Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Sunday, July 15, 2018

...and then there were twenty





The end of an amazing era is approaching.  According to my count, only twenty players that wore the Brooklyn Dodger uniform in a major league game remain alive.  The youngest of the bunch is Bob Aspromonte at age 80.  Sadly, father time is telling us that within the next 10-12 years, there may not  be any living Brooklyn Dodger players.  I can imagine that as the survivors dwindle down to the last few, there will be some publicity surrounding them, as morbid and unsettling as that seems.

Amongst the remaining of the beloved Brooklyn Bums are Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Tom Lasorda.  Additionally former MVP and Cy Young winner Don Newcombe and notable All Star Carl Erskine are still with us.  In the past couple of years, some beloved stars have passed.  They include Don Zimmer, Ralph Branca and Ed Roebuck. 

The remaining players (and their corresponding dates of birth) are:


Eddie Basinski 11/4/1922 
At age 95, Eddie Basinski is the oldest living former Brooklyn Dodger.  A shortstop and second baseman. Basinski payed the 1944 and 1945 season with the Dodgers as a 21 and 22 year old.  He was traded to Pittsburgh in 1946 and only played one more major league season, the 1947 season with the Pirates.  A player that wouldn't give up the dream, Basinski continued to play in the minor leagues until age 36 in 1959.  He played the last eleven years  of his career in the Pacific Coast League, primarily with the Portland Beavers, where his settled and worked in the trucking business until retirement.  The PCL was a very competitive league in the 50s and many players made a living in that minor league outpost.  Basinski was one of them.

Tim Thompson 3/1/1924 
Tim Thompson was signed by the Dodgers in 1947, but he didn't see action with the big club until 1954, and it was a 10 day stint at the beginning of the season.  He was used in mainly pinch hitting appearances.  There wasn't a lot of room on the roster for catchers during the Campanella years.  Thompson was dealt to the Kansas City A's in 1955 where he saw more major league action for an additional two years. Tim was a scout for the Dodgers, Cardinals and Orioles.  He coached the Cardinals in the 1981 season under manager Whitey Herzog.

Wayne Terwilliger 6/27/1925 
A veteran of 11 major league seasons, Wayne Terwilliger spent only the second half of the 1951 season as a Brooklyn Dodger after being acquired in a multi-player trade with the Cubs.   Wayne saw action in only 25 games as a Dodger, and started only 8 of them.  He went on to have a legnthy career, mainly as a utility infielder with the Washington Senators, New York Giants and Kansas City Athletics. 

Chris Haughey 10/3/1925 
Pitcher Chris Haughey may be the "Moonlight Graham" of the Dodgers.  On the final game of the 1943 season, Manager Leo Durocher handed the ball on this 18th birthday to Chris Haughey in Cincinnati against Johnny Vandermeer and the Reds.  The kid held his own, taking the loss while giving up 3 earned runs over 7 innings in a 6-1 Dodger loss.  As expected, this teenager in the bigs had his jitters.  Haughey walked ten in his seven innings of work.  Interestingly, Al Campanis was his second baseman and Gil Hodges played third.  Haughey went off to war and didn't return to organized ball until 1946.  He never returned to the majors, playing in four minor league seasons before leaving the game after the 1950 season.
Randy Jackson and Jackie Robinson, 2 former college football stars are with the Dodgers in 1956 (AP Wire Photo)
Randy Jackson 2/10/1926 
Randy Jackson was acquired by the Dodgers from the Chicago Cubs organization in 1956.  This third baseman played the final two seasons in Brooklyn and the inaugural L.A. Dodger season in 1958 before finisihing his career with the Cleveland Indians.  A 2-time All Star with the Cubs, Jackson was acquired via trade with the idea that he would take over third base for an aging Jackie Robinson.  Jackson injured his knee in 1957 and never played more than 64 games in a season the rest of his career.  He hit the final Brooklyn Dodger home run on September 28, 1957, an 8-4 win over the Phillies.  Jackson was a college football star, starting as half back for TCU and then the University of Texas in consecutive Cotton Bowl appearances (1945 and 46).  A teammate of NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Bobby Lane.
2010 photo, Barack Obama and Don Newcombe
Don Newcombe 6/14/1926 
Don Newcombe was on his way to a Hall of Fame career before alcoholism derailed it.  A great Dodger from 1949 to 1958 (with two years away from the game due to Military Service), Don won the Cy Young Award and MVP in 1956.  A career .271 hitter, when Newcombe finished his playing days in Japan, it was as a position player in the outfield and first base, not on the mound.  A key contributor in the Dodger front office in Los Angeles, Newcombe is beloved by the organization and has been instrumental in assisting the organization as the team's Director of Community Affairs and later Special Advisor to the Chairman on the Team.  The respect he has gained has reached even Presidential levels. In 2010, President Obama told a national audience that because of pioneers like Don and Jackie Robinson, he was able to accomplish the feats he had reached in life. 

Bobby Morgan, 1953 (AP Photo)
Bobby Morgan 6/29/1926 
Bobby Morgan was a utility infielder for the Dodgers in 1950, 1952 and 1953.  Groomed in the Dodger system, he didn't ever really get the opportunity to play full time with them due to the log jam in the infield with Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Billy Cox/Junior Gilliam and Gil Hodges.  Traded to the Phillies before the '54 season, Bobby got his chance and became their full-time shortstop while hitting .262.  Morgan said the following about his Dodger debut: "We were playing in Philadelphia and I was the starting third baseman.  I kind of stood on third base during the national anthem and looked around and said 'Good Lord, look at this.  What a dream come true.'" A witness to world history, Morgan as a young soldier was stationed in Nuremberg, Germany where as a G.I. he was tasked with overseeing the Nuremberg war trials.

Carl and Jimmy Erskine with Tom Lasorda (Source: Dodger Insider, linked HERE)
Carl Erskine 12/13/1926 
A beloved Brooklyn Dodger through and through.  "Oisk" pitched for Brooklyn from 1948 until their departure in '57.  His feats included two no-hitters, a 20 win season and a World Series performance for the ages in '53 where he struck out 14 Yankees in a game three 3-2 victory.  It was a World Series record at the time.  An Anderson, Indiana naive,. Carl has lived a productive life in the insurance industry in his local community.  The author of two books on his Brooklyn days, Carl forged a deep connection the the Brooklyn community.  He also founded the "Jimmy Foundation," after his son Jimmy Erskine, helping Down's Syndrome children and adults.  As a philanthropist, a book could be written about Carl's amazing life.  From school donations, the Jimmy Foundation,  to the Baseball Assistance League Board of Directors.  In 1953, Erskine started the first Dodger game ever played at Holman Stadium in Vero Beach.  He also closed out the Dodgers final appearance there in 2008 by playing the National Anthem on his harmonica.

Tommy Lasorda 9/22/1927 
Tom Lasorda meandered through the Dodger minor league systems for most of his career, starring for the Montreal Royals in 1953-55.  He had two call-ups, one in 1954 and another in 1955 with Brooklyn.  In the only game Lasorda ever started as a Dodger, he walked 3, gave up a hit and had 3 wild pitches, ( a major league record).  He left the game after gutting out the first inning.  He suffering a gash on his leg as he was spiked covering the plate following the final wild pitch that he uncorked and he had to leave the game to get stitched up. Lasorda pitched with grit, soft tossing 80 MPH stuff and a curveball, but he couldn't get past the AAA level.  The Dodgers sold him to Kansas City in 1956  where he appeared in 18 major league games without much success.  Eventually Lasorda returned to the Dodger organization in 1957, where he remains to this day.  

