Opinion of Kingman's Performance

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)


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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.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

This is it



"There've been times in my life
I've been wondering why.
Still, somehow I believe, we'd always survive..."

I don't think there's been a season ever like this Dodger 2016 season has been.  A team that was down and out, 8 games in the standings, with their ace shelved for what looked to be the rest of the season.   A ball club with extreme weaknesses against left handed pitching and a lack of dependable starting pitchers that could go deep into games.  It looked like the season was doomed.

It was a time to soul search and dig deep inside, and these guys did it. The date was June 26th and the Dodgers had just been swept in Pittsburgh.  They had a 41-36 record while the Giants were playing phenominally, with the 2nd best record in baseball at 49-24, a mere 1/2 game less than the Cubs record.

"Are you gonna wait for a sign?  You're miracle,
Stand up and fight!"

There was no team meeting.  No panic.  The guys dug deep and started winning.  Winning a lot in fact, to the tune of 50-35 for the remainder of the season.

So with their backs to the wall facing elimination, and no place to go, the Dodgers send their ace to the mound again. Kershaw has yet to participate in a losing effort this post season.  In fact, with the exception of Rich Hill's win in game three of this NLCS, the ONLY Dodger wins in the post season have had Kershaw's signature in them.  That is a good sign for tonight's contest.  Clayton Kershaw on full rest.

"The waiting is over, no where to hide,
No time for wondering why.
It's here, the moment is know, about to decide.
Let 'em believe.
Leave 'em behind.
But keep me near in your heart,
Know whatever you do, I'm here by your side."

The Dodgers entire Wrigley where 40,000+ fans and an entire nation of Cubs bandwagoners rooting for a Dodger defeat.  But there is that almost tangible pressure that the Cubs will be facing.  It's called history.  It's called failure.  It has lingered with them for over a hundred years.  Sure, if they weren't facing the Dodgers, I'd root for them.  But they aren't.

I'm in the cafeteria in the U.S. Embassy in Argentina and the topic of conversation is the Cubs.  Here on the opposite side of the planet.  "The Cubs are finally going to do it," people say.  "They've never been this close."  Oh, how easy it is to forget.  1984, 1989, 2003, 2015.  I know there are other heartbreak sasons, those just come to mind.  So many times on the verge of a World Series birth, only to fall short and suffer more heart break.

With a Dodger lead, that crowd will be silenced.  Hands in faces.  Shock and disbelief.  We've seen it a number of times.  I can picture it tonight.  A Kershaw win, and game seven pressure that will be difficult to overcome.

"Make no mistake where you are,
(This is it)
Your back's to the corner
(This is it)
Until it's over and done
(This is it)
One way or another
(This is it)"

This is it.  Dodger take the series in seven games.



(Words and Music to "This Is It" by Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, 1979)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Home Field Advantage - NLCS Notes and Opinions

  • It's now the best three out of five and we have the home field advantage.  It is also most likely going to be two Kershaw games, two Hill games and one Urias game.  I like our chances.
  • Javier Baez is a beast.  A baseball savvy, pesky, patient, intelligent, never makes mistakes playing, October peaking beast.  This is the Daniel Murphy of the Cubs and he should be dealt with very carefully.  The remainder of the Cub lineup seems to be controllable.  Bryant is a true MVP, but can be neutralized.  Rizzo is in a horrid slump from which we hope he doesn't emerge.  Dexter Fowler, a good leadoff man but not nearly as imposing of a threat as Trea Turner was.  Addison Russell has pop, but if you can keep him int he park, he's usually an out.  The rest of the guys seems to be manageable.   Zobrist can be clutch and should be pitched carefully, which they did a good job of doing.  What I'm trying to say is that the Washington lineup seemed to be much more imposing and the Dodger pitching staff should be able to contain the Cubs.
Adrian Gonzalez's homer accounted for the only run of game two of the NLCS. (photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
  • Now it's time for the Dodger bats to wake up, and Jake Arrieta will be a difficult number to face, but this is very doable.  Arrieta isn't as intimidating as last year and he has been beaten.  Lefties have been hitting him, and we know the Dodgers have plenty of those.  Fangraphs addressed his declining K/BB rate and hot hitting zones, (Linked here)
  • Watch for pretty much the same lineup to start against Arrieta as did the one against Hendricks.  They'll have to be swinging at the meat Arrieta throws middle-in and low and stay of the high heat.  
  • A lot will be determined by the strike zone that Gary Cederstrom has established tomorrow. Cederstrom has a reputation as a plate umpire that has a rather liberal strike zone in favor of pitchers, but we'll see.  He was behind the plate in that wild game six of the 2011 World Series, the 28 hit, 19 run affair between the Cards and Rangers when David Freese was the hero.  I only bring that up because that game was an offensive juggernaut and very little went the way of the pitchers.
  • Joe Maddon was asked about his young players that are in slumps and if he needs to change the lineup to shake things up.  He responded that "you've got to play through the bad lie...it is what it is, you stay with your guys."  So while their manager waits for Rizzo, Russell, Zobrist and Heyward to wake up, the Dodger pitching needs to keep doing what they are doing and shut those guys down.  Some are bound to wake up eventually, but it's on the Cubs to start playing well offensively, something they really haven't done this post season with the exception of Bryant and Baez. Slumps are contagious and have a tendency to stick around for a few days.
  • All the games are shadow games, and the Dodger pitching should be able to take advantage of them.  They've played a lot more of these games lately and it is an advantage they have over the Cubs that played all their games under the lights.
  • Aroldis Chapman can certainly be intimidating to some Dodger hitters, but the veterans such as Turner and Gonzalez are not intimidated by the man, unlike Pederson, Seager, Puig and Grandal.
  • The pitching rotation will be dependent on the results, but is it possible that Maeda is passed over in game 5 for Kershaw on short rest again?  I think so.  


