its heart of hearts, baseball is a neurotic sport. The best games, decided in
the late innings, all come down to a simple question—who will choke, the
pitcher or the batter? The statistics always favor the pitcher, but fans live
in constant hope of that dramatic walk-off homerun. We have been conditioned to
it after seeing so many of them over the years. None is as indelible in sports
fans’ collective memory as the ninth inning game-winner Bobby Thomson hit off Ralph
Branca to secure the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants—the so-called
“Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” However, Branca had not cracked. He made his pitch: high and inside, a
terrible homerun ball. Thomson just
knocked it out anyway.
is more to this story than fans realized, but Branca had to live with the
results just the same. Viewers will
learn the truth behind baseball’s most iconic game and how it changed the three-time
All-Star’s life in Andrew J. Muscato’s documentary profile, Branca’s Pitch (trailer here), now available on
DVD from Strand Releasing.
years, every time Thomson’s homerun was replayed on television, Branca grinned
and bore it, like a good soldier. A family man with a prosperous life insurance
business, Branca’s post-baseball career was considerably more success than most
of his contemporaries, but that one moment in 1951 dogged him nonetheless. Finally, Branca decided to tell his story,
enlisting the help of prolific ghostwriter David Ritz.
might very well have some of Ritz’s work on your shelf. Originally inspired by Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings the Blues, Ritz has somewhat
specialized in co-writing the memoirs of jazz, blues, and R&B artists like
Jimmy Scott, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Nathalie Cole, and B.B. King. Ritz also
happens to be a Brooklyn guy, so he and Branca get along famously.
addition to a sports doc, Pitch also explores
the largely overlooked relationship between a famous memoirist and their
ghostwriter (or credited co-writer in Ritz’s case). Cynically, we often assume
this is a rather cold-bloodedly commercial relationship, but a genuine
friendship blossoms between Branca and Ritz.
At one point, Ritz describes Branca’s voice as quite intelligent and
well educated, but still a little bit “street,” which seems to fit the
co-writer’s sensibilities like a mitt.
and Muscato both convey a sense that Branca can go days or even months without
thinking of the fateful pitch, but as the macro years pass, he still bitterly
resents being defined by that one pitch, especially since facts have since come
to light suggesting the Giants late season surge just wasn’t cricket. (Well reported in numerous sources, readers
can reference Joshua Prager’s The Echoing
Green for specific details or wait for Pitch
to reveal all in due course.) He is both
at peace with the past and deeply outraged—a contradiction Ritz argues he is
wholly entitled to.
Executive produced by oh-so former Mets manager Bobby
Valentine, Pitch nicely captures baseball’s
influence on American culture and the cathartic relief Branca experiences when
his side of the story finally enters the public discourse. It is a sports doc,
but also a publishing story. Recommended
for baseball fans and New Yorkers of all stripes, Branca’s Pitch is now available for home viewing from Strand
Labels: David Ritz, Documentary, DVD, Ralph Branca