Tommy Brown at 17 years old was the youngest Dodger to appear in a major league game
Tommy Brown 12/6/1927
Tommy Brown served as a vital utility player for the Dodgers from 1944 to 1951 when he was traded to the Phillies.  He holds a major league record that will probably never be broken as the youngest player to homer in the majors as a 17 year old in 1945 during years when the majors were depleted of a lot of talent due to World War II.  Brown was a home grown player born in the borough of Brooklyn.

Joe Landrum 12/13/1928 
Joe Landrum pitched in 16 games for the Brooklynites in 1950 and 1952 between stints in the minors.  Joe's son Bill also pitched in the major leagues from 86 to 93 primarilly with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.


Joe Pignatano 8/4/1929 
Joe Pignatano is the only remaining Brooklynite of the group, that continues to live there to this day.  A backup catcher that was with the Dodgers from '57 to '61, Joe finished his career with the lackluster Mets in '64.  He was a close friend of Gil Hodges who hired him as bullpen coach with the Washington Senators and eventually the Mets, where in 1969 he earned a World Series ring.  Pignatano caught the last four innings at Ebbets Field in 1957 when he entered the game for Roy Campanella.  Joe is the cousin of former Dodger/Red and Met John Franco.


Roger Craig 2/17/1930 
As much as Roger Craig is remembered by many as the arch enemy Giants manager of the mid to late 1980s, he was a great Dodger.  A World Champ with the '55 Dodgers in his rookie year.  He was a key component to that championship club.  By 1959 he was arguably the staff ace, again winning a World Series ring in Los Angeles' 2nd year at the coliseum.  Craig was picked up by the '62 Mets in the expansion draft and was repeatedely a hard luck loser of 24 games with the worst team in baseball history.  In '63 he lost 22 games, despite having an ERA of 3.78. Truth is, you have to be quite a talented pitcher to lose twenty games.  Craig was that.

Ron Negray 2/26/1930 
Ron Negray pitched in four games for the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers.  Another player buried in the Dodger farm system, he got his chance in the majors after the Dodgers traded him to the Phillies in 1955.  Negray returned to the organization in the Dodger's inaugural season in L.A. in 1958.  Negray carries the distinction of being the first Los Angeles Dodger to start an exhibition game, on March 8, 1958, vs. the Phillies in Miami, Florida.  In a 2016 interview Ron spoke of his reverence for Jackie robinson.  When Negray was overlooked when pennant winning watches were awarded to players on the 1952 roster.  Three years later, Negray was a Phillie and Jackie approached him and gave him his.

Glenn Mickens 7/26/1930 
Glen Mickens had four pitching appearances in July 1953 before being scuttled back to the minors, never to return again to a major league mound.  Stuck in a stacked Dodger minor league system, Mickens played the final 5 years of his career in Japan with the Kintetsu Buffaloes from 1959 to 1963 with much success.


Fred Kipp 10/1/1931 
As a Brooklyn Dodger, Fred Kipp only pitched in one game vs. the Cubs at Wrigley Field.  He never took the mound in Ebbets Field.  As a L.A. Dodger in 1958 he saw action in 40 games before his career fizzled to an end with scarce Major league appearances in 1959 and 60.  Kipp is the last living person to play for Brooklyn and the NY Yankees.  He wrote a book on his experiences titled "The Last Yankee Dodger," and is doing the book tour circuit as well.

Jim Gentile 6/3/1934 
Six time All Star Jim Gentile played only 4 games in Brooklyn and a 12 games in the L.A. inaugural season before being traded off to the Orioles in 1959.  He excelled as a fine first baseman in Baltimore where in 1961 he hit 46 homers and drove in  a whopping 141 runs.

Don Demeter 6/25/1935 
Don Demeter played just three games as a Brooklyn Dodger in 1956 before having a stellar 10 year career from 1958 to 1967, earning a World Series ring with the '59 Dodgers as a frequent outfield fixture.  His 18 homers in '59 played a key role in the Dodgers World Series Championship run.  After his career ended, Don entered the Ministry where he is currently a Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, OK.  
Rookie Sandy Koufax in 1955 (photo by George Brace)
Sandy Koufax 12/30/1935 
A bonus baby signing out of the University of Cincinnati where he was primarily a basketball player.  This Brooklyn native and fireballing lefty was signed after a December, 1954 tryout to a $20,000 contract that required him to remain with the big club for two full years.  This hindered the young man's career, as he obviously could have used some minor league seasoning.  Koufax pitched for Brooklyn from 1955 to 57, showing glimpses of his future greatness, this included two consecutive shutouts in his rookie year, (the first with 14 strikeouts) as a 19 year old.  Now known as the greatest pitcher in Dodger history, Sandy has the distinction of winning a World Series ring in Brooklyn though he never sniffed the mound on either Brooklyn team he was a part of that played in the fall classic.  Of the remaining Brooklyn Dodgers still alive, Sandy is the lone Hall of Fame player remaining, (with Lasorda earning the honor as the L.A. Dodger manager).

Bob Aspromonte 6/19/1938

With a long and distinguished major league career, Bob Aspromonte had 4,799 plate appearances over 13 major league seasons.  Only one was as a Brooklyn Dodger, and it was in the 8th inning of a 17-2 Dodger blow out over the St; Louis Cardinals on September 19, 1956.  Bob struck out.  Aspromonte eventually made it to the majors by 1960, and in '61 he was left unprotected in the expansion draft, selected by the Houston Colt 45s.  Bob led off for Houston in their 1962 debut, being the first batter in their franchise history.  He spent the remaining years in the majors with Houston, Atlanta and eventually closed out his career in 1971 was a New York Met.  He is the last Brooklyn Dodger to play in the majors, having faced Hall of Famer Steve Carlton in his final game, on September 28, 1971 at Shea Stadium.  

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Trade Deadline Run...That Time of Year

Here come the asinine trade deadline proposals.  Some enjoy this time of year.  I, on the other hand, cringe as I follow twitter feeds in the final hours of the trade deadline season.  It is a time to fear the type of acquisitions that often are regretted for years to come.

So we approach the final weeks before the trade deadline.  That annual event when cellar dwellers attempt to strip the Dodger farm system cupboard bare.  As always, it's a sellers market and often times, teams tempted to go for the brass ring at all costs show a willingness to peddle off two or three times the talent they would get in a typical off-season deal.  

The latest lackluster franchise trying to rip off the Dodgers this go-around is the Baltimore Orioles.  With shortstop Manny Machado out there for the taking.  Teams know he is is a two month rental before he enters the free agent ranks with Dan Lozano as his representative.

