Ralph Branca, the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who gave up the "shot heard 'round the world" back in 1951, died at midnight Tuesday.
Branca was 90 years old and died in his sleep at an assisted living home, his publicist, Diana Baron, said.
Branca had a remarkable 12-year career in the major leagues, where he put up a career 3.79 ERA and made the All-Star roster three times. But Branca will always be remembered for one pitch he made during the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and their crosstown rival New York Giants in 1951.
He entered the game as a relief pitcher in the bottom of the ninth inning and gave up a walk-off home run to Bobby Thomson. Here's the New York Times on the significance of that moment:
"In baseball lore the Thomson homer has been preserved in amber. It sits alongside Lou Gehrig's farewell at Yankee Stadium, Don Larsen's perfect game in a World Series and 'the Catch,' Willie Mays's spectacular over-the-shoulder, warning-track snare of a Series blast at the same Polo Grounds, three years after Thomson's 'shot.'
"It was also immortalized in American literature by Don DeLillo, who opened his 1997 novel, 'Underworld,' with an extended, lyrical re-creation of that Wednesday at Coogan's Bluff, complete with echoes of the radio announcer Russ Hodges's disbelieving call as the ball headed for the fence and sailed over the Dodgers' left fielder Andy Pafko, culminating, as pandemonium erupted, with the joyous, repeated declaration, 'The Giants win the pennant!' "
In 2001, The Wall Street Journal found evidence that the Giants may have been cheating by placing a telescope in center field to steal pitch signs from opposing teams. Thomson denied he knew what pitch was coming.
Either way, friends said despite that news and the outsize role that pitch played in Branca's life, he was always the consummate professional.
"Ralph always held his head high," sportscaster Vin Scully said in a statement. "He never let that incident define him. He was bigger than that. When he retired five years later in 1956, he did so with his self-respect intact. Some men display heroism in victory. But far more impressive is the display of heroism in loss. Ralph's acceptance of that loss, without rancor or bitterness, is one of the most inspiring examples of sportsmanship I've been privileged to witness."
Branca is survived by his wife and his two daughters.