Friday, September 16, 2011 Leave a Comment
by Rabbi David Zaslow
Beloved 85 year old Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca is an active Catholic. Last week he’s told by the reporter who wrote his biography that his mother was Jewish. I get called by the NY Times for my reaction. A small story that’s shaking up the baseball loving corners of the Jewish, Catholic, and old timer Baseball worlds.
At the same MOMENT the call comes into me from the NY Times (believe me, this is not a daily or weekly occurrence in my home) Devorah and I visiting with her cousin Bruce who was a pretty major UPI baseball and football sports photographer for the SF Giants and the Oakland Raiders. Ok, so what’s the big deal? Me and my cousin are discussion religion (he dislikes “organized religion) since he’s a professed athiest. His religion is the photo-shoot and his synagogue is behind home plate where he can get the best shot.
The call comes in to get my reaction to Branca finding out he’s Jewish. “Excuse me Bruce, I have to take this call from the NY TImes.” OK, I’m name dropping to Devorah’s cousin and I know it, but this “coincidence” is all pretty funny. Plus how often do I get to proclaim outloud “I Have to take this call from the NY Times?” This may be part of my fifteen minutes of fame and I do not want to waste it.
Now, the story beneath the story. Ralph Branca is famous for pitching what is called “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” In the final game of the 1951 pennant series Bobby Thompson of the NY Giants got a home run off Branca thus winning the series for the Giants. To us Dodger fans it was one of the worst moments of our lives (the others being when the Dodgers moved to LA and when JFK and MLK was shot). Believe me, his grief at giving up that home run was inconsolable. The moniker “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ has haunted him for 6 decades. I mean, it wasn’t just giving up a home run, it was giving up the entire pennant; giving up “our” chance to play the NY Yankees in the World Series. Sounds trivial to a non-baseball fan, but to a baseball nut this is still one of the most famous moments in baseball history. For real! Ask anyone who knows baseball…sixty years ago this October 3, and that one pitch by Branca will never be forgotten. It haunts him to this day. He is 85 years old.
85 and VERY actively Catholic. Was G-d punishing him for giving up that home run? Was this the “cross” he was destined to bear? Was this all a test of his faith? These are questions Branca has asked all his life. And now…now he finds out he’s Jewish. That his mother hid their family’s Judaism from him? That his aunt died in Auchwitz. That his brother suspected they were really Jewish. That the family should have known. Is this part of the “cross” he still bears? Is this part of some Divine plan to inspire the tens of thousands of lost Jews to somehow reconnect to their faith? Poor Ralph Branca. I davvened for him this morning. He must be shaken up to some degree. Jews want to reclaim him. Catholics don’t want to let go. Old time baseball fans are watching and going “wow!”
Here is what Jewish storytelling scholar Penninah Schram wrote to me this morning from NY: “May G-d use this little story for healing!” Here’s what I say, “Amayn!”