, as Gil Hodges & Roy Campanella were also on the NL squad.

Branca was third on the 1949 pennant club in victories, behind Don Newcombe (17) & Preacher Roe (15). He finished up at 13-5 with the best winning percentage in the NL at .722%. He struck out 109 batters (4th in the NL) and walked 91 in 186 innings, posting a 4.39 ERA in 34 games.

Post Season- 1949 World Series: The 1949 subway World Series began with 1-0 wins in the first two games. The AL New York team won game #1 as Allie Reynolds out dueled Don Newcombe. In Game #2 Preacher Roe beat Vic Rasch 1-0 with Gil Hodges driving in he games lone run.

Branca started Game #3 of the 1949 subway World Series, allowing four runs, although he pitched into the ninth inning. 

The game was tied after a Phil Rizzuti sac fly & Pee Wee Reese HR making it 1-1. In the 9th, a two-run single from pinch hitter Johnny Mize made it 3-1. Branca was removed & reliever Jack Banta allowed a single to Jerry Coleman making it 4-1. 

Jackie Robinson, Ralph Branca & Pee Wee Reese
The Dodgers did score two runs in the bottom of the inning on HRs by Roy Campanella & Luis Olmo but came up short 4-3.

After the Pennant: Branca dropped to 7-9 the following season, with one the worst ERA’s of his career (4.69) as Brooklyn finished in second place. Over that season & the next he was perfect on the field topping the league with a .1000 fielding %.

1951 Season:  The Dodgers / Giants rivalry really heated up in 1951. This was the season the Dodgers blew their huge August 10th lead of 13.5 games as the New York Giants caught them with a legendary September run. Jackie Robinson & Giants manager Leo Durocher verbally abused each other during the games & in the media. There were bench clearing brawls, bean balls & crazy fans all fueling the greatest rivalry in sports.

Branca began the year in the bullpen not getting his first start until May 28th. On April 21st he earned a relief win against the Giants pitching three scoreless innings. He took a loss to them on June 28th, as Monte Irvin hit an 8th inning three run shot off him for the win. 


Branca followed up with a Fourth of July win, a complete game 4-2 victory in Brooklyn, giving him a 6-2 record at that point with a 2.30 ERA. He then lost to the Giants on August 15th, as Jim Hearn out dueled him 3-2 at the Polo Grounds. At this point the Giants fell to 11 1/2 games behind Brooklyn.

On September 1st, Branca was 12-5 when he took another loss to the Giants, getting knocked out in the 4th inning. At this point the Giants were on the move six games back.

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.  

1951 Playoff Series: In the first game of the three-game tie breaking series, played at Ebbett's Field in Brooklyn, Branca got the start, going up against the Giants' Jim Hearn. 

Branca went eight innings, allowing three runs on five hits with five walks & five strike outs. He served up a two run HR to Bobby Thompson and a solo shot to Monte Irvin. He took the 3-1 Brooklyn loss. The Dodgers evened the Series in the second game with a big 10-0 blow out.

The Shot Heard Round the World: It all came down to one game, one that goes down in history as one of baseballs best ever! The fans came to the Polo Grounds on a damp cloudy fall New York autumn afternoon. It was one of the first games to be broadcast on a national cable feed, so not only was all of New York watching but many baseball fans across the country as well.

In the final game of the '51 season, Brooklyn had a 4-1 lead going into the 9th inning. It looked like it was going to be another Brooklyn pennant winner after all. But Dodger starter, Don Newcombe was tiring, the phone call went to the Brooklyn bullpen. 

It is now legendary that 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 Giants runners on base, and Bobby Thompson coming to bat, representing the winning run. Branca fired a fastball right down the middle for strike one, shocking Thompson. 

The next pitch was thrown & drilled down the left field line by Thompson. Branca turned his head quickly as possible to watch where the ball would land, it went over the short-left field wall for the pennant winning HR, forever remembered as “The Shot Heard Round the World”.

Branca who wore the unlucky uniform #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 Branca hate mail, death threats, shouted insults at him & his family members in public.

Quotes: Ralph Branca- "A guy commits murder & he gets pardoned after 20 years. I didn’t get pardoned."

Faith: Branca called on a family member, Father Pat, who was a Catholic priest and asked him “why me”? Father Pat told him, "Because God knew your faith would be strong enough to bear this cross.”. It was these words that helped Branca get through the ordeal & cope better, accepting the outcome. 

Eventually he took it in stride and made public appearances with Thompson as the two developed a lifelong friendship. They appeared on the Perry Como television shows together where they would sing a parody of the song "Because of you”. By the way Branca has always had an outstanding singing voice.

Sign Stealing Possibility: 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 center field clubhouse.

