June 18, 2019

In an Instant

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

What if you were known for one thing most of your life? What if that one thing was not favorable? That’s the story Ralph Branca tells in “A Moment in Time” with David Ritz.

Read this book because:

1. Good or bad, baseball is one of life’s few constants. (Well, almost.)

There’s nothing like the field of play to reveal character, Branca writes. Sports can inspire hope or plunge one into despair. So-called “games” can unite or divide when you least expect it and how you least expect it.

Future Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca does not dwell on the horrors of the Depression. What he recalls is sitting in the Polo Grounds stands cheering for the Giants in 1936. That’s right, the boy, who later would be forever remembered as pitching for the Dodgers, grew up a Giants fan.

 

Away from the diamond, Branca yearned to be an engineer. Impossible, his teacher told the Italian American. “You’ll do well to avoid math, science and a foreign language and stick with the basics. Take shop. You people are good with your hands” (12, Moment).

Time for another twist. It was Branca’s sister, one of his 12 siblings, who set him up with a trio of tryouts. He was last in line for a Giants tryout and didn’t even get a chance to show his skills to his boyhood team. The Yankees deemed Ralph too young at age 16, but his last audition with Brooklyn took him a step further. He got his start throwing batting practice to the “Bums.” “One day I was [at the Polo Grounds] as a fan, rooting for the Giants against the Dodgers,” Branca recalls. “Two weeks later I was there as a Dodger, pitching against the Giants. In the overnight transformation from fan to professional, a lifetime of love for the Giants flew out the window (35).”

Nine years later, 1951 brought another high and low. Branca was engaged to the daughter of Dodgers part-owner Dearie Mulvey. Branca was eager to present his own wedding gift, a key role in the Dodgers’ first World Championship. He played a key role, all right. Fans would remember him on the wrong side of that season’s ledger forever.

2. You might think that Branca’s career began and ended on Oct. 3, 1951. Not so.

The righty calls 1947 the best season of his career. He won a career-high 21 games, led the league with 36 starts, had the third-best ERA (2.67) and finished second in strikeouts with 148. He also developed a close friendship with rookie Jackie Robinson. Branca stood behind Robinson during the introductions on April 15, 1947, Opening Day and Robinson’s Major League debut.

Later that year, Branca became the youngest pitcher ever to start game one of the World Series at age 21. Branca lost that outing 5-3, and the Dodgers fell in game seven to the Yankees.

3. It wasn’t just Oct. 3, 1951 that made Bobby Thomson’s home run the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Branca provides context.

On Aug. 11, Brooklyn led the Giants by 13 ½ games. Owner Walter O’Malley wondered aloud about selling World Series tickets. Leave it to the Giants to go on a 16-game win streak. The Dodgers went .500 down the stretch. Both teams had to win on the last day of the season and did. The next day, the two teams started a three-game playoff. They split the first two games.

Branca began the morning of Oct. 3, 1951, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma! “Never been calmer in my life,” he tried to reassure his teammates before the game (147). However, it would not last. Manager Charlie Dressen summoned Branca in the bottom of the ninth to relieve Don Newcome. It started as planned. 0-1 to Bobby Thomson. The next pitch left Branca and his bride-to-be with their heads in their hands.

Sixty years later, Vin Scully recalls looking at Ann Mulvey to make sense of what happened. “I can still see her now,” he says. “With great dignity, she slowly opened her purse, reached in, and took out a white handkerchief. Then she closed the purse and placed it on her lap. She opened the handkerchief and placed it over her face for a very few seconds. Those few seconds said everything (153).”

The pain of that silence has lasted a lifetime. Branca has little choice but to keep on talking about it.

Sam Miller is the founder of Sam’s Dream Blog.  A graduate of the University of Illinois, he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. At the University of Illinois, Miller regularly wrote feature stories about the football team. He has also served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.

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