A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace

A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace

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by Ralph Branca
     
 

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A first-hand account of the golden era of baseball from Jackie Robinson’s friend, former teammate and featured player in the 2013 biopic "42."


Ralph Branca is best known for throwing the pitch that resulted in Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” the historic home run that capped an incredible comeback and wonSee more details below

Overview

A first-hand account of the golden era of baseball from Jackie Robinson’s friend, former teammate and featured player in the 2013 biopic "42."


Ralph Branca is best known for throwing the pitch that resulted in Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” the historic home run that capped an incredible comeback and won the pennant for the New York Giants in 1951. Branca was on the losing end of what many consider to be baseball’s most thrilling moment, but that notoriety belies a profoundly successful life and career.

A Moment in Time details the remarkable story of a man who could have been destroyed by a supreme professional embarrassment—but wasn’t. Branca came up as a young phenom, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers during their heyday. He was a staple of the Dodgers’ teams in the late 1940s, dominating the National League. It’s no stretch to say that New York baseball was the center of the sporting universe and that the players were part of the fabric of the neighborhoods, of the city itself.

A Moment in Time offers a rare first-person perspective on the golden era of baseball, opening a window on an amazing world populated by legendary characters such as Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Leo Durocher, Branch Rickey, and Walter O’Malley. Ralph Branca sits us down and tells us an entertaining, deeply inspiring, classic baseball tale.

***

I LOVE BASEBALL.

“Baseball is the reason I am writing this book, the reason I’ve led a life worth reexamining and dissecting. Baseball is the passion that carried me from childhood to manhood. It is how I fought my way from the working class to the middle class. Were it not for baseball, I would not have met Ann, my wife, the mother of our daughters, and my dearest friend for the past sixty years. Baseball has excited my mind, stirred my soul, and brought out the best in me. I look at baseball deeply. Most of us whose lives have been defined by baseball do. Of course, it’s principally a sport—a beautiful sport based on a poetic geometry. It is a game played outside of time. You play it not until the clock runs out, but until there is a clear winner. That takes as long as it takes. It is a pastoral game usually set inside a city. You play in a pasture—an urban pasture—where an expanse of grass calls you to the competition. Of course, you can also play on the dirt field of a farm, a sandlot, or a concrete street. Wherever you play, though, time is suspended. Like millions of other kids, I lost track of time whenever I played—playing through breakfast, lunch, dinner; playing until the very last rays of daylight disappeared; playing under the glow of a street lamp or a full moon; playing with the hope that the game would never stop and that real time—any time but baseball time—would never resume. The dream was to turn life into a baseball game.” —from the Introduction

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Branca tells the story behind “the shot heard ’round the world” that has been called “the most dramatic moment in sports history.” He is unfortunately best known as the pitcher who gave up the home run to Bobby Thomson that won the pennant for the 1951 Giants. He endured ridicule and threats, but later learned that Thomson was aided by an elaborate sign-stealing scheme devised by Giants manager Leo Durocher. He chose to remain silent, but “struggled with anger and resentment” for years. The book “represents the resolution of that resentment and the dissolution of the rage.” Aside from the story surrounding the infamous home run, Branca offers a fascinating tale of a golden age of baseball dominated by the three New York teams that included the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson. Acclaimed author Ritz (Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye) maintains focus and pace without subduing Branca’s voice or personality to render a story with appeal to all sports fans. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
“Branca offers a fascinating tale of a golden age of baseball dominated by the three New York teams that included the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson. Acclaimed author Ritz maintains focus and pace without subduing Branca’s voice or personality to render a story with appeal to all sports fans.”
Publishers Weekly

“Traber Burns is perfect as narrator; his breezy, conversational style fits Branca’s tone and writing style. Burns comes across as passionately telling a story, not merely reading one. Fans of the era especially will appreciate Burns’s narration of the tarnished secrets of the fateful game.”
AudioFile

Kirkus Reviews

The pitcher who served up Bobby Thomson's 1951 pennant-winning homerun, the legendary "Shot Heard 'Round the World," spins yarns from a bygone era when baseball was still king.

Baseball, by virtue of its place of prominence in early American sporting culture and its gently rhythmic, almost lackadaisical pace of play, has long been a prime conduit for nostalgia-driven memoirs. Branca, ably assisted by veteran co-author Ritz (Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B.B. King, 2011, etc.), adds another chapter to that collective oeuvre, chronicling his days pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the team's heyday, when trailblazing Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier and "dem Bums" were one of three storied New York franchises (along with the Yankees and Thomson's Giants) who dominated the Major Leagues. Rather than a prototypical tale of overcoming inner demons or rising above childhood poverty, however, the author offers a kinder, gentler tale, which starts with a loving and supportive family and concludes not with the crowning achievement of a World Series triumph, but rather with a crushing failure—the aforementioned "Shot"—followed by a gradual decline into mediocrity. Branca does, however, remove some luster from Thomson's historic homer by detailing how the rival Giants used a high-powered telescope to steal other teams' signs, an ignominious stain on an otherwise remarkable season of baseball that is well documented in Joshua Prager's masterfulThe Echoing Green(2006). Despite the circumstances, Branca evinces little bitterness: He married the girl of his dreams, enjoyed post-career success as an insurance salesman and even got some merchandising mileage out of a friendship with Thomson that developed years after their careers had ended.

