Ralph Branca, the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher most famous for giving up the home run which came to be known as “The Shot Heard `Round the World,” has died at the age of 90. Former big league manager Bobby Valentine, who is Branca’s son in law, announced the news on Twitter, saying that Branca died early this morning at a nursing home in Rye, New York.
Though the homer Branca gave up to Bobby Thomson of the Giants in the 1951 NL playoff was always going to lead his obituary, it’s a disservice to the man and his career to let that shot solely define him. Branca pitched in the big leagues for 12 years, as both a starter and a reliever, and he was pretty darn good. The three-time All-Star compiled a record of 88-68 and an ERA of 3.79 and a K/BB ratio of 829/663 in 1,484 innings. He pitched in 322 games, 188 of which came as a starter. He received MVP consideration in 1947 and 1948, winning 21 games and posting an ERA of 2.67 as a swingman in the former year, his best in the bigs.
Also of note: Branca was the last surviving member of the 1947 Dodgers, the team on which Jackie Robinson made his debut, breaking the color barrier. Branca was a pallbearer at Robinson’s funeral.
Unlike a lot of players who are known more for their mistakes than their greatness, Branca was never bitter about that homer he gave up to Thomson in 1951. He and Thomson became friends and they would make joint appearances together, with Branca willingly autographing photos of the homer. Years later, it was revealed that the 1951 Giants had a system rigged up to steal signs and relay them to the batters. For his part, Thomson said he was too busy concentrating on the situation to see the sign relayed to him. Branca always took the high road, refusing to relitigate the matter, saying that even if Thomson knew what was coming, he still had to hit, and that’s not easy.
It’s an overused phrase, especially by sports writers, but Branca was truly a class act. Rest in peace, number 13.
UPDATE: Commissioner Rob Manfred has issued a statement on Branca’s passing:
“I extend my deepest condolences to the family, friends and fellow admirers of Ralph Branca, a three-time All-Star, a friend of Jackie Robinson and a former President and board member of the Baseball Assistance Team. Ralph was a true gentleman who earned universal respect in the game he loved and served so well. Ralph’s participation in the ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ was eclipsed by the grace and sportsmanship he demonstrated following one of the game’s signature moments. He is better remembered for his dedication to the members of the baseball community. He was an inspiration to so many of us.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my best wishes to Ralph’s wife Ann, his daughter Mary, his son-in-law Bobby Valentine and his many friends throughout the National Pastime.”