Ralph Branca’s career deserves to be defined beyond just one pitch. The star-crossed Brooklyn Dodger played 11 big-league season, was a 20-game winner and was a three-time all-star. Sixty-one years after throwing one of the most infamous pitches in baseball history, the 86-year-old reminisced about his career during a visit to Fenway Park.
David Laurila: Most people know you for the home run you gave up to Bobby Thomson, but they may not be aware that you pitched in two World Series.
Ralph Branca: I pitched in the 1947 World Series. I was the starting pitcher in the opening game. Then, in 1949, I pitched the third game. I also started the All-Star Game in 1948.
DL: I believe you got a win in your 1949 appearance.
RB: No, that was in 1947. I got a win in relief, in Game 6.
DL: Sorry for my mistake. That was before my time.
RB: Really? That was before everybody’s time. There are only three people in this ballpark who are that old. Actually, I don‘t think [Johnny] Pesky is here today, so maybe it’s only two.
DL: Were the World Series you played in just as important as the 1951 playoff game?
RB: No. The Bobby Thomson game was more important, because you had to win that to get to the Series. The unfortunate part is that there never should have been a playoff. The Giants were stealing signs and they also stole the pennant. They went 37-7 and no team is good enough in a pennant race to go 37-7. I don’t care if it’s the 1927 Yankees or whomever.
DL: How big was baseball in New York in the 1940s and 1950s?
RB: It was really big. We had three teams and it was the only time a city ever had three teams. There were three different rooting interests and everybody was a real, real fan of their team. Giants fans were big for the Giants, and the same for Yankees and Dodgers fans. Everybody thought their team was the greatest.
DL: What should young fans know about your career?
RB: They probably don’t know how good I was. I won 21 games [in 1947] and the next year I was on my way to winning 20 again. I had 12 wins at the All-Star break. Two of my teammates were playing catch and instead of throwing the ball shoulder high; they were throwing it ankle high to sting one another’s hands, and one let the ball go. It hit me in the shin, and my shin got infected. I had to go to the hospital. I went on the disabled list and only won two more games the last half. That was in 1948. The next year, my arm still wasn’t strong but I learned how to pitch. I was 10-1 on July 1. Then I had to go on the disabled list again and only won three games the second half. That was 1949. In 1951, I was leading the league in ERA, at 2.50, and was something like 11-3 in June, July and August. Then the Giants beat me.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.