A buzzer was installed to the bullpen where backup catcher: Sal Yvars would get the signal & toss a ball in the air if it was a fast ball. If it was curve, he'd do nothing. The sign would then be relayed to the batter at home plate in that manner. All this would have to happen in a split second & the batter would also have to react. So there is speculation on whether the system was actually effective.

Overall Branca 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 1952 Branca was limited to only 16 games (seven starts) and went 4-2. That year the Dodgers won the pennant yet again.

1952 World Series: Branca was still injured & did not pitch in the subway World Series loss. Although he did make history, becoming only the second player in MLB history to be ejected from a World Series & the first who was not actually playing in the game. 

It happened in the eighth inning of Game 7 vs. the AL New York club. He was ejected from the dugout, by home plate umpire Larry Goetz for bench jockeying.

Branca & former
battery mate Roy Campanella



Post Brooklyn Career:
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.

Career Stats: Branca finished a 12-season career going 88-68 with 19 saves. He posted 829 strike outs with 663 walks & 149 HRs allowed in 1484 innings pitched. 

He tossed 12 shut outs with 71 complete games in 322 appearances (188 starts) while posting a 3.79 ERA.

At bat he batted .142 with 66 hits 2 HRs 6 doubles & 31 RBIs.

Retirement- Baseball Appearances: Through the years Branca had made many public appearances with Bobby Thompson, at charity events & memorabilia shows. The two were popular guests, reliving baseball's most famous HR as well as baseball's best rivalry.


Branca had also appeared on many television shows thru time 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. 

Mets Pre Game: For a time in the 1960's he also did Mets broadcast post & pregame shows.

Branca with Dodgers Broadcaster Vin Scully
He was offered a job as Dodgers pitching coach but did not want to move to Los Angeles. He worked as a financial executive in & around the New York area for many years.

B.A.T.: Branca was a driving force behind Baseball's Assistance Team (B.A.T.). The organization that helps former players who fall on hard times.

Trivia: He was on site as the wrecking ball destroyed the Polo Grounds in New York in 1964. 

Friend to Jackie Robinson:
Ralph Branca & Jackie Robinson
Branca was a close friend to Jackie Robinson throughout his career. He had always supported Jackie through his hard time breaking the color barrier. Robinson also was one of the first to offer his support to Branca after the Thompson HR.  

Branca was a pallbearer at Robinson's funeral in 1972.  In 1997 when the New York Mets honored the 50th Anniversary of Robinson's MLB debut, Branca was on hand to escort Rachel Robinson, Jackies widow. In 2013 he praised the film "42" saying it hit home & was very accurate

Jackie Robinson Trivia: Branca's brother stated, that once during a pre-game introduction
Ralph was standing next to Robinson. Branca's brother was aware there had been death threats made to Robinson & was afraid for his brother if he attempted to save Jackie if any of the threats were carried out. 

When he asked him about it later, Ralph responded "then I would have died a hero".

The Brooklyn Nets honored former Brooklyn Dodger sports legends; Ralph Branca, Joe Pignatano & Gil Hodges Jr. upon their inaugural game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn New York in 2012.

Two Brooklyn Italian/ American's: Branca former
Dodger teammate & long time Mets coach Joe Pignatano



Family:
Mary Branca Valentine
Ralph Branca & his wife Anne, have a son named John, as well as two daughters, Patricia & Mary. Mary Ellen Branca married former New York Mets player & manager Bobby Valentine from in 1977. The two were married for 42 years until 2021. 


centerfieldmaz: Personally, I had the pleasure to meet Branca a few years back along with Bobby Thompson at a book signing at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, New Jersey. He was a true gentleman, a class act with a great sense of humor. 

When I asked to take a picture with him, he gladly obliged. I gave my camera to an elderly gentleman Branca seemed to know, as he began to take the picture, Branca started teasing him about where he was pointing the camera. "What are you taking a picture of our feet? Come on you can't even see in that thing..." It was all in fun & that why we are laughing in the photo- good memory of a good guy!


Honors: Ralph Branca is a member of the Italian American Hall of Fame.

In his later years, Branca lived in Vero Beach Florida as well as the Westchester Country Club in New York. 

Passing: In his last years, he was residing at a nursing home facility in Rye, New York where he passed on November 23rd, 2016, at the age of 90.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Remembering Bobby Ojeda's Tragic Boating Accident (1993)

Remembering Sal Bando: Former Italian / American All Star (1966 - 1981)

Remembering Vixen Founder / Guitarist; Jan Kuehnemund (1961-2013)

The 1970's Oakland A's Ball Girls- (MLB's First)

The Odd Couple TV Show's Beloved Supporting Cast