Former Dodgers All-Star Ralph Branca dies at 90

By Ron Clements 23 November 2016
Former Dodgers All-Star Ralph Branca dies at 90

Three-time MLB All-Star Ralph Branca, the pitcher who surrendered baseball's famed "Shot Heard 'Round the World", has died at the age of 90.

Branca spent 12 seasons in the big leagues, including a pair of stints with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A right-handed pitcher who also played for the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees, he made three straight All-Star appearances from 1947-49.

He is perhaps best known, however, as the pitcher of record for Bobby Thomson's famed home run, dubbed the "Shot Heard 'Round the World," that gave the New York Giants the National League pennant in 1951.

Branca came on in relief of Don Newcombe in the ninth inning and the Dodgers holding a 4-2 lead with one out and two runners on. Thomson then drilled an 0-1 fastball to left field at the Polo Grounds to send the Giants to the World Series, which they lost in six games to the Yankees.

Russ Hodges' broadcast call of the home run — excitedly repeating "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" — is part of baseball lore as much as Branca's ill-fated pitch.

It was the second straight fastball Branca had thrown, but Thomson took the first one.

"The first pitch was a perfect pitch," Branca would later tell "A fastball that split the strike zone into four quarters, right down the middle."

A 2013 documentary entitled, "Branca's Pitch," detailed his career before and after the infamous home run.

"All I could say was, 'Sink, sink, sink,'" Branca said in 2014. "But I knew it was gone all the way.

"I was a good pitcher, but I was only known for throwing Thomson that home run pitch. That gave me notoriety. People say I became famous, but I say I became infamous."

Branca was with the Dodgers for 10 of his MLB seasons and made his big-league debut in 1944.

He made 20 relief appearances and just one start as a rookie and did not develop into a full-time starter until 1947. Branca went 21-12 with a 2.67 ERA, 15 complete games and five shutouts in 36 starts that season to earn his first All-Star invitation.

The Dodgers went to the World Series in 1947, the first of six title appearances in 10 seasons. That season also was noteworthy because it marked Jackie Robinson's debut, breaking MLB's colour barrier. Branca was the last surviving member of that historic team.

Branca was a member of five of those Dodgers World Series teams that were beaten by the Yankees each time. The only title the Dodgers won that decade was in 1955, but Branca missed that season because of an arm injury.

He finished his career with a 88-68 record with 829 strikeouts and a 3.79 ERA.

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Ron Clements