Who Hurt Branca Most? + R.I.P., Muhammad Ali!

ralph branca

 

Here’s an interesting piece we found in a United Press column by Oscar Fraley. The version we located appears on Page 11 of the Charleston (SC) Daily Mail and is dated April 3, 1953:

Branca’s “Ailments” Believed Result of Thomson’s Homer

By OSCAR FRALEY

New York (AP) (April 3, 1953) – After a year and a half, Ralph Branca still is walking in the shadows.

Big Ralph, you’ll remember, threw the home run ball to Bobby Thomson which cost the Brooklyn Dodgers the 1951 National League pennant. Never since has he been the pitcher he was before.

Ailment, some real and others believed to be imaginary, have made him a very infrequent starter. Now, as another season gets under way, he was supposed to prove himself this time out, but is bothered by a “bad back.”

The validity of the injury undoubtedly is questioned by Manager Chuck Dressen. The little leader of the Dodgers has taken no pains to conceal his disdain at Branca’s continued reluctance to fire the ball at the plate.  His unspoken indictment is that Branca in his mind always will be throwing that fatal home run ball every time he steps to the mound, thus accounting for an unconscious unwillingness to pitch.

Dressen could be right.

For you knew, when you saw Branca immediately after Thomson’s home run blast that October day in 1951, that here was a man crushed completely. Branca is six feet, three inches tall and weighs 220 pounds but he sat in stunned silence in the Dodger dressing room, too shocked even to sob.

He had lost the first game of that exciting three-game playoff when Thomson touched him for a home run. But the Dodgers got even the next day and the first Thomson homer was forgotten.

Then, in the third and deciding game, Don Newcombe was leading the Giants, 4-2, when he weakened in the ninth and put two men on. The second guessers have debated (ever) since as to why Dressen didn’t summon Clem Labine, who had won the second game handily. Dressen looked bad later when he shifted the burden by saying the bull pen coach told him that Branca was “ready.”

Branca came in (Bottom of 9th, Game 3, October 3, 1951 Playoff Series, Polo Grounds) fired one pitch past Thomson, and then the raw-boned Scot belted the ball high through the afternoon gloom and into the stands. It was the ball game – and the pennant.

It may have been the end of Branca, too.

Because last year those injuries, some of them said to be imaginary, began to plague Branca. Always before, Ralph had been a workhorse. He had worked as many as 280 innings one season and, in 1951, had been in 204.

But last season (1952) he worked only 61 innings. He complained bitterly that he wasn’t given enough work but Dressen retorted sharply that he was used as much as his “ailments” permitted.

____________________

bobby thomson

History documents that Ralph Branca was a 13-game regular season game winner in that 1951 Thomson Homer season. It also notes that Branca would only win 12 more regular season games for the remaining four seasons he pitched in the big leagues after 1951.

It was a different time and place in our culture. Today we recognize “PTSD” (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) in human beings that go way beyond the horrendous shock of military combat. Back in the day that Fraley wrote this piece, injury to the physical body was viewed as “real” and injuries to the mind were still considered as “imaginary” as Fraley’s column notes. Some people in sports still see things that way, but fortunately for former Astros pitcher Brad Lidge, that wasn’t the case in 2005 when the Albert Pujols home run in the NLCS forced the club to play another game with the Cardinals before they claimed their first and only Houston pennant in history to date. Maybe he wouldn’t have been effected long-term, anyway, as was Branca. PTSD is not a one-size fits all diagnosis that fits everyone the same. PTSD includes those emotional traumas that we never quite get over, but do learn to process better before it either leads to serious mental illness or early death.

Charlie Dressen was never a favorite of mine, anyway, but his ignorance by public comment alone speaks loudly, if only referentially, as to how he perceived Branca. Whatever Branca experienced mentally, even if the stress converted to lower back pain the following season, it was not by any application of the word – “imaginary” – that it happened. Anyone who has ever experienced back pain from stress will immediately understand my reference here. I saw more stress-induced back pain in my half century “day-job” than I will ever take the time to calculate. Most of the time, people who came to see me did not bring a light bag of minor setbacks to my office. They brought stuff that was way up there on the Branca Scale of Real Life Disappointments and a whole range of symptoms that go with that trauma.

The card shows that Ralph Branca and Bobby Thompson worked together in later years was probably the most healing thing that the former Dodger did for himself. Instead of it being a winner/loser moment, their recollections of one of baseball’s greatest moments brought down a shower of respectful celebrity every bit upon Ralph as it did upon Bobby. Both were bookends on everything that was important in that moment – and it would not have happened had Branca not been called in to pitch. He might have won a few more games post-1951 than he actually did – and then quietly retired as one of those good players that hardly remembers today.

Not so fast on the getaway, Ralph Branca!

There are millions of fans on this planet who can more easily identify with the survivor of disappointment than they can find in the man fired “the shot fired ’round the world.”

Most people live quietly, never stirring the imaginations of others by the things they do. And what Branca and Thomson did together – was the stuff that dreams are made of. Each is famous because of the other, the super visibility of the context in which they acted, and the feeling of connection they each generate with the souls of others, – and maybe, especially, the souls of those who remember where they were and what they were doing at 3:58 PM on the afternoon of October 3, 1951.

____________________

Postscript:

How many of you knew that Ralph Branca already had given up a home run to Bobby Thomson in the Dodgers’ first game loss in the three-game 1951 special playoff series? And how many of you would have used Branca in Game Three, when Game Two winner Clem Labine was also ready and available?

Who do you think thought the most in 1952 about the Thomson homer whenever they met up with each other in the clubhouse? – Ralph Branca? – Or Charlie Dressen?

____________________

This Just in … Late Last night in Phoenix

Ali

Rest In Peace, Muhammad Ali!

Yesterday, June 3, 2016, in Phoenix AZ, the great Muhammad Ali passed away at age 74 from breathing complications spawned by his 30-year longest fight with Parkinson’s disease. One of Ali’s memorable fights in the ring took place at the Astrodome in 1966 against our local Houston hopeful, the also wonderful, and also now deceased fighter, Cleveland “The Big Cat” Williams.

Here’s a link to the column we wrote about the Ali-Williams fight for The Pecan Park Eagle back on April 8, 2010:

https://bill37mccurdy.com/2010/04/08/cleveland-the-big-cat-williams/

Rest In Peace, Muhammad Ali! Way beyond boxing, your heart and soul now belong to the Ages – among the other great human beings of your time.

____________________

eagle-0range
Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

https://bill37mccurdy.com/

 

 

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2 Responses to “Who Hurt Branca Most? + R.I.P., Muhammad Ali!”

  1. Cliff Blau Says:

    I know that Thomson hit a homer off Branca in game one. And I know that Thomson hit Erksine, the other pitcher warming up, even better than he hit Branca.

  2. Mark W Says:

    In his recent memoir, Branca noted that his friendship with Thomson took a nosedive after the detailed sign-stealing revelations by journalist Joshua Prager in “The Echoing Green.”

    Also, I tend to think that Brad Lidge did suffer from some form of PTSD after the Pujols homer. He pitched very poorly throughout the rest of the playoffs and world series, and had a terrible season in 2006: 1-5, 5.28 ERA, 85 ERA+, 1.45 WHIP. He came back a bit in 2007, but he was not the “Lights-out Lidge” of 2004 and 2005. He had one more good season in 2008, at age 31, after being traded to Philadelphia. Sometimes a change of venue can make such a difference. But he was essentially finished after that.

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