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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 572

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This is the grave of Ralph Branca.

Born in Mount Vernon, New York in 1926, Branca was the 15th of 17 children. He was the child of immigrants. His father was an Italian streetcar conductor and his mother a Jewish immigrant from what is today Slovakia. He was a baseball star as a child and played at NYU for a year before going pro. He didn’t fight in World War II due to health issues, including a punctured eardrum and asthma. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed him in 1943 and he rose to the majors almost immediately, making his debut in 1944. He had a pretty good start and was a promising young player. When he pitched on Opening Day in 1947, he made a point of going and standing next to Jackie Robinson, who was integrating baseball that very day. That was probably his best year. He won 21 games and was an all-star. He would be an all-star the next two years as well.

Ultimately, Branca’s career wasn’t that memorable though outside of two moments. The first was his welcoming of Robinson. The second of course was that he gave up “The Shot Heard Around the World” to Bobby Thomson that gave the Giants the pennant in 1951. This was the deciding game of the three-game pennant tie-breaker series. Don Newcombe had pitched a great game, but tired in the 9th. Branca came on in relief and gave up the homer.

After this, injuries limited his effectiveness. He did manage to be the first player ever ejected from the bench in a World Series game the next year. The Dodgers traded him to the Tigers in 1953. He also played for the Yankees in 1954, did not play in 1955, and then came back with the Dodgers for one game in 1956 and then retired. His career 88-68 record and 16.5 career WAR (using the Baseball Reference numbers) belies his fame.

Branca had a good sense of humor about his role in the game. He and Thomson became friends and frequently appeared together in public events. In retirement, he headed the Baseball Assistance Team for 17 years. This is an organization inside the game that provides financial help to former players who had fallen on hard times. Created in 1986, Branca was (I think) the second person to head it. Incidentally, Randy Winn, who as a Mariners outfielder in the early 00s was a very likable player to watch, heads it today. He was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson’s funeral and even showed up on TV and in movies from time to time. His wife Ann, who was still alive when I visited this grave at least, was the daughter of one of the part-owners of the Dodgers. They married shortly after the 1951 season. Their daughter later married Bobby Valentine.

In 2011, Branca published his memoir. He died in 2016 as the last surviving member of the ’47 Dodgers.

Ralph Branca is buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

I hope you enjoyed this special Game 7 grave series post. Go Nationals! If you would like this series to visit other people who played for the NL in the 1947 All-Star Game, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Warren Spahn is in Hartshorne, Oklahoma and Enos Slaughter is in Allensville, North Carolina. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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