We can argue until the wee hours about Machado’s value to the Dodgers, but short of bringing them a World Series championship, it may be unwise for L.A. to give up Alex Verdugo, Yadier Alvarez and more for this guy.   A name like Rancho Cucamonga starter Dustin May comes to mind.  Manny Machado's offensive prowess is unsurpassed, but do the Dodgers really need to trade away the farm for a guy that won’t be a Dodger after 2018?  Or do they risk allowing him to sign with Arizona and possibly losing their 5 year reign on the Division Title?
Alex Verdugo, possible trade bait at the deadline (photo by Jon SooHoo/L.A. Dodgers)

If you recall last season, the Dodgers were apparently a player in the J.D. Martinez sweepstakes before the Diamondbacks landed him.  He then absolutely raked in the N.L. West.  As good as that move was, it still didn’t get Arizona the Division, nor a deep entrance into post season.  This is the conundrum that the Dodger brass must face.  They can pay big for a chance at the brass ring or ride the ponies that are already in place.
Yadier Alvarez has been rehabbing at Camelback Ranch this year.  This fireballer is rumored to be dealt at the deadline (photo by Jason Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

It can be argued that the Dodgers already have enough to win it all.  Muncy has shown he’s the real thing.   Kemp is comeback player of the year.  Pederson and Enrique Hernandez are proving to be extremely valuable pieces.  Bellinger, Turner, Puig, Taylor, Barnes and (dare I say it?) Forsythe have yet to hit their stride.  Some are severely underperforming and all are most likely to improve in the second half.  Those in-house improvements in individual performance might be enough to get them over the top.  The key word there being “might.”

There is little doubt that an addition of a premium bat in that lineup will really help, and infuse enthusiasm in the entire ball club.  This could be the type of impetus that puts them over the top.  This Dodger team is made up of professionals, veterans that have now experienced that taste of an N.L. championship, and they were within an eyelash of winning the whole thing.  They shouldn’t require that emotional lift, but they’re human too.  We’ve all seen what an offensive addition at the deadline can do.  Remember 2008 and Manny Ramirez?

With the starting pitching beginning to come around, and some bullpen guys such as Alexander and Hudson hitting their stride, the starting pitching arms look to be lined up for the stretch run. Perhaps the injuries were a blessing in disguise as hurlers like Kershaw, Hill, Maeda and Beuhler should not be fatigued with heavy inning loads by September.  

We all saw that some of the pitching was on fumes in the 2017 post season.  Aside from the aforementioned starters, L.A. is looking at the possible return of Ryu and Urias as well. Emergent and surprising ace Ross Stripling will likely be fatigued, but hopefully others picking up the slack will allow him to not be pressed into as many high stress innings as he has this first half.  He is a pitcher that has matures and come into his own in 2018.

Zaidi and Friedman have utilized the ten day DL to grant relievers some rest.  Guys like Fields, Cingrani, Alexander, Liberatore, Goeddel and Paredes have had their share of rest and bounces back to the minor leagues.  Another key bullpen acquisition may be in the cards, but it may have already occurred with the acquisition of Dylan Floro from Cincinnati.

The coming weeks will also play a part in the Dodgers midseason trade activity.  If the ball club continues to excel as it has for the past six weeks, the urgency for change may not be as apparent.  Undoubtedly this all plays a role in the psyche of the front office as the deadline looms but this Dodger club continues to be on the cusp of another pennant and potential World Series Championship.  There are those that argue that the Dodgers would have the World Series ring had they not made the deadline deal for Yu Darvish.  It is interesting argument, that's for sure.






Sunday, July 1, 2018

Love Him or Hate Him, Puig is Unique

"Until we walk a mile in another man's shoes, we don't really have any clue to say anything about him."    Terry Mark
Yasiel Puig celebrates after scoring in the 8th inning of today's 6-4 win over Colorado.  (source: photocapture from SportsnetLA)
Back in 2012 when I initially wrote about a young Dodger signee out of Cuba named Yasiel Puig, I knew they had found a great talent.  While most of the baseball world coveted a power hitting outfielder eventually signed by the Cubs named Jorge Soler.  Puig flew under the radar of many scouts for a number of reasons.  Primarily because of his inactivity from baseball due to his banishment from the Cuban League caused by attempted defections.  His signing to a 40 million dollar contract in 2012 was scoffed at by most of baseball's establishment.

"We think he's actually better than Soler," said then Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti at an appearance before Dodger bloggers in July of 2012.  "Our guys see a lot of potential in the young man," he added, "he just needs some minor league seasoning."   (July 14, 2012 piece LINKED HERE)

Looking at grainy footage from Cuba of an unpolished outfielder with a rocket arm showed signs of promise.  My visit to Camelback Ranch in 2013 chronicled the young man's potential.  Though maybe my initial assessment was too optimistic, facts are his talent was seen immediately. (2013 Spring Training article)

Vin Scully saw it early as well, dubbing him the "wild horse"  in his first week of play.  He was essentially a wild mustang full of potential that needed to be tamed and shown the ropes.  Looking back at Puig's start, it is really unfair that the Dodgers moved him almost immediately to the highest level of play.  Yasiel Puig became a major leaguer with 14 games experience at High A in 2012 and 40 games at the Double A level at the start of the 2013 season.  His immediate impact on the league was of historic measures, drawing comparisons to hall of famers such as Roberto Clemente.  Inevitably the league scouted him with intensity and then started exploiting his weaknesses.

Love him or hate him, Puig is unique.  And the hatred is out there.  Detractors have criticized him from the beginning.  Some will never come around and accept his talent.  Some will always look at his antics as showboating instead of attempting to understand where he comes from.

Who gets the rounds of boos in opposing ball parks the most?  Who rankles the emotions of opposing rivals and pitchers such as Madison Bumgarner and former Giant 3rd base coach Tim Flannery?  Who is the Dodger player that has been the center of mini brawls and verbal jawing over the years?  Who raised the ire of teammates and even both Don Mattingly and Dave Roberts?

Yes, it is Puig.

Call him immature if you will, but the truth is, Yasiel is misunderstood.  And as the quote about walking in a man's shoes states, none of us and I repeat NONE OF US can even come close to experiencing the horrors that Yasiel Puig faced in his trek to the United States.  Few big leaguers were fast tracked as quickly as Puig was to the Major Leagues.  Add that he had to learn a new culture, and language.  He went from having virtually nothing in earthly possessions, having his life threatened, held hostage by smugglers, being kidnapped, threatened.  Experiencing the dregs of human traffickers to being a multi-millionaire over night with very little seasoning and instruction.  None of us can even come close to understanding Yasiel Puig's thought process.  Perhaps one day we'll know his whole story.   It would be fascinating.

There is one thing that we can understand.  The man plays with passion.  He cares about his performance.  He wants to win.  He has a love for the game.  Some may view his antics in a negative light, but perhaps they are the ones that should learn something about the man's background.  If you haven't walked in his shoes, how could you possibly understand?

An exuberant Puig, July 1, 2018 (photo capture form SportsnetLA)

So though today's antics after stealing a run on the base paths with the celebratory flailing of his arms will probably have repercussions when he plays the Rockies in the future.  The truth is, Puig doesn't care.  He is is exciting, excitable and an amazing talent.  As his baseball IQ rises, so will his impact on the game.

Yes, he's a wild horse and he always will be, but he's "our" wild horse, and for that reason, he's either loved or hated.  I'll choose the former.


