“Why me?”–Ralph Branca, after giving up Bobby Thomson’s 1951 pennant winning home run, forever known in baseball circles as The Shot Heard Round the World.
Forever known as the poor soul who gave up perhaps the most famous home run in baseball history, Ralph Branca died yesterday at age 90.
What those who didn’t know him do not realize is that he was also one of the nicest, most down-to-earth guys who ever lived. For a guy who married the boss’s daughter–Ann Mulvey, whose parents were part owners of the Dodgers in that era–that’s quite impressive.
How do I know? I know. I had the esteemed pleasure of working with Ralph, and for a brief time, getting to know him back in the 1970’s. He was one of the players, along with Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, and his erstwhile nemesis, Bobby Thomson, to promote Major League Baseball’s 1,000,000th run promotion, which I was also a part of.
Ralph and Ann could not have been nicer to me. I had their home phone number and was encouraged to call them if they could help me in any way. But what really impressed me about Ralph was how he handled the infamy of having given up the famous “shot heard round the world” that cost the Dodgers the 1951 pennant (see below). Most notable was a day I spent with him in the office of Ted Worner Associates, the public relations firm that promoted the millionth run. Before we even began our day’s chore, two people from the office across the hall came over to meet him. One of them recounted how he an his teenage brother had jumped through a glass coffee table and shattered it in reaction to Russ Hodges famous “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” call on the radio. Ralph handled it with grace.
I spent the rest of that afternoon calling sports editors and telling them I had Ralph Branca on the phone to talk to them about the millionth run promotion. But the first five minutes of the conversation always dealt with that fateful day in the fall of 1951. What did he remember it? How did he handle the crushing defeat? How did he live with it?
Ralph’s answer, always the same, was philosophical. It was devastating at the time; but in the long term it became a positive. It gave him a measure of fame he might otherwise never have achieved, and he and Bobby Thomson became friends and made many personal appearances together over the years.
One of my great regrets is that I lost track of Ralph and Ann when Cheryl and I moved to Indiana for her veterinary school years. He shall always be remembered as one of the nicest individuals I have ever known.