Monday, September 23, 2013

"Branca's Pitch": A hanging curve that lost the 1951 pennant for the Brooklyn Dodger (but Thompson's homer was a skimpy one at that)

“The Giants win the pennant!”  Remember those radio broadcast words from Oct. 3, 1951, when Bobby Thompson hit a high-inside pitch from Ralph Branca, maybe not even a strike, into the short porch at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan.  The Polo Grounds were like a huge back yard, with a distant centerfield fence (room for Willie Mays’s catch of a drive from Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series), and short porch foul lines, 278 in left and 252 in right.  It’s not clear that the drive would have cleared a “normal” modern outfield. When the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to LA for 1958, they had a short porch in left like that their first year in the LA Coliseum.
Branca’s Pitch”, by Andrew J. Muscato, traces the life of Ralph Branca since then, as related in interviews with his tattooed ghost writer, David Ritz, whose hideaway is not so far from the site of the old coliseum.  Branca’s autobiography would be called “A Moment in Time”.  People do hire real writers to write their biographies.
Some of the later part of the film deals with the question as to whether the Giants stole signs, as the Dodgers collapsed in September, 1951., setting up the playoffs.  The road teams had won the first two games, and the Giants won the third game in a walkoff, coming from behind a 4-1 deficit in the bottom of the ninth.  Branca was brought in to pitch and threw the gopher ball.

The film is shot in refreshing black and white.There are excerpts from "Concentration" and from the Ed Sullivan Show. 

The DVD will be available from Strand Releasing on Oct. 1.   I reviewed from a Vimeo screener.   
I couldn’t find an official site for the film, but I found one for the book here

Josh Prager, who wrote an article on the 1951 pennant from a broader perspective in his book “Echoing Green” also appears, and explains how memoirs are often not as objective as broader historical articles. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Polo Grounds geometric diagram. 

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