Monday, June 25, 2018

Putting the June Homers in Perspective



Through 21 games in the month of June, the Dodgers are on pace to possibly make history by hitting the most home runs by a team in a month.  They need 55 dingers tie the N.L. record and after tonights 2-1 win over the Cubs thanks to the Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor solo shots, they are at 48.  That means the club needs seven homers to tie and eight to break the record in their final six games.  Piece of cake right?  After all, they hit seven alone on Sunday at New York.

Enrique Hernandez following his third home run against Chicago in the 2017 NLCS Game 5 (Getty Images)

Last year’s pennant winning team had a club record of 221 homers.  As good as the Dodgers are looking now, they find themselves behind last year’s home run pace.  At their current 2018 rate, they will finish the season with 217 homers.  That’s not too bad when you consider the Dodgers entered the month of June with a mere 56 home runs.  So in a 21 game period in June the Dodgers have hit 46% of their homers.  

221 homers in a season may seem to be off the charts, but it is hardly close to the all time season record for a team.   The '97 Mariners had 264 homers.  Last years total lands the Dodgers in 22nd place all-time.  It should be noted though that 16 of those teams that hit more than 221 home runs in a year were steroid era teams (1996-2007), so it is safe to say that most of those power laden ball cluns produced tainted stats.

Now to take these numbers into the Ross Porter realm of statistical analysis, consider this:  No Dodger team in Brooklyn or Los Angeles is even close to 221 home runs in a seasonhese.  Not the Snider/Campanella/Hodges Brooklyn teams in the 50‘s that led the NL in homers for seven consecutive seasons, nor the 1977 club that featured 4 players with 30 homers or more (Garvey, Cey, Reggie Smith and Baker).  Neither did the Shawn Green/Beltre/Sheffield teams in the early 2000s, and not the ’74 pennant winning club with the Toy Cannon in CF and an emerging young MVP named Steve Garvey.  The 2017 and 2018 Dodgers teams are the cream of the crop when it comes to round trippers.

It is highly likely that eight players on this year’s club will finish with twenty homers or more and if Justin Turner gets hot in the second half, there may be nine.  That’s quite the feat and something that not even the 1997 Seattle Mariners with their team record setting 264 homers could achieve.  (Seattle had six players with over 20 homers, but Griffey had 56 and Jay Buhner added 40).

Oh, one more thing of the importance regarding the June home runs.  The Dodgers are winning, and of course in games which they homer they are 15-3.  In the three homerless games in the month, they have a winless 0-3 record.  It is safe to say the 2018 Dodgers may end up have the greatest power numbers in franchise history.  Even with the inevitable power drop-off that will occur, a mediocre home run pace will put them right near where they finished last season.

June Home Run Stats:
Pederson - 9
Muncy - 8
Kemp - 7
Bellinger - 7
Hernandez - 5
Puig - 4
Grandal - 3
Turner - 2
Taylor - 2
Forsythe - 1

Home Runs of the road - 30
Home Runs at home - 18
Grand Slams -2
3 run homers - 2
2-run homers - 12
Solo homers - 32
% of runs scored attributed to home runs: 53%

Games remaining in June (all at home): 3 vs. Chicago, 2 vs. Colorado
Home runs needed to break the National League record for most homers in a month: 8
Home runs needed to break the Major League record for most homers in a month: 11

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Return To Action, the OKP Blog is BACK!

After what amounts to almost a four year hiatus, the Opinion of Kingman’s Performance blog is resurfacing. My overseas assignments and vocational time constraints forced me to cease writing with any form of consistency.  Periodically I’d provide a guest post at Ron Cervenka's Think BlueLA blog, but for the most part I have been inactive with regards to Dodger opinions and posts.  Now that I’m back stateside and have formed a more consistent routine, I’d like to start this up again.   I definitely cannot post at the daily consistency that I once did, but once or twice a week shouldn't be out of the ordinary.  All I ask for is a little bit of patience.  Getting back into the swing of things, self-editing, remembering how to link photos and articles and upgrading the site may take some time. 


With that said, I must say that with the 2018 season a mere 5 games away from its midpoint, the Dodgers are in good shape.  Once again in the midst of a winning run (with 25 victories in their last 34 games), it’s only a matter of time before they find themselves in the division lead.  This is a team snakebit by decimating injuries.  Yet they are so loaded on the 40 man roster, that they are able to overcome decimation.  It is hard to imagine that this team could overcome the loss of both Corey Seager and Clayton Kershaw, but they have as they find themselves rolling and only 2.5 games back.

The second half will see the return of Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu and ultimately Julio Urias.  Combine them with Rich Hill, Alex Wood, surprising ace Ross Stripling and Kershaw, all Dodger faithful should be feeling real good about their chances in the stretch run.  That’s a lot of pitching and plenty of arms to keep the club strong in the stretch run. 

The power surge of the offense has been nothing beat short of amazing.  This is a ball club that will have eight players with over 20 homers.  46 home runs in the month of June, and a league leading 102 homers for the season.  There is Comeback Player of the Year Matt Kemp who may win a batting title and MVP.  Five guys will have OPS over .850.  And we haven’t even seen Justin Turner get started, meaning he’ll probably be heating up right around  the right time in September.

As bad as things looked when the club found themselves ten games under .500 at 16-26 on May 16th, the resurgence with this club will likely put them at over 95 wins by season’s end.  This has been a remarkable turnaround and the front office needs to be recognized for finding that annual surprise impact player that makes a big difference.  2018’s version is Max Muncy.

(USA Today Sports, photo by Brad Mills)

Muncy has been a journeyman AAAA player that never was expected to be more than a possible September call up to give guys some needed once the division was clinched.  Now he’s a vital offensive force who has pretty much replaced the impact bat of Corey Seager.

Weaknesses? There are some.  Everything isn’t positive.  The bullpen has some holes.  The offense still lacks when hitting with runners on base.  Dave Roberts has a tendency to rely too much on the pen, something that could come back to haunt him when the stretch drive hits and too many arms are tired.  But there may be relief coming at the trade deadline.  With all things considered, the positive far outweighs the negative.  This Dodger club is in a good position to repeat as NL Pennant winners. You can’t ask for much more than that.



Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Better Man Than Most...Remembering Ralph Branca


In March, 2013 I posted the following piece on Ralph Branca.  Sadly he passed away yesterday.  I'll repost the article.  Re-reading it I see some typos and a few flaws, but for the most part, I think it's a fair representation on this amazing man's life.  May God keep him and bless his family in tis difficult time....

******************************************************************************************** Posted originally on March 7, 2013


Last week I ordered the book, A Moment in Time, the Ralph Branca Autobiography and I received it yesterday.  I have literally been unable to put it down.  It's an amazing story told by a Dodger that was about as good a man as we would ever know.  I met Ralph Branca very briefly in 1998 when I had a day in FLorida and I drove over to vero Beach right when the Dodger Adult Baseball Camp was going on.  I sat in the Holman Stadium stands and watched Ralph Branca interact with the campers.  I struck up a conversation with him when I retrieved a few foul balls and brought them back to him at the dugout.  He was outgoing, friendly and kind.  

