In sports there are winners and there are also whiners. You can list Ralph Branca as a whiner.
A half-century after the fact, the ex-Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher now alleges that the home run he served up to Bobby Thomson that won the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants ”” the shot heard around the world ”” was the result of cheating. Branca claims the Giants stole his signs and that Thomson knew exactly what pitch was coming.
Well, as Al Smith used to say “lets look at the record.”
In the first game of the playoff series, Thomson hit a home run off Branca. Being as that game was played at Ebbets Field, there’s no way the Giants could have set up any elaborate system for stealing signs. In the second game, played at the Polo Grounds, Clem Labine shut out the Giants. Either the sign stealing was ineffective or, more probably, there was no system in place to steal signs.
This whole business of stealing signs is overrated. Teams have been doing it with varying success since the dawn of the game. I recall many years ago asking Ted Williams to autograph a ball. Williams related that one day at Fenway Park the Red Sox had stolen all of the Cleveland Indians’ signs and they knew in advance every pitch Bob Feller was throwing. The result was that Feller threw a one-hitter, a bloop single by Bobby Doerr.
In the final analysis, execution is what matters.
At the most critical juncture of their careers, Thomson succeeded and not Branca. The Dodger pitcher has termed the alleged sign stealing as “despicable.” What’s truly despicable is Branca’s pathetic attempt to alibi his own failure and trying to tarnish the glory of baseball’s most dramatic moment.
In 1947, a 21-year-old Branca won
21 games for the Dodgers. But he never again approached that record. Branca was
13-12 in 1951 and went downhill from there, finally being dealt to the Detroit
His major league career was over
before he was 30.
Branca is one of those figures
noteworthy in baseball history, not for what they accomplished, but for what was
accomplished against them. Tony Lazzeri is rightfully a member of the Baseball
Hall Of Fame but even his plaque at Cooperstown notes that he was struck out by
Grover Cleveland Alexander with the bases loaded in the climatic game of the
1926 World Series. And Vic Wertz enjoyed a fine career but he is remembered only
for his long drive that Willie Mays made a fantastic catch on in the 1954 World
Origins of the Game
Researchers have discovered in two
New York newspapers, dating from 1823, references to a game called “base
ball” being played at that time. This, of course, predates Abner
Doubleday/Cooperstown by 16 years. And I’ve been told by members of the
society for American Baseball Research that references to a game similar to
baseball can be found during the time of the Revolutionary War.
Historical truth can be elusive.
Maybe George Washington didn’t chop down the cherry tree and maybe Samson
didn’t kill 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass and maybe Doubleday
didn’t invent baseball. What seems likely is that baseball wasn’t invented
by any single person, but simply evolved. But Doubleday/Cooperstown/1839 is a
good reference point and I’m content to live with that. When myths collide
with truth, it’s sometimes better to accept myths.
Once upon a time, the Baseball
All-Star Game was a legitimate contest between the two leagues. Managers kept
their best players in the game right to the end in an honest attempt to win. Now
everybody gets into the game just like spring exhibitions. Maybe it was bound to
happen as interleague play and the free movement of players between the leagues
have blurred the distinction between the two circuits.
The office of league president has
been eliminated and all the umpires are under the single jurisdiction of the
commissioner’s office. The game itself has become a mere appendage to a
television happening that includes a Home Run Derby, made-for —TV features,
special awards and countless (and pointless) interviews with managers and
Past All-Star Games provided fans
with memorable heroics from players such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl
Hubbell, Stan Musial and Willie Mays. The most memorable happening from last
week’s game was Tommy Lasorda falling down on his big derriere.