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The True Test of a Champion

Andre Ethier's pinch homer in the 5th inning cut the Chicago lead to 3-1 (photo by Janathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Without going into the details of last night's crushing loss in Chicago, I will just make one point.

In 1988, when Kirk Gibson homered to shock the A's, many believe that the series was over and that the A's were defeated from that point on.  That turned out to be true as the Dodgers won three of the remaining four games and won the Series and Oakland never offered much of a challenge from that point on.

The question remains now if the Dodgers are shell-shocked by that  Miguel Montero blast, so much so that they won't recover.

All signs point to "no," because they actually rallied in the top of the ninth and continued tattooing pitches up until the last out was recorded on Utley's blistered liner that resulted in a double play.

We will see tonight how affected they are as Kershaw toes the rubber again on short rest, again.  A Dodger win tonight and game one is forgotten.  A second loss in a row and things could spiral downward.  For that reason, tonight's game can be viewed as the Dodgers true test of a champion.  They will need to dig deep inside and win the second contest of this series or risk being labeled going into next season as the team that was mentally defeated by the grand slam.

By the way, the Dodgers had a great comeback and proved that they could solve the Aroldis Chapman dilemma.  Let's see if all that labor last night was for naught.  L.A. hit the ball hard all evening and walked away with a defeat.  Luck wasn't on their side, but a series split after two games can completely change the outlook on the series.  Game two is crucial to their psyche.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Euphoria and Now Back to Business

(AP Photo)
Winning a post season series is complete elation.   It was a wonderful thing, but the excitement of that tense and pressure packed game five is now in the rear view mirror.  Now as things have settled, the team is in Chicago and the short two days comes to a close this evening.  The Dodgers are back to the business at hand of winning the pennant.

With a well rested Chicago Cubs team awaiting their opponent, Los Angeles starts the National League Championship Series a notable disadvantage.  They are a team that should be exhausted and spent with a pitching staff handicapped with a closer just having thrown 51 pitches a mere forty-four hours before game time. Their number one and two starting pitchers each have already pitched on short rest and they need time off, at least another 24 hours. The rest requirement probably can be argued for the beleaguered bullpen, that racked up a little over 28 innings of work out of a possible 45 during the series.

A rainout would seriously help this team out, but as much as the forecast is saying it is possible, don't count on MLB postponing the game anytime soon due to the prime time schedule broadcast and the logistical problems of rescheduling the rest of the series that a rainout would cause.  Nevertheless, the weather forecast is as follows at game time:

Cloudy this evening. Scattered thunderstorms developing after midnight. Low 63F. Winds ESE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 50%.

Experts are starting to make the lineup comparisons and predictions.  As can be expected, the lovable Cubs, a team "destined" to win it all after so many years of despair in Chicago, is favored by nearly all to win this series going away.  They certainly could do that, but this Dodger team has somehow clawed and scratched its was through the season with a tenaciousness that few Dodger teams have possessed in the past.

They enter into the next phase with another formidable challenge in their hands.  Walking away from these first two games with a split should be the goal.

A few positives to note:

  • John Lester is the only Cub lefty in their rotation
  • The Cubs bullpen is not as strong as the Nationals, (with the exception of their closer-Chapman). This means that pitch counts should be worked and getting the Cub starters out of games will be extremely important
  • Some Dodger hitters seem to be heating up.  Most notably Pedersen and Reddick
  • Dave Roberts has proved that he's willing to manage unconventionally, so expect the unexpected
  • It's the Cubs, and they haven't been to a World Series in 76 years, so there's an pressure factor that they must overcome
  • Kershaw says that his appearance on Thursday night was his "side session" and that he feels good.  Translation:  Expect him to pitch game 2, game 6 and be available to relieve in game 7
  • Hill should be rested for a game 3 start at Dodger Stadium, followed by game 7
  • The Dodgers were not overwhelmed by the Cubs in the regular season, and know they can compete
Strap on your seat belts.  This is going to be an exciting week of Dodger baseball.




Wednesday, October 12, 2016

As Dodger Fans...This is What We Live For

We can't argue about the suffering and excruciating tense pressure that this series has brought us.  It has been full of tense moments and controversial calls and hit batsmen, pitching changes, and hit batsmen and pitching changes and hit batsmen.  Then there's the occasional clutch hit from a Dodger and the inevitable one from Daniel Murphy or Jayson Werth.