I knew he had been through quite an ordeal, but I had no idea at the time that he knew that he had been cheated out of the pennant and that he had chosen to not expose the cheating Giants.    He kept the secret for almost 50 years.  This story needs to be re-told.  It isn't possible to do it in one post.  I apologize for breaking away from Spring Training news, but there are enough blogs out there that provide the daily dose of Camelback Ranch news.  I take a respite from that for a few days and write about Ralph and his life.  (Please note that  any quotes referenced in this piece come from Branca's book, published by Simon and Schuster, 2011 autobiography, A Moment in Time, by Ralph Branca and David Ritz)


-----------------------

Imagine if you will that you were the victim of a colossal fraud.  It was something that happened to you in a public setting.  So public a setting that millions upon millions saw it.  To make matters worse, the world blamed you for what was perceived to be your mistake.  Your failure.  You are seen as a person that choked under pressure.  You are the poster boy for “goats.”  No matter how many successes you have in life, (and there are many), you are solely remembered for what everyone thinks was your screw up.

You shoulder the burden of your failure, because you were unaware of the fraud that was perpetrated against you.  Years pass and the stigma of your failure hangs with you.  Your name is recognized by many, but not for your successes, but that one incident that everyone saw.  You come to realize that you will forever be remembered as a negative footnote in history and that when your obituary is written, that lowlight in your life will be the primary focus of nearly everyone.

And here’s the kicker.  You find out a few years later about the fraud.  You know that they cheated to wrong you.  You realize that the exposure of the hidden scandal will exonerate you and clear your name.  But you choose to remain silent.  You choose to bare the brunt of criticism for years because your pride and integrity will not speak out and make excuses.

That is the story of a real man,  One who swallowed his pride and took criticism as the biggest goat in baseball history because he knew the truth and that was all he needed to live with himself.  He knew what the real truth was.

Ralph Branca, now entering his 88th year on this earth decided to finally open up and let the world know what's on his mind.  In a 2011 autobiography, A Moment in Time, he tells his story.  As the hurler that served up Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” in the 1951 pennant clinching playoff, Branca who was for over fifty years labeled as the despondent loser in that historic playoff loss is now finally able to give the world his perspective, not only of that historic game at Coogan’s Bluff, but of his entire life.

He has a self-professed photographic memory, which explains why he was the all time winner on the NBC game show, Concentration (with 17 consecutive wins).  That memory proves valuable as he recounts his long and interesting life.

Branca is a good man.  A religious person that hasn’t missed mass in years.  One of 17 children raised in a good family in Mt. Vernon, New York.  An honest person that learned to give an honest effort and not be judgmental of his fellow man at an early age in life.  The son of a first generation Italian immigrant father and a Hungarian mother.  Branca’s home was open to friends of all religions, races and ethnic backgrounds.   “I cannot remember an incident of racial prejudice,” he says today.  “I was taught to love my neighbors, and because I knew no better, I did just that.”

With older brothers that taught him the ins and outs of football, basketball and baseball.  Branca was a fine athlete and he was the largest Branca boy in stature, eventually sprouting to 6’3” and well over 200 lbs.  He naturally developed into a power armed right handed pitcher with a blazing fastball.  After his sister reached out to the three New York teams regarding tryouts, the lone team that called him back was the Brooklyn Dodgers.

As a 17 year old in 1944, Branca had his eyes set on joining the Army in tail end of World War II, but an asthmatic condition and punctured ear drum made him ineligible for any of the branches of service.  Instead came a letter to him from Branch Rickey requesting that he report to the Dodgers Montague Street offices in Brooklyn, and that he bring an adult gaurdian along with him to grant him permission to sign a contract.  Rickey cut to the chase and offered Ralph a $90/month contract to play with the Dodgers D league team in upstate Olean, New York.  Branca eagerly accepted the deal with his mother’s consent.

Ralph’s 1944 season as a 17 year old was nothing real impressive.  He had a 5-5 record with a 4.63 ERA, but that off season he physically grew.  Ralph arrived at Spring Training having added four inches in height and he estimates that his fastball velocity increased five or six MPH in speed, probably to the mid 90's.  The major leagues were depleted of many stars due to the war effort.  In 1945 he was up with the big club as an18 year old.  He bounced between Triple A Montreal and Brooklyn but he was around enough to start 15 games for the Dodgers going 5-6 with a 3.04 ERA over 109 innings.

Still a teenager.  Branca took a bus and two different subways to travel to Ebbets Field for games.  He continued to do so up until he was married following the 1951 season a full six years later.  With his increasing salary as the years passed, he bought his parents a larger home in Mt. Vernon and he continued residing there with them.  

Branca was a kid.  He was only a few months removed from being a fan.  He soaked in the special experience and enjoyed it from the word go.  He talked of how he’d jump on the subway on the way back home and kids would engage him in conversation on public transit almost all the way back to his home.  “They’d walk me to the subway and several would actually ride the train with me through Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.  They were young teenagers, 12, maybe 13 years old-and of course I was still a teenager myself.  They’d ask questions about the game.  How do you pitch to Stan Musial as opposed to Mel Ott?   How do you throw a slider. What’s it like to be on the same team as Dixie Walker?  I loved talking to those kids, I enjoyed their company.  It was only a few years before that I was their age, dreaming the same dreams dancing through their heads.  This was a time when players were approachable and actually moved and worked  among the fans.”   It's hard to imagine a similar circumstance with players today.

He tells the story of Hilda Chester and her loud demeanor at games.  Branca claimed that he learned from veterans to ignore comments from fans, as it was taboo to acknowledge that they were heard and that they could effect the players in any way.  But Hilda was insistent with him one day.  “Ralph Branca, look at me when I’m talking to you!” She screamed at him incessantly.  He eventually relented and she gave him a note and instructed him to give it to his manager Leo Durocher.  “I walked over to the dugout and handed the note to Leo,” he said.  “He read it and made a pitching change.  The reliever bombed and we lost the game.  Back in the clubhouse I heard Leo say, ‘From now on, any time I get a note from Rickey, I’m gonna tear it up.‘  ‘It didn’t come from Rickey,’  said Branca, ‘It came from Hilda.’  “Why didn’t you tell me?” he barked. ‘You didn’t ask.’”

As young as Branca was, he was immediately recognized for his leadership qualities.  You’d think that Pee Wee Reese would be the man that took the lead with regard to the Dodger players, but when he returned from the war, he approached the young Branca who was 20-21 years old and asked him to be the “team rep” they called it.  It wasn’t a position that carried a lot of weight in the pre-union days, but Branca took up causes on behalf of the players such as getting the Cubs to add a restroom adjascent to their dugout and representing the players in minor grievance issues.


This leadership role would follow Ralph throughout his career and later in life as he helped organized the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) to aide retired players that were experiencing financial problems and were in need of medical/psychological assistance.  

What few seem to remember was the influence Branca had in assisting the acceptance of Jackie Robinson as he entered on to the scene.  Not only did he serve a leadership role and as an example in that aspect with the Dodgers in 1947, but it would coincide with his greatest season in the majors.




Jackie Robinson, Ralph Branca and Pee Wee Reese (photo from Walter O'Malley.com archives)

When Jackie Robinson emerged on the scene in 1947, it was Ralph Branca that argued with a handful of players who had ingrained racist sentiments that opposed his roster addition.  Yes, Leo Durocher challenged the whole team that dared submit a petition against the move and there was Pee Wee Reese who put his arm around his teammate before a crowd of racist hecklers in Cincinnati.  Each scenario played a pivotal role in Jackie's acceptance with the team, but when death threats flowed into the Dodgers mail room claiming Jackie would be shot on the field on his first day in uniform, only one player made it a point to be by Jackie's side when the players lined up and were introduced on opening day.  That was Ralph Branca.

