Baseball Mystery Solved on the Chief.
Ralph Branca was on the mound for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Fall of 1951 for the deciding game with the then New York Giants to determine who would be the National League champions and play the Yankees in the World Series. In the bottom of the 9th inning, with Branca pitching, the Giants won the game when Bobby Thompson hit a home run—forever to be known as “the shot heard ‘round the world”.
A dozen or so years ago, I took Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from Los Angeles to Kansas City to see my Boston Red Sox in a three-game series with the Royals. On the return ride to L.A., I was having dinner in the Chief’s dining car and one of my tablemates was an older woman from New York City.
We went through the usual where-are-you-going ice breakers and when she learned that I was a dyed-in-the-wool baseball fan, she said, “I have a story about baseball I think will interest you.”
It seems her father was the chief electrician at the Polo Grounds in New York, which was the home ballpark of the New York Giants baseball team until they moved to San Francisco in 1958.
One evening in September of 1951, the lady said, her father came home from work and, over dinner, remarked that he had been directed to install some new wiring in the centerfield scoreboard. She said her father described the wiring as “suspicious” and he speculated that it could be used as a signaling system. That is, someone inside the scoreboard with powerful binoculars could see the signals flashed by the opposing team’s catcher to his pitcher. The new wiring could be used to turn on and off a small light on the front of the scoreboard in a manner that would let the batter know if he should be looking for a fastball or a curveball.
Ever since that memorable game in 1951 and Bobby Thompson’s game-winning homer, there has been speculation that he knew what kind of pitch was coming. He and the Giants’ management have always denied it, but the rumor had never gone away—not even after more than a half-century.
But there I was, somewhere east of Gallup, New Mexico, in an Amtrak dining car, finding out that the rumor could very well have been true. How about that!
Ralph Branca died one week ago. He was 90 years old.