(While I mention Werth, I just want to remind everyone that when Ned Colletti let him walk after an injury plagued season due to a broken wrist that never healed, I knew it was going to come back to bite us.  Werth is that rare type of hitter that seldom strikes out, works counts, and isn't afraid to go with a pitch and lace it to right field.  Our front office let him walk in favor of signing Luis Gonzalez ten tears ago, and he was making the major league minimum at the time).

Anyway, back to the series...

We live for this.  Or should I say "die" for it?  It's time to be honest.  Do we really enjoy post season baseball?  I know I don't.  These games are about as enjoyable as a root canal.  During the regular season, your team loses a game and the mentality is, "we'll get 'em tomorrow," because there's almost always a tomorrow in a 162 game season.  In the playoffs?  There rarely is a tomorrow and there definitely are consequences to losses.  Every pitch is magnified, every call from the umpires crucial, each mistake made by a manager augmented.  You can multiply the enormity of it all ten-fold and it doesn't do justice to the importance of it all. 

So here we are, ready to watch our "one game season," vs. the Nationals.  Odds don't look great.  We have about 10 different arms available to take on Scherzer.  Based on how things have gone so far, we'll need everyone of those arms, (except those that belong to Maeda and Baez).  The Nats have a solid lineup.  Trea Turner - practically an automatic run each time he gets on.  Harper - a former MVP and threat to put a pitch in the bleachers every at bat.  Werth - absolutely clutch.  Murphy - possibly the greatest post season hitter I have seen.  Rendon - a constant danger with tremendous power.  Zimmerman-having a down year but a player that can't be taken lightly.  There are two holes:  Espinosa and the catcher spot.  Not a lot of room for error and the Nats have made the Dodgers pay.

Washington is a good ball club that is where they are for justified reasons.  95 wins happened for a reason.

The Dodgers certainly haven't been world beaters of late, but we know the talent is there.  Here we are, tied at two games a piece in a series that statistics will tell you the Nationals have dominated. That domination can easily be tossed aside with a good day at the office tomorrow.  The only stats that really matter have to do with the amount of runs crossing the plate at the end of the day.

The Dodgers backs are against the wall, but if they break out to a lead, we'll see a Washington team forced into a corner.  Will Dodger pitching finally solve the Daniel Murphy puzzle?  Can they keep Trea Turner off the base paths?  Will Jayson Werth be contained?  All the above needs to occur for the Dodgers to have a chance.

Enjoy...err....survive the night folks.  Break out the rolaids.  It's going be about 4 hours of tense, tense baseball.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Game 2 NLDS Recap=LOB City II

The bad news:
In post season play, when you load the bases three times over the first five innings, you have to cash in some runs.  The Dodgers continued to hit poorly in key situational spots going 0-5 with the bases loaded and 1-9 with runners in scoring position.  A total of 12 men were left on base, 11 of them over the first six innings.

Despite their first place finish, the Dodgers have been extremely weak offensively with runners on base hitting a putrid .206 with runners in scoring position and two outs, and .208 with the bases loaded.  In both scenarios, finishing 26th and 27th in MLB in those categories.

Squandering these offensive opportunities proved to be the Dodgers undoing as Jose Lobaton lofted a Rich Hill hanging curve into the left field stands to put Washington ahead for good 3-2 in the fourth inning.  It was the second time this year Hill has given up a homer on  a curve, the first being a Jose Altuve homer back in May when Hill was pitching for Oakland.


Now the good news:
Returning home tied at 1-1 is something the ball club should feel good about, as they have secured home field advantage for what now is a best two out of three series.  On top of that, Kenta Maeda makes the start with 8 days of rest, and that is a good sign for a pitcher that did have difficulties adjusting to pitching every 5th day.  Maeda with over six days rest has a .210 batting average and .247 OBP against him.  Compare that to when he had four days rest, .247 BA, .320 OBP.  Those numbers are significant.

What to watch for:
Let's watch Maeda's pitch count.  He has proved to be effective in the early innings, but once he gets past 75 pitches and through the batting order twice, teams tend to start hitting him.  Maeda should be on a short leash, with the hope that he gives six strong innings and that the Dodgers have spotted him a lead by then so that the bullpen can take over.

Expect Kenley Jansen to be inserted for a 2 inning save, and be very concerned if Trea Turner reaches base while he's on the mound.  Jansen has been awful at keeping base runners from running on him.


Again Facing left hand pitchers:
Gio Gonzalez takes the mound against the Dodgers after a sub par year.  He has only worked 4 innings this year with Pedro Severino behind the plate, and he got lit up for 6 runs that one time. Working with Lobaton, Gio has a respectable 3.81 ERA over 81 innings of work.  Gonzalez beat the Dodgers earlier this year with 6 innings of 1 run ball, on July 20th in Washington.   In three lifetime starts at Dodger Stadium, he is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA with 20 innings pitched.

It should be noted that this will be the first time that Kenta Maeda has ever faced the Nationals.