A few days earlier, when it was announced that Jackie was on the opening day roster, Branca made it a point to be the first player to shake his hand.   Ralph felt he had to take a stand for the right and he took his team rep position seriously attempting to smooth over relationships from some of the players on the team with roots from the south.  Branca freely admits that it was Robinson’s play and integrity that cut down the barriers and gained him acceptance.  

All the while that Robinson was on his way to winning the first ever Rookie of the Year award in '47, Branca was having his best season ever.  He started the All Star game and he finished 21-12 with a 2.67 ERA, (third best in the league).  At age 21, he was the youngest pitcher to ever start Game 1 of the World Series.  It was a disappointing World Series for Ralph, as the Dodgers lost 4 games to 3, and he faltered in game one.  Burt Shotten failed to start him again after the game one loss.

It’s a decision that irritates him to this day.  He was the ace of the Dodger staff, a 21 game winner, and after one bad outing against the Yanks, even though he was well rested, the decision was made to not start him again in the series.  Ralph is convinced that the Dodger first World Series championship would have been in 1947 had he started another game in that series.

Seasons of 14-9 and 13-5 followed Branca’s 1947 season.  He was an all star representative in each season, but arm problems plagued him due to overuse that occurred in his first years.  Branch Rickey believed that starting pitchers needed only two days rest and in Ralph’s second year in organized ball, he used him as a test case for his theory.  

When Branca was sent back to the minors in Montreal during the 1945 season, he started 11 games in less than a three week period.  What resulted was he threw 71 innings over a 21 day period.  The experiment most likely caused permanent damage to Ralph’s arm due to the overuse.  When Branca told Rickey that he needed more rest, the Mahatma’s response was “that’s what all pitchers say.”  Branca politely responded, “I don’t mean to be imprudent, Mr. Rickey, but those pitchers are right.”  

Now, a full six years later, after a 20 win season, three all star appearances and numerous arm ailments, it was1951 and things were looking up for Ralph Branca.  He was pitching well and the ball club was way ahead in the pennant race.  His sore arm was feeling better during the year and he was engaged to Ann Mulvey, the daughter of one of the Dodger chief executives.

That ’51 Dodger team was loaded.  It had a starting staff of 20 game winners Preacher Roe and Don Newcombe.  Branca was the number three man on the staff and Clyde King and Carl Erskine started a number of games too.  Roy Campanella was the league MVP.  Jackie Robinson hit .338.  Gil Hodges hit 40 homers.  Duke Snide and Pee Wee had stellar years as well.   You had Carl Furillo with 24 outfield assists and Clem Labine posting a 2.20 ERA out of the bullpen.  That team should have been in the World Series.    They were 13 games ahead of the Giants on August 11th.  Chuck Dressen said the immortal phrase “the Giants is dead.”

And then the cheating happened.

Sal Yvars, a Giants reserve catcher on their '51 ball club and boyhood friend of Branca was interviewed about the cheating tactics 50 years later, when a Wall Street Journal article in 2001 by Joshua Prager exposed the entire fraud.  Yvars, who passed away in 2008, was interviewed with John Vorperian, Beyond the Game video segment in 2001 and he had this to say:

“You’re gonna hear the real story.  I’m going to give it to you from A to Z.  We were 13 1/2 games behind...Leo Durocher would try to beat you any way he could possibly do.  So we got a kid from the Chicago Cubs, Hank Schenz was his name.  A utility ball player, and he goes to Leo and says ‘look, I was in the Navy and we had a telescope that could look 25 miles out to sea and pick a crystal out of that water.’  He says ‘why don’t you install this in Leo’s office, (which was 600 feet away), and you can get the signs and attach a buzzer to the bullpen and a buzzer to the dugout.’  

“So Leo Durocher, believe me John, he’s the biggest crook, thief, gambler, that ever existed... Anyway, they did it.  I said ‘I’ll be damned, they did it.’ They attached a telescope.  Herman Franks was taking the signs from the catcher.  After one inning he had the signs...we knew every pitch.  

“Bobby Thomson was in a slump.  The time up until he hit the home run (in the playoff game), he gained about 60 points (on his batting average).  He admits this himself....he says ‘I was taking the signs up until this time that I hit the home run, but, but, but‘ and he stutters a little bit,  ‘I could say yes, I could say no.‘  This is actually in print.  In the big papers in New York.  And he says, ‘I’d rather say no.‘  He should have said, ‘I know Ralph is a fastball pitcher and he has a little curve but to get me out he’s gonna throw his best pitch, I was looking for the fastball.‘  If he said that and stopped, that would have been fine.

(He continues, talking about the  famous home run) “So he took the first pitch, it was a fastball and he did nothing.  Right down the middle.  The next pitch it was a little higher, letter high...and he smacks it out of the ball park.. Now the thing is, we win, we get into the World Series.  We won the playoff 2 out of 3 against the Dodgers.  Now in the World Series we didn’t use it because you had too many guys floating around in the clubhouse and all during the games...John, we had the signs, the guys used them, and there’s no way we should have won the pennant...We won 37 out of 43 and 16 in a row at home.”

So without going into the details of how they got there, I quote Ralph in his own words as he goes through the events on that fateful day, October 3, 1951.  Branca was called in to relieve Don Newcombe in the 9th.  The Dodgers led 4 to 2.  Two runners were on base, one out and Bobby Thomson was coming to the plate.  Dodger manager Charlie Dressen decided to remove a tiring Newcombe and bring in Branca.

That walk from the Polo Grounds bullpen was the longest in the world, but my pace stayed steady.”

“I passed by Pafko, who said, ‘Go get ‘em Ralphie.’  I entered the infield and passed by Jackie, who said, ‘Let’s get ‘em Ralph.’  I passed by Reese, who said, ‘No butterfies, Ralph. You’re gonna get ‘em.’  As Newk left the mound, I told him, ‘Don’t worry, big fella.  I’ll get ‘em for you.’”

Dressen handed me the ball.  For a second I wondered if he was going to tell me to walk Bobby Thomson to get to Willie Mays,  I’d had good luck with Mays.  But all Charlie said was, ‘Get him out.’  That figured.  You don’t put the winning run on base.”

“Thomson represented the winning run at the plate.  I was facing Bobby Thomson, more determined than at any moment of his life, and I prepared to pitch.”

“I inhaled.  I exhaled.  I checked the runners, Lockman at second, Hartung at third.
I looked for a sign.  Fastball.”

“I delivered a fastball directly over the plate.  It couldn’t have been any more down the middle.  Thomson looked at it.  Strike one!”

“The Giants bench started screaming at Thomson for letting the pitch go by,  They rode him hard.  ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ I heard Leo screaming at Bobby.”

(Note: had the Giants not known that that first pitch was going to be a fastball, would they really have gone nuts after the first pitch?  It’s doubtful)

“I got away with one.  I couldn’t get away with another.  I inhaled.  I exhaled.  I checked the runners, Lockman at second, Hartung at thrid.  I looked for the sign. Fastball.”

