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Branca, of Famed Homer, Has Jewish Heritage

Pitcher gave up the Shot Heard ‘Round the World

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A famous photo of Ralph Branca after giving up the Shot.(Horns Fans)

The man who threw the ball that became the greatest home run in baseball history and perhaps the most indelible moment in American sports is, it turns out, the son of a woman who was born and raised Jewish. Joshua Prager breaks the news today in the New York Times that Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca’s mother, Kati (née Berger), a practicing Catholic who never told her son about her real background, was actually the child of Hungarian Jews who was identified as Jewish when she arrived at Ellis Island; at least two of her siblings died in the Holocaust, at least one at Auschwitz.

The superb article abounds with the 85-year-old Branca’s jovial personality as well as fascinating tidbits (like that the first home run he ever gave up in the majors was to a Jew, Phil Weintraub). Prager is the author of a book on the home run—yes, it is very much a big enough deal as to warrant its own book—which argues that the Giants would at times unsportingly steal catchers’ signs so that batters would know what type of pitch was coming next.

The Dodgers and the New York (baseball) Giants—bitter crosstown rivals—ended the 1951 season tied for the National League pennant after a tremendous Giants comeback in August and September. On October 3, the teams played a one-game tiebreaker the final game of a three-game tiebreaker series at the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ homefield in Harlem. The Giants entered the bottom of the ninth down 4-1, but Bobby Thomson slugged his three-run homer off Branca (as rookie Willie Mays watched from the on-deck circle) to walk off with the win. The iconic event has been immortalized as the great moment of postwar Americana in the opening section of Don DeLillo’s novel Underworld, among other places, and for many is crystallized by Russ Hodges’ immortal play-by-play: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” This news about Branca’s heritage does not change the outcome of that pitch, that game, or that season (the Giants in fact lost the World Series to their other inter-borough competitors, the New York Yankees). It does not even change the fact that Branca was and remains a believing Catholic. But it does serve to further confirm Jews’ sneaky centrality to American mass culture and the all-powerful branch of it called sports.

For Branca, an Asterisk of a Different Kind [NYT]

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Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

“The Giants entered the bottom of the ninth down 4-1, but Bobby Thomson slugged his three-run homer … to walk off with the win”.

Ummm the last time I checked, hitting a 3-run homer when your team is down 4-1, ties up the game, even in the bottom of the 9th.


Jerusalem / Efrata

Marc Tracy says:

@Hershel they had scored one run before Thomson’s homer.

Tom Alpert says:

The Giants and Dodgers didn’t play a 1-game playoff on Oct. 3, 1951. They played a best 2 of 3-game playoff that year; each team won one game, so a decisive third game (which was played on Oct. 3) was necessary. Also, Branca had given up a homer to Thomson in game 1 of the playoffs.

Marc Tracy says:

@Tom I though that was true, then didn’t see it last night. My apologies. Correction forthcoming.

Bennett Muraskin says:

And the point is???? If Branca knew growing up that his mother was born Jewish, that would be news. But since he didn’t and he was raised Catholic, what is the big deal?

Who cares about “Jewish law” if it flies in the face of Branca’s life a Christian?

You are a racest son of a bitch, and should be exiled to Israel for the rest of your life

Paul Brandon says:

@Neil: your manners are as bad as your spelling.


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Branca, of Famed Homer, Has Jewish Heritage

Pitcher gave up the Shot Heard ‘Round the World

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