Like a ballpark frank, it might be a little overdone, and some bits might be tough to swallow, but you can't help but enjoy it.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451636918
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
09/20/2011
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
199,904
File size:
4 MB

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

ILOVE BASEBALL.

Baseball is the reason I am writing this book, the reason I’ve led a life worth reexamining and dissecting. Baseball is the passion that carried me from childhood to manhood. It is how I fought my way from the working class to the middle class. Were it not for baseball, I would not have met Ann, my wife, the mother of our daughters, and my dearest friend for the past sixty years. Baseball has excited my mind, stirred my soul, and brought out the best in me. I look at baseball deeply. Most of us whose lives have been defined by baseball do. Of course, it’s principally a sport—a beautiful sport based on a poetic geometry. It is a game played outside of time. You play it not until the clock runs out, but until there is a clear winner. That takes as long as it takes. It is a pastoral game usually set inside a city. You play in a pasture—an urban pasture—where an expanse of grass calls you to the competition. Of course, you can also play on the dirt field of a farm, a sandlot, or a concrete street. Wherever you play, though, time is suspended. Like millions of other kids, I lost track of time whenever I played—playing through breakfast, lunch, dinner; playing until the very last rays of daylight disappeared; playing under the glow of a street lamp or a full moon; playing with the hope that the game would never stop and that real time—any time but baseball time—would never resume. The dream was to turn life into a baseball game.

Over time, as that dream came true, I saw other dimensions of the sport. It was a proving ground where character was developed or destroyed, enhanced or corroded. It was where racial animus was resolved or exacerbated. Because I was privileged to play when society was undergoing radical change, I got to see firsthand—from the dugout and the mound—baseball’s reaction, for better and worse. I got to see—and feel and embrace—community. The Brooklyn baseball community was like no other; Brooklyn Dodger fans were the most knowledgeable. The Brooklyn ballpark was like no other. These were things I loved with all my heart: this proving ground, this social transformation, this extraordinary community.

The bigger story, then, speaks to the spirit of our country and our sense of the possible. It is about optimism, hope, and fairness. The smaller story—my personal story—benefits from those strong American values but also involves tremendous frustration and unforeseen corruption. The drama of ongoing disappointment is central to this narrative. At some point, reason and rage clashed head-on. For years, I struggled with anger and resentment.

This book represents the resolution of that resentment and the dissolution of the rage. To be called a goat—as I was—for more than half a century hurt like hell, especially when I knew that the team who tagged me with that label had implemented an elaborate and outrageous system of cheating. I had learned about the cheating less than three years after it happened. Yet for many long decades I kept quiet. I was advised to capitalize on and expose the scheme. Go to the press. Write a book. Do something. But I refused. I didn’t want to be seen as a whiner, a sore loser, or a baby crying over spilt milk. Take it on the chin. Accept the blow. Move on with your life. Or, best of all, forget about it, which proved impossible.

Bobby Thomson’s home run off me in the 1951 playoff was termed “the shot heard ’round the world” and called the most dramatic moment in sports history. If it was shown once on television, it was shown a million times. No one could forget what had happened that afternoon in the Polo Grounds—not me, not the country, not history itself. I had to endure the moment in silence. I saw silence as my shield of dignity. I wanted to shout “Fraud!” but my nature wouldn’t allow it.

Then, on January 31, 2001, journalist Joshua Prager broke the scandal in the Wall Street Journal and five years later published an exhaustively researched book scrupulously documenting the cheating. After the initial article came out, Bobby Thomson, by then my friend of many years, called and said, “I guess you feel exonerated, Ralph.”

“I don’t know about that,” I replied, “but my tongue has certainly been loosened.”

I’m grateful for that loosening. And I’m also glad that the loosening comes when, instead of still toiling in my mid-twenties, I’m reflecting in my mid-eighties. Time not only heals, but time also offers perspective. Seen through the misty glow of history, a story from a distant era takes on a romantic tinge. And the era of New York baseball of the forties and fifties when three winning teams—the Dodgers, Yankees, and Giants—dominated the headlines may be the most exciting years in all baseball. Looking back 60-plus years to a time when players—myself included—took the bus and subway to the ballpark and worked menial winter jobs to support our families, I can’t quite believe the remarkable changes I’ve seen in this long lifetime. I cherish those changes just as I cherish that sacred time when, as a boy and young man, I never could have imagined baseball—or, for that matter, the world—in its present form. There’s also an essential fact that, modesty aside, I want this book to establish: I was a damn effective pitcher. It pains me to be remembered for one unfortunate pitch—and, unfairly, a pitch surreptitiously signaled to the hitter—as opposed to a hurler who, for a number of years, had good stuff.

Finally, I must warn you that I write from the point of view of a self-proclaimed old-timer. I make no apologies for that designation. I love being an old-timer. Hell, I may be the ultimate old-timer. I feel like I’ve seen it all and done it all. I can truthfully say that I’ve paid the dues to tell the news. And even though I will try to recapture the fire and energy that at one time burned within the heart of an 18-year-old rookie breaking into the majors, be aware that this is a highly opinionated old-timer—who’s about to spin a baseball yarn unlike any you’ve ever heard.

© 2011 Ralph Branca with David Ritz

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