“I threw it high and inside.  Thomson was waiting for it.  Thomson attacked it with an uppercut swing, connected and drove it to left field.”

“I turned and followed the ball’s trajectory.  I thought it was going to sink. It had to sink. 
‘Sink, sink, sink!’”

“I watched Andy Pafko running back to the wall...‘Sink, sink!’”

“But the ball stayed up and cleared the wall by about six inches, landing in the left field seats...There was pandamonium.  There was hysteria.  There was Thomson rounding the bases.  There was Durocher jumping up and down from the third base coach’s box like a crazy child.  There was confetti flying.”

“After the ball sailed into the seats, I’d inadvertently picked up the rosin bag and threw it down in disgust.  Head down, I headed for the centerfield clubhouse.  Jackie had the presence of mind to make sure Thomson touched every base.  He did.  We were defeated.  Undone.”


Branca was inconsolable.  Once in the clubhouse, he buried his face on the floor.  His teammates left him alone.  Jackie eventually approached him and said, “Ralph, it it weren’t for you, we would have never made it this far.”  Seeking out his intimate friend and parish priest, Ralph was told that “God chose you because He knew you’d be strong enough to bear this cross.”  He had to go on.  Life would have to go on.  He had to put on the good face.

Earlier in the day he had made a dinner commitment with his fiance Anne and Rube Walker and his wife for after the game.  He hated to go, he wanted to bury his head in the sand and disappear for a long while.  Having to show up in public after the worst moment in his life was an unbearable thought, but he went.  He kept his commitment.  He received a standing ovation at the restaurant when he walked in.  That was Brooklyn.

Vin Scully, who wasn’t calling that particular inning of the game remembered that Branca’s fiance, Anne Mulvey was seated right near the press box where he was situated.  He knew her well as the entire Dodger family was extremely close.  His immediate thoughts went to her as the shock of the homer occurred.    Sixty years later he remembered that moment as it was yesterday.  “I looked down and saw her.  I can still see her now.  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.”

Ralph Branca and his wife Ann.  They were married 17 days after the fateful home run against the Giants.

I’d love to say that Branca came back strong and that his career recovered, but such was not the case.   He was never a successful pitcher in the big leagues again.  At the time of the Thomson homer, Ralph was 25 years old.   A freak accident in which he slipped on a coke bottle messed up his back during spring training in 1952.  By July, adjustments in his mechanics to compensate for the hurt back had injured his arm.  His season was limited to 61 innings.   Then seven games in to the following season before the Dodgers traded Ralph to the Tigers.

He was devastated.  The ’53 team may have been the best Brooklyn club ever, but Branca’s injuries were just too much.  He faltered in Detroit and by 1954, the Tigers released him.  He made a brief comeback attempt after Casey Stengel agreed to try him  out and by September, he was a Yankee, where he pitched well during his one month stint with the club in September.  But as dumb luck would have it, that happened to be the lone season that the Indians beat out the Yanks for the A.L. pennant.  It was during the previous year though, when Branca's life took a turn due to a simple conversation with a teammate, affecting him the rest of his life. 

When the ever personable Branca languished in Detroit on a second division team that ended up 40 games out of first place in 1953, he struck up a very strong friendship with teammate Ted Gray.  Gray was his roommate and confidant while he played in the Motor City.  It was during one of those long road trips that Gray told him that he had received second hand news from a former Giants player (Earl Rapp) that indicated that the Giants had stole the pennant in ’51 by using a sophisticated method of sign stealing.  It involved using a high powered telescope and electronic buzzer system.

Ted Gray, Branca's roommate with the Tigers, informed him of the cheating scandal that the Giants pulled off in 1951.

Ralph was floored.  He asked a number of questions to Gray that only someone on the inside could answer.  It was also reported that the players on the Giants bench would say key words such as  “sock it!” for fastball, “be ready!” for curve and “watch it!” for change up.  Another fail safe measure was backup catcher Sal Yvars in the bullpen that would provide visual signs (such as tossing a ball up and down,  or folding his arms while standing in the far off bullpen in order to indicate what pitch was coming).  Electronic signals, a telescope, verbal commands, visual signals.  There were so many mechanisms in place.  No wonder the Giant dugout went nuts when Thomson took a fastball right down the heart of the plate on the first pitch.

“I couldn’t sleep at night,” wrote Branca.  I couldn’t sleep the next night.  I kept tossing and turning.  After the initial shock, my first reaction was rage.  I was infuriated.”  So he called his boyhood pal, former Giants backup catcher Sal Yvars (quoted above).  Sal was now a Cardinal and Ralph knew he felt no loyalty to Durocher.

“Say it isn’t so, Sal,” said Branca.  “Who told you,” he responded.

“Earl Rapp told Ted Gray and Ted told me.”

After a pause, Yvars said, “Earl should have kept his friggin’ mouth shut.”  

“So it’s true.”

“Sure it’s true.”

“And you didn’t feel bad about it, Sal?”

“I felt bad for you, Ralph, when Bobby hit that homer.  You got a bad rap--that’s for sure.”

“But none of you objected to Leo?”

“Come on, Ralph,  There was no arguing with Leo.  Leo loved the whole thing--especially when it turned our season around.  But Leo also got worried we’d get found out.  So if we were ahead by five or six runs, he’d tell Al Dark or Eddie Stanky to swing and miss real bad on a curve--even if they knew the curve was coming.  Then if we were ahead by seven or eight, we’d stop stealing them altogether.  But if it was a close game, you better believe we’d be in on every pitch.”

“And the big game in ’51.  The October 3 game, Sal.  You were stealing signs that game?”

“Are you kidding?  Why wouldn’t we be stealing signs in the biggest game of the year?...Look, Ralph, you’re a good guy and I wish it hadn’t been you who threw that pitch...Hope you don’t hold it against me, Ralph, but you gotta understand--I was just the messenger.  Besides, you know Leo.  If he thought it meant winning a game, he’d murder his mother.”
Sal Yvers, the Giants bullpen catcher that relayed signs was also Ralp Branca's boyhood friend from Mt. Vernon, NY.

Branca came to find out from Yvars that the sign stealing with the telescope was expanded to when they were on the road too.  It was more difficult to pull off, and they obviously didn't have a buzzer system, but there would be signs relayed from the outfield telescope holder to the bullpen, then relayed by signs and verbal mechanisms in the dugout.  The whole thing was very sophisticated.

What would have happened had Branca reported the incident?  That’s tough to say.  A possible investigation, or maybe the commissioner’s office turning a blind eye to it and stating it was a case of sour grapes on Branca’s part.   It is now known that not only was the entire Giants team and coaching staff involved, but even Giants owner Horace Stoneham was in on it.  Electricians were used.  Cabling had to be run.  This was a job that required a lot of work and some skills.

Sanctions against the Giants?  Having a public disclosure that would have tarnished the game, in a similar vein as the Black Sox scandal.  Then there was Durocher, who already had been suspended for a year once.  He would probably face a lifetime banishment.  It's important to remember that the Thomson home run was already known in the baseball world of probably the most famous homer ever hit.  How kindly would the baseball hierarchy have taken the news that their greatest moment was perpetrated through fraud?  It might destroy the sport.  Branca had to be looking at the big picture.  His complaints very likely would have fallen on deaf ears.

