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 masterful The 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.