1926-2016: Ralph Branca, the pitcher who gave up the 'Shot Heard Round the World'

Ralph Branca was a three-time All-Star but will always be known for just one pitch.
Ralph Branca was a three-time All-Star but will always be known for just one pitch.
Published Nov. 24, 2016

Ralph Branca, the pitcher who had three consecutive All-Star seasons for the Brooklyn Dodgers but who was never allowed to forget one pitch that crushed them, died Wednesday in Rye Brook, N.Y. He was 90.

Mr. Branca's unforgivable offense (at least to Dodger fans) came on Oct. 3, 1951, when, in a final game with the New York Giants to determine the National League championship, he served up Bobby Thomson's electrifying (at least to Giants fans), pennant-winning home run — the "Shot Heard 'Round the World."

"A guy commits murder and he gets pardoned after 20 years," Mr. Branca once said. "I didn't get pardoned."

The Dodgers had been in first place by 13½ games in mid August, but the Giants had come back to tie for first on the season's final weekend.

The line drive into the lower deck at the Polo Grounds prompted the frenetic call, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" from announcer Russ Hodges and set off a wild celebration for the home team as Thomson raced around the bases while Mr. Branca, wearing his unlucky No. 13 jersey, trudged off the mound.

After the loss, Mr. Branca sat on the wooden stairs of the clubhouse, his head bowed.

In the parking lot, his fiance, Ann Mulvey, the daughter of James and Dearie Mulvey, part-owners of the Dodgers, waited for him. She was accompanied by her cousin, the Rev. Pat Rowley, a Jesuit priest. When Mr. Branca emerged, he asked Rowley, "Why me?" The priest told him: "Ralph, God chose you because he knew you'd be strong enough to bear this cross."

For the next 50 years, Mr. Branca and Thomson often appeared together at events, retelling the story of the legendary shot.

But it came to light years later that the Giants employed a telescope-and-buzzer system that season to steal signs from opposing catchers. And for years, the question remained: Did Thomson know the high-and-inside fastball was coming?

Thomson firmly asserted he didn't get a sign in advance. He stuck to that claim until he died in 2010 at 86.

In 2003, the Giants' stealing operation was detailed in a story in the Wall Street Journal.

A little while later, Mr. Branca and Thomson saw each other at an event in Edison, N.J. They talked in private for five minutes, about a secret they had both known about but never shared.

"It's been a cleansing for both of us," Mr. Branca said then. "He knew that I knew. … 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."

Mr. Branca and his 16 brothers and sisters were raised Roman Catholic. But in 2011, an author of a book on Thomson's home run told Mr. Branca that genealogical research had determined that his mother, who arrived from Hungary at age 16, was born Jewish, that her birth name was Kati Berger, and that two of her siblings had died in concentration camps.

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According to traditional Jewish law, Mr. Branca and his siblings were Jewish. "Maybe that's why God's mad at me — that I didn't practice my mother's religion," the author quoted Mr. Branca as saying with a smile.