Ralph Branca: When a Second Look Reveals a Hero

If you have seen much footage of the “Greatest moments in baseball history” or anything of the sort, you have probably watched baseball’s version of  “The shot heard round the world.”  It was October 3, 1951, the Giants and Dodgers were playing one final game that would decide who would represent the National League in the World Series.   New York Giant second baseman Bobby Thomson hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the game and the pennant for the Giants.  They had trailed their hated cross town rivals by 13.5 games in mid August, and began the ninth inning down 4-1.  Their home ballpark, the Polo Grounds, erupted in euphoria with people screaming and hugging fans they had never met.   Giants announcer Russ Hodges shouted “The Giants win the pennant, the giants win the pennant, the giants win the pennant” joyously over and over in what would become one of the most famous calls in the history of sports broadcasting.  The Dodger pitcher named Ralph Branca who gave up the home run walked dejectedly off the mound and into baseball history.

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The Giants celebrate, Ralph Branca walks off the mound, Jackie Robinson looks on
Photo credit: ESPN

Ralph Branca would be forever labeled as a goat who lost his team the pennant.  He would be so vilified by Dodger fans that even decades later, he rarely could go out in public without someone bringing up the home run.

The “fans” rarely thought  about:
* The fact that Branca had pitched 8 innings just two days before.
* That he was a three time all star
* The Giants were using a telescope to relay the catchers signs to their hitters.

*  That he had 16 brothers and sisters son of refugees who fled Hungary in the 1930’s.
*  That he grew up sleeping alongside three of his brothers in an attic.
*  That he had an aunt and uncle killed in concentration camps, as well as their families.

Ralph Branca could never escape that one pitch.  Two years ago today, he died at the age of 90.  The headlines reduced him to that single moment.

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By being to lazy to take a deeper look, they insulted the man, his memory, and robbed too many others on the real story: Ralph Branca was not a goat but a hero.

You know the story of Jackie Robinson.  You know the disgusting racism, threats, and unimaginable meanness he had to survive to become the first African American player in Major League Baseball.  It is one of the most inspiring, and at the same time embarrassing stories in American history.  You also know how important the courage of Jackie Robinson was not only to baseball but our country overall.

What you, and so many others might not know is the story of Ralph Branca’s support and friendship of Jackie Robinson. How without Ralph Branca, you may not have ever learned the story of Jackie Robinson.

When Jackie Robinson entered the Dodgers clubhouse for the first time in the spring of 1947, nearly all the Dodger players turned their back on him.  Ralph Branca stood up, introduced himself, shook Robinson’s hand, and said, “Welcome to the Dodgers.” Many of the Dodger players signed a petition saying they would refuse to play with Robinson.  With only limited success, Branca approached each teammate to try and get them to accept Robinson.  On April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson made his major league debut, Branca made sure and stand right next to him when the teams were announced.  He would sit next to Robinson on the trains and the busses, often playing card games with him.

Jackie Robinson’s wife Rachel said, “Ralph Branca was good to my husband when it wasn’t very fashionable.”

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Ralph Branca and Jackie Robinson, 1947.
Photo Credit: ESPN

That is what the man should have been known for, and how he should be remembered. Wouldn’t you be proud to be his grandchild, knowing that he was one of the very few to do what was right in the actual moment he had the chance to?  Wouldn’t that be a million times more important than one pitch?   His courage, empathy, and character should be not only revered, but taught about.

RALPH BRANCA IS WHO WE SHOULD ALL WANT TO BE, AND GUIDE OTHERS TO BE!!!!

We all have choices as to how we think about others, and how we define them.  Do  we make the choice to focus on their strengths and achievements?  If not, we should all try harder to define others in the best light we can.

We all have choices to make on whether or not we are going to stand up for that person who the rest of the world is treating unfairly and without compassion. It might be a person with disabilities, and LGBTQ member, a refugee, a member of a different religious group, etc.  We might have to endure hatred and resistance ourselves by standing up for the marginalized.   Let us all hope that in those times, we can channel the inner Ralph Branca that resides in all of us.

Branca’s older brother John criticized him for standing next to Jackie Robinson when he was announced: “What if some crazed lunatic showed up to shoot him and he missed and shot you?”

Ralph Branca simply said, “Well, I would have died a hero.”

You did Mr. Branca, you did.  It is just too bad more people didn’t know it.

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