NEW YORK (WFAN) — In the days before Ralph Branca’s death, Bobby Valentine and other relatives nudged the Brooklyn Dodgers great to share stories about his life, especially from his playing days.
Some were anecdotes Valentine, the former Mets manager and Branca’s son-in-law, had never heard before.
Branca, best known for surrendering the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson in 1951, died Nov. 23, 2016, at the age of 90 at a nursing home in Rye.
Valentine appeared as a guest on Mike Francesa’s WFAN show later in the day to share some of the stories Branca told this week.
Valentine said he was in the room when Branca’s nephew, John, asked the three-time All-Star if he had any regrets. They expected an answer having to do with Thomson’s legendary homer, which cost the Dodgers the National League pennant.
Instead, “he said, ‘I wish I’d stayed with Howard Cosell,’ because he used to do the postgame Mets show with Howard Cosell and he decided not to do it the next year because he got tired of picking Howard up at his house all the time because Howard wouldn’t drive,” Valentine said.
Bobby V. said Branca also regretted not giving his undershirt to a young Dodgers minor leaguer named Tommy Lasorda, who had asked to borrow it.
“Ralph didn’t give it to him, and Tommy held a grudge for 25 years,” Valentine said, laughing.
Valentine said he also only just learned that his father-in-law played for NYU in the NCAA basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden. After NYU lost the game, Branca left school and reported to spring training with the Dodgers. He made his major league debut that year at the age of 18.
“How crazy is that?” Valentine said.
The “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” overshadowed Branca’s accomplishments on the diamond. But he handled being labled a “goat” with class, embracing his role in baseball history rather than hiding from it.
“He said if he didn’t throw the pitch and Bobby didn’t hit the home run, he never would have been able to sing on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show,'” Valentine said, referring to Branca singing “Because of You” to Thomson on national TV.
“This was a good sport. This is a guy who was on top of the world,” Valentine added. “He was getting it all done. And the amazing thing (is) that he slipped off of a chair the next spring training (and) he landed on a Coke bottle on the bottom of the spine. The Coke bottle didn’t break, but it wrecked his spine. To this day, he’s had problems with it. Never was the same pitcher with that injury. Today, he probably would have gone to the orthopedic surgeon and he would have been fine.”
One positive that Thomson is remembered for is the way he greeted Jackie Robinson, who broke the major league color barrier in 1947, with open arms.
“Basically, he didn’t truly get all that stuff,” Valentine said. “He grew up in Mount Vernon. He was one of 17 kids. There were people in the neighborhood who were of color. There were Spanish people and black people. And he and Jackie were the only two college guys on the team. So he totally backed Jackie because he saw injustice and couldn’t stand for it.”
Valentine said he recently mentioned to Branca that Francesa was entering his final year on WFAN. Bobby V. asked his father-in-law if he would be interested in going on the air with Francesa at least once more.
“He said: ‘No, but when you go on, give him good stuff. You guys do good radio,'” Valentine said.
To listen to the interview, click on the audio player above.
For more Best of Mike Francesa, click here.