MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. -- Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas marked the passing Wednesday of one of the city’s own, baseball pitcher Ralph Branca.
Branca, a native of the southern Westchester city and a beloved Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, died Wednesday, Nov. 23, in Rye Brook. He was 90.
The whole city is in mourning for the sports legend, Thomas said, referring to Branca as “one of the greatest athletes to ever grace the baseball diamond.”
Branca was famous – or infamous – for being the one who threw the ball that became Bobby Thompson’s pennant-winning home run – aka “The Shot Heard Round the World” – in the final game of the three-game playoff in 1951against the New York Giants.
The mayor noted Branca’s career spanned a dozen years and included turns with the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees.
Thomas attributed Branca’s having grown up in a city known for its rich culture and diversity for his becoming “a leader at the forefront of integration.”
Branca’s father was from Italy and his mother from Hungary.
Growing up in Mount Vernon, Branca had friends and neighbors who were Jewish, Irish, black and Italian, according to a story by westchestermagazine.com.
Branca made a “bold public statement,” the mayor said, when he proudly stood with Jackie Robinson at his debut in Major League Baseball when other players would not.
Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson was the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball in modern times. He smashed through the color line in 1947 when the Dodgers started him at first base.
According to multiple reports, Robinson was often jeered, not allowed to stay with his teammates at segregated hotels and subjected to all sorts of bigotry from within and without the baseball world.
Branca stuck by Robinson and the two, the westchestermagazine.com story said, became lifelong friends.
Thomas said Branca’s “integrity and class” was unmatched, adding that his commitment to civil rights was something everyone should seek to emulate.
He wasn’t the only Branca Mount Vernon is proud to claim, Thomas sai.
John Branca, his brother, was a state assemblyman and also the city’s former recreation commissioner.
According to the mayor, John Branca helped to redefine the “significance of the parks” in the community, including Memorial Field, which the city is now attempting to reopen.
The overgrown field, built in 1930, has been closed for years while various entities battle over the best way to restore it.
It was the scene for the iconic Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial with “Mean” Joe Greene, then a defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thomas concluded his statement Wednesday by extending the city’s “deepest condolences” to the Branca family.