Ralph Branca’s career deserves to be defined beyond just one pitch. The star-crossed Brooklyn Dodger played 11 big-league season, was a 20-game winner and was a three-time all-star. Sixty-one years after throwing one of the most infamous pitches in baseball history, the 86-year-old reminisced about his career during a visit to Fenway Park.
David Laurila: Most people know you for the home run you gave up to Bobby Thomson, but they may not be aware that you pitched in two World Series.
Ralph Branca: I pitched in the 1947 World Series. I was the starting pitcher in the opening game. Then, in 1949, I pitched the third game. I also started the All-Star Game in 1948.
DL: I believe you got a win in your 1949 appearance.
RB: No, that was in 1947. I got a win in relief, in Game 6.
DL: Sorry for my mistake. That was before my time.
RB: Really? That was before everybody’s time. There are only three people in this ballpark who are that old. Actually, I don‘t think [Johnny] Pesky is here today, so maybe it’s only two.
DL: Were the World Series you played in just as important as the 1951 playoff game?
RB: No. The Bobby Thomson game was more important, because you had to win that to get to the Series. The unfortunate part is that there never should have been a playoff. The Giants were stealing signs and they also stole the pennant. They went 37-7 and no team is good enough in a pennant race to go 37-7. I don’t care if it’s the 1927 Yankees or whomever.
DL: How big was baseball in New York in the 1940s and 1950s?
RB: It was really big. We had three teams and it was the only time a city ever had three teams. There were three different rooting interests and everybody was a real, real fan of their team. Giants fans were big for the Giants, and the same for Yankees and Dodgers fans. Everybody thought their team was the greatest.
DL: What should young fans know about your career?
RB: They probably don’t know how good I was. I won 21 games [in 1947] and the next year I was on my way to winning 20 again. I had 12 wins at the All-Star break. Two of my teammates were playing catch and instead of throwing the ball shoulder high; they were throwing it ankle high to sting one another’s hands, and one let the ball go. It hit me in the shin, and my shin got infected. I had to go to the hospital. I went on the disabled list and only won two more games the last half. That was in 1948. The next year, my arm still wasn’t strong but I learned how to pitch. I was 10-1 on July 1. Then I had to go on the disabled list again and only won three games the second half. That was 1949. In 1951, I was leading the league in ERA, at 2.50, and was something like 11-3 in June, July and August. Then the Giants beat me.