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Branca had dinner that night at Daube's Steak House in the Bronx with his fiancée, Ann, and the Rube Walkers. They were met by Ann's cousin Father Frank (Pat) Rowley, a priest at Fordham University. Branca recalls, "I said to Father Rowley, 'Pat, why me? Will you tell me, why me?' And Pat said, 'Ralph, God chose you because He knows your faith is strong enough to bear this cross.' That struck home. It was my salvation. I realized that I had done the best I could. The guy just hit a home run. He was better than I was this day. Life goes on. You don't go through it undefeated.... But I don't care what anybody says, that's the most famous home run of them all."
Thomson had dinner afterward with his family at the Tavern on the Green in Staten Island. He was reveling in his newfound glory when, at about 11 o'clock, it occurred to him that he was forgetting something important. "Hey, everybody," he shouted from atop a chair, "I gotta play the Yankees tomorrow."
The Giants ran out of miracles in the series, losing in six games to Casey Stengel's Yanks. It was a Series notable for Joe DiMaggio's final appearance as a player and for the emergence of the two rookies who would carry on his heritage, Mays and Mickey Mantle. Three years later, the Giants would get another chance at a Series title, and this time they would not fail, sweeping the Cleveland Indians. But Thomson wasn't around for that one. He had two more good seasons with the Giants, though none as memorable as '51, and then was traded in '54 to the Milwaukee Braves. In spring training that year, he broke his ankle sliding into second base in a game against the Yankees in St. Petersburg, Fla., and was replaced in the Braves' outfield by a 20-year-old rookie who had idolized him since the miracle of '51. Seventeen-year-old Henry Aaron had heard "the shot heard 'round the world" on an appliance-store radio in Mobile, Ala. He described his feelings in his recent autobiography, I Had a Hammer: "When I heard that home run, I was so excited that I ran all the way home, imagining that I was Bobby Thomson on my way to home plate, where my teammates would pick me up on their shoulders and carry me off in front of thousands of cheering fans." Thomson never had another big season after his injury, and in 1960 he retired to the paper-products business.
After suffering through a long winter as the nation's prize goat, Branca looked forward to the '52 season as a time for redemption. "I must have met 150,000 people who told me they were at that game," he says of the '51 playoff finale. "Some of them said they were right there in Ebbets Field when Bobby hit the home run. I'd tell them they must have the greatest eyes in the world to see that far." Branca had the perfect antidote for all this scorn and pity: He married Ann on Oct. 20 and went on his honeymoon to Sea Island, Ga.
He was ready to begin anew in spring training. But his bad luck had not run out. He and his wife and two other couples were playing Monopoly after practice one day when his chair went out from under him and he fell backward on an upright Coke bottle. It seemed such a silly accident that he was prepared, as apparently were the team doctors, to dismiss it as nothing serious. In fact, the fall threw his back out of alignment, and when he pitched again it was with a tilted pelvis. "I lost my leg kick," Branca says. "I could no longer explode off my back foot." He struggled on the mound for another five years, never winning more than four games in a season. In 1957, at the age of 31, he was pitching in old-timers' games.
Retiring so young was painful enough; suffering the analyses of amateur psychologists everywhere was almost beyond Branca's considerable endurance. "They were saying that Bobby's home run was such a trauma that I couldn't go on," he says. "Ridiculous! If you play sports, you expect to lose some. If I hadn't been hurt, that home run wouldn't have affected me at all."
What the home run has become is a bond between these two amiable and modest men. Branca might have been reluctant at first to join in the commemoration of it, but he got into the spirit soon enough. "I guess you could say the trauma has diminished," he says. "Bobby and I have been good friends for years. He's a good guy. I probably talk to him more than I do to any other ex-ballplayer. We play golf together. We have gone on cruises and junkets with our families. We do card and memorabilia shows. We go to charity events. Just this last fall, we were together at Texas Wesleyan University helping a friend of mine raise money there for a baseball stadium. We sang our song there."
Their song? Why, of course they have one, and they've been performing it periodically since they sang it for the first time at the annual New York Baseball Writers banquet only a few months after the home run. The tune is that of a Tony Bennett hit of the time, Because of You. The special lyrics, Branca says, were written by sportswriters Dick Young and Lou Effrat. Thomson's part goes like this:
Because of you, there's a song in my heart.
My fame is sure, thanks to your Sunday pitch,