December 30, 2016


Story of Ralph Branca and Jackie Robinson still resonates : The day Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier, Ralph Branca stood beside him. For years after, they stood beside each other. During a racially charged 2016, we lost Branca. But we shouldn't forget him. (Ian O'Connor, 12/30/16, ESPN)

More than seven years before Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation, more than eight years before Rosa Parks wouldn't surrender her seat on an Alabama bus, and more than 16 years before King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, Robinson became the first black man to play in a major league baseball game. Branca famously stood next to Robinson during Opening Day introductions at Ebbets Field, though they started to get acquainted during an exhibition game the previous week when Robinson, then a minor-league member of the Montreal Royals, mumbled a word of gratitude to the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher while passing by the mound.

Branca thought the stranger might be thanking him for grooving a fastball. Soon enough, he realized Robinson was thanking him for refusing to sign a teammate's petition to keep the Dodgers as white as the first-base line. [...]

[E]ven when reliving his worst hour, Branca loved mentioning how Robinson was there for him like no other teammate. As Thomson joyfully raced around the bases and the losers trudged off the field, Robinson was the lone Dodger smart enough to watch Thomson's feet to see if the delirium caused him to miss a bag.

Branca recalled sobbing on the clubhouse steps, and hearing reassuring words from, again, just one teammate. "Hang in there Ralph," Robinson told him. "If it wasn't for you we wouldn't even have been here."

Robinson was only paying off a four-year-old debt. On Robinson's arrival in 1947, Branca lobbied the resistant Dodgers to set aside their racist beliefs for the good of the team. "If you don't want to socialize with Jackie," Branca told them, "at least work with him. Unless you're blind, you can see he'll help us win the pennant."

Branca understood that Southern players such as Dixie Walker and Bobby Bragan were facing intense pressure from friends and family back home who couldn't fathom the thought of a black man as an equal. Branca wished they'd grown up in his integrated community of Mount Vernon, New York. "Living and playing with blacks," he said, "was part of my life."

Posted by at December 30, 2016 12:55 PM