Ralph Branca Remembrance: Peter King
(A day late as I was in transit on Wednesday.)
I asked my friend, Peter King, his permission to share his thoughts about, Ralph Branca, an iconic pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, our team when we were growing up. Pete wrote this piece last month following Branca’s death on November 23 at the age of 90.
|Yesterday I attended the wake and funeral of my good friend and All-Time Brooklyn Dodger pitching great Ralph Branca, who died last week at the age of 90. The funeral Mass was celebrated at the Church of the Resurrection in Rye up in Westchester. The night before I went to Ralph’s wake at a funeral home just a few blocks from the Church. Both times I was with Fordham Track Coach Tom Dewey, who grew up on St. John’s Place about 10 blocks from fabled Ebbets Field and had the dubious distinction of being my classmate at Brooklyn Prep. Tom and I and my brother Kevin used to travel several times a year to the Westchester Country Club to have lunch with Ralph and his wonderful wife Ann and an assemblage of their good and interesting friends. Though Ralph never sought center stage at these gatherings, he was the one we wanted to regale us with his terrific stories about baseball and life in the late 1940’s and early ’50’s–Baseball’s Golden Age. I just wish we had installed a hidden camera to have a permanent record of those remarkable lunches.
Hundreds turned out for the wake and the funeral. There were the movers and shakers from the sports world like Joe Torre, Yankee GM Brian Cashman, Giants owner John Mara and former Mets star and Brooklyn native Lee Mazilli. And writers Bill Madden from the Daily News and Phil Mushnick from the Post and Mad Dog Russo from MLB. And there were the many friends and regular people including employees from the country club where Ralph and Ann lived. All there to pay their respects to a great guy and share their stories of his thoughtfulness and generosity. Each mourner was greeted by Ralph’s son-in-law Bobby Valentine who stood at the coffin for three hours and Ann who sat just to the side of Bobby and warmly acknowledged seemingly everyone by name. Total class.
The next morning as people arrived for the funeral, they quickly went into the Church to avoid the torrential downpour and gathered just inside the rear door, sharing more Ralph stories and what a great career he had before he suffered a severe back injury when he was just 26. How he won 21 regular season games plus getting a World Series victory against the Yankees when he was only 21. How he was a 3 time All-Star and had 76 career wins by the time he was only 25. And how he had done so much for retired ball players who were down on their luck. Then it was time for the Mass to begin. I was asked to be an Honorary Pallbearer and follow Ralph’s coffin up the aisle. That truly was a great honor. (Though I was half afraid that if I was out of step, Ralph would awaken long enough to blast me with one of his trademark sarcasms!) The Mass was beautiful and moving. Most moving was the magnificent eulogy by Bobby Valentine who captured the essence of Ralph Branca — the ball player and the man. As the Mass ended and the congregants sang God Bless America, Ralph’s coffin was carried down the center aisle and through the Church door to the waiting hearse for his life’s final journey to Gate of Heaven cemetery where we all paid our last respects. Then it was back to the Westchester Country Club where we had enjoyed those memorable lunches. As she had always done, Ann had scrupulously arranged everything and made sure that this reception would do Ralph justice. It was quiet but joyous. A wonderful send off to a great, great friend. Ralph Branca RIP.