Ralph never even considered reporting the incident.  If someone else did, that would be their business.  But he wouldn’t do so.   His wife suggested he file a complaint with the commissioner’s office.  “I don’t want to be seen as a sore loser,” he replied.  Weeks later he told his brother, John, in confidence.  His brother was livid.
“This rap you’ve been getting, Ralph, this idea of you being the goat is all based on b.s...you were the victim of a calculated scheme.  You need to get the truth out there...”

But he refused.  He let the truth sit until someone else reported it.  He waited 50 years.  50 years!  Kept it inside.  Incredible.

Branca played a minor role helping the Dodgers win the '55 World Series, providing a detailed scouting report of his former Yankee teammates.

In ’55 when the Dodgers faced the Yankees again in the World Series.  Dodger coach Bily Herman called on Branca to provide a detailed scouting report on the Yankees, since he played with them the year before.  Branca obliged and it was very detailed down to the lowliest hitter on the bench.  The Brooklyn Dodgers won their first and only World Series.  It was nice to know that Ralph played a small part of that, evenif he didn't play.  He sat in the stands and watched his friends celebrate.  It was bitter sweet.

The next year, after a long lay off, his arm felt a lot better.  He would come down to Ebbets Field and pitch batting practice for the club.  Buzzie Bavasi signed him to a September contract and he pitched twice.  Those were his final major league appearances, against the Giants.  He took the trip to Japan with the club after the series and proudly wore the Dodger uniform one last time, but his arm was killing him.  In Spring Training 1957, Ralph retired from the game for good.  He was happy that it was as a Dodger.

What followed was a very successful career in insurance sales.  Working in an office above Grand Central Station in New York City, Branca became a skilled salesman. It helped that he had a known baseball name and that fact would often give him an opening to a sales pitch.  Even if the potential buyer mentioned the Thomson homer, it didn’t matter.  Ralph had a connection and ability to close a sale.

He raised his family with Ann and remained in New York.  Able to survive in the business world and become highly knowledgable in the insurance industry, the Brancas lived a comfortable life and also remained connected with baseball.  He participated in Mets activities and had some TV opportunities with the new club.  Gil Hodges and the Brooklyn connections kept him engaged in baseball.  The controversy of the Thomson homer lingered though.

In 1963 Howard Cosell interviewed him and brought up the possible cheating scandal that the Giants had engaged in during the ’51 pennant stretch.  He had done some research and received information about the telescope and buzzer system.  When interviewed, Ralph took the higher ground, saying he heard something about it, but wouldn’t talk.  As Cosell prodded further, Branca became more insistent.  “Howard, What part of I don’t want to talk about it don’t you understand?” he said.  Surprisingly, Cosell backed off.  When Durocher and Thomson were questioned about the cheating, they denied it occurred.  The press backed off too and the story went no where.  But it never completely went away and connections between Branca and Thomson would surface again and again.

Ralph was bitter about the whole thing.  When he’d run into Thomson, he became more distant with him.  It ached him that he was shaking the hand of a man that knew he had cheated him.  Bobby wasn’t too comfortable in those settings either.  At an Old Timer’s game at Shea Stadium, Branca faced Thomson and the crowd really lit in to Ralph.  A lot of negative insults were shouted his way.  Durocher, who was present, wouldn’t look Branca in the eye and avoided him at all costs.  When Ralph's granddaughter asked about it, Ann told her that people just don't understand what the truth is.
1991 AP photo of Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca on the 40th anniversary of the home run.  At the time, the cheating scandal had still not been exposed but Branca and Thomson were friends.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that things between Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson became less frigid.    A promoter asked Ralph to participate in a card show with Thomson.   Card shows were a new phenomenon and they were great money making opportunities for ex-ball players.  Branca agreed to sign a bunch of pictures for an hour with Bobby for $1,000.   “Maybe it’s time to let bygones be bygones,” he thought.  He attended and the two men sat at a table together and sincerely talked for the first time at length.   The event was a tremendous success and fans loved it.   Before long, the two former rivals were friends.  They got to know each others families.  They joked.  They laughed.  They talked about everything almost, everything except the cheating scandal.

Branca negotiated their signing deals at Thomson's behest as he was an extremely skilled negotiator.  They made hundereds of thousands of dollars over the years.  It was about twenty years later when the Prager WSJ article surfaced in 2001, they finally talked about it the topic that had nagged Ralph for 48 years.

“I think, Ralph, that you must feel exonerated,” said Thomson.

“I don’t feel exonerated, but my tongue is definitely loosened, “ he replied.


It’s accurate to say that Branca and Thomson’s relationship soured a little bit after the exposure of the cheating was made public.  Branca talked about how he had been robbed.  Thomson avoided the topic as much as he could and never publicly admitted that he knew the pitches Branca would throw.  There was a slight rift between the two, because Ralph wasn't about to back down.  He knew Thomson wasn't being forthright and now he could finally speak out.  Eventually things calmed again as the years passed and they resumed their friendship.  When Thomson died in 2010, they were back on good terms again.   Looking at the whole situation from Bobby Thomson’s angle, it is understandable that he wouldn’t be pleased about talking about the incident as his achievement was certainly diminished.  There is no doubt though, even if he knew the pitch was coming, he still had to hit it.  But Branca pointed out the indelible truth, “but it sure made it easier.”

****************************************************

One last story about Ralph Branca.

We all are aware of the movie "42" that will be coming out in April on the life of Jackie Robinson.  I have to wonder how Ralph will be portrayed in the movie or if he even was consulted while it was made.  In Jackie's rookie year as a Dodger, there was a pop up that he chased down near the dugout at full speed.  As he caught the ball he came barreling hard into the Dodger dugout.  It was Branca that tackled him before he fell into it to potential injury.  It was a gesture that Jackie appreciated, as it was early in the year and there was still some tension with teammates.  Branca joked to Jackie that he was one of the few people on earth who could ever successfully tackled Robinson, referring to his days as a half back with UCLA.

In 1972, after Gil Hodges died suddenly of a heart attack during Spring Training while he was manager of the Mets.  It was a shock to many and several of Gil's old teammates attended the ceremony.  When Ralph drove to Brooklyn to attend the wake, he noticed as he approached the church, Jackie Robinson was driving in the lane next to him.  Ralph honked, but Jackie was focused on the road and took no notice of him.  He found out why when they both pulled into the parking lot.  Jackie's diabetes had really affected his eye sight and it took total concentration for him to drive as he focused on the road.  He was really struggling as he got out of the car, having difficulty steadying himself as he walked, bracing himself against his parked vehicle.  Ralph approached and they embraced, and Ralph latched on to Jackie's arm.  He was having trouble walking on the uneven sidewalk.

"It's the diabetes, Ralph, it's affecting my vision."  They entered the grounds of the church and Jackie stumbled on the uneven pavement, but Ralph was able to hold his arm tight and catch him before he fell.

"Just like '47, Ralph," he said, "When you tackled me before I crashed into the dugout."

He had remembered that incident like it was yesterday.  Six months later, Ralph was a pall bearer at Jackie's funeral.