Ralph Branca's New Book Talks of Family, Faith & "The Shot Heard 'Round The World" 60 Years Later
by Jim Mancari, The Tablet
Many people think of the American Revolution’s Battle of Lexington and Concord when they hear the “Shot Heard ’Round the World.”
However, for baseball fans, the phrase takes on a completely different meaning. It refers to New York Giants’ outfielder Bobby Thomson’s three-run home run off Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the 1951 National League pennant.
Oct. 3 marked the 60th anniversary of this famous home run. In his autobiography, “A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak and Grace,” published Sept. 20 by Simon & Schuster Inc., Branca focuses more so on his upbringing and family life than on baseball.
Branca, 85, was born and raised Catholic in Westchester County. Every Sunday, he attended St. Francis parish, Mount Vernon, which was less than a block from his house. He was one of 17 children, all of whom were baptized and confirmed.
“If you ask me how many times I’ve missed Mass in 80 years, I might have missed Mass five times,” said Branca. “And that’s only because I was traveling.”
In his book, Branca reminisces about growing up a Catholic with a large family. He took his mother, Kati, to Mass every week. She was a devout Catholic, according to Branca, who ensured her children respected their faith.
Branca married Ann Mulvey, whose mother came from the well-known Catholic McKeever family. Branca’s daughter, Mary, married former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, another Catholic.
In an odd turn of events, the discovery was made earlier this summer that Branca’s mother was actually Jewish. Joshua Prager, the author of “The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard ’Round the World,” had a friend who visited Kati’s hometown in Hungary. After looking up records and birth certificates, Prager’s friend came to the conclusion that Kati was in fact Jewish.
“She was a practicing Catholic,” said Branca. “I never questioned it.”
Kati never mentioned anything to Branca about being born Jewish, though she might have told some of his brothers and sisters. Still, this realization has not caused Branca to question his Catholic faith.
“I am what I am,” said Branca. “I’ve lived my life the same way and would do so again if I was Jewish or not.”
Though the release of his book coupled with the discovery of his Jewish roots averts some of the attention from the anniversary of the home run, Branca’s career will unfortunately be defined by that one moment, which he believes is an unfair connotation.
Branca, who was nicknamed “Hawk,” was a three-time All-Star who tallied an 88-68 career record and a 3.79 ERA over 12 seasons as both a starter and reliever.
After initially giving up Thomson’s home run in 1951 at the Polo Grounds, Branca was crushed. He was the last player to leave the locker room and feared that his teammates and the fans would think of him as a “goat.”
“Why me? Why me?” Branca asked his wife’s cousin, Father Pat Rowley, the dean of campus ministries at Fordham University, the Bronx. “I’ve led a clean life, I love baseball, I’ve done everything right.”
“God chose you because He knew your faith would be strong enough to bear this cross,” said Father Rowley.
Branca’s Catholic faith allowed him to move on with his life. He even became good friends with Thomson, and the two would often appear in public together. Thomson passed away in August, 2010.
Two years after losing to the Giants, Branca found out some startling news while pitching for the Detroit Tigers. His teammate and close friend Ted Gray told Branca that the Giants stole opposing teams’ pitching signs using a telescope in center field and a buzzer system in the dugout. They allegedly did this for the final third of the season, which allowed them to overcome a double-digit deficit in the standings – a 37-7 stretch known as the “Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff.”
Prager confirmed this rumor in a 2001 Wall Street Journal article, in which 1951 Giants catcher Sal Yvars admitted that Thomson and the Giants stole Branca’s signs.
“I look at 1951 as an unfortunate happening for the Dodgers,” said Branca. “We rightfully should have represented the league. We really had a shot at beating the Yankees in the World Series had the season gone on like it should have.”
While he believes the Giants’ actions were despicable, he kept his mouth shut so as to not look like a sore loser. Additionally, his Catholic values of forgiveness led him to keep history in the past.
To purchase a copy of Branca's new book, A Moment In Time, visit the "Sportscasting Books" section of our website.