8. Ralph Branca: The Pitch Heard ‘Round the World!
Scripture Reading: Job 13: 13 – 28
Key verse: Job 13: 15 Though he slay me, I will hope in him,
yet I will argue my ways to his face. (ESV)
Most serious fans of the game of baseball have heard of it – “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Many fans, like myself, who weren’t even born yet, know about that shot. Many have certainly heard the recording of the Giant’s announcer Russ Hodges’ frenetic play-by-play “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” In case you don’t know, the Giant’s Bobby Thomson hit a three-run home run into the left field stands to give the home team Giants the National league pennant over the losing Brooklyn Dodgers.
OK – more details are in order for the uninitiated. The year was 1951. The New York Giants (they didn’t move to San Francisco until 1958) had been 12 ½ games behind the Dodgers on August 10th. The Giants had a fantastic run and finally caught their Brooklyn rivals on the last day of the season. Since there was no playoff system in those days, other than the World Series, the teams had to play a three-game playoff series. They split the first two games, so the stage was set for the dramatic Game Three, to be played in the Giant’s home park, the Polo Grounds.
The Dodgers had a 4 to 2 lead in the ninth when they relieved starter Don Newcombe and brought in their top bullpen man, Ralph Branca. With one out and Giants on second and third, Branca’s second pitch to Giants’ outfielder Bobby Thomson was drilled down the left field line and into history… for the Giants, who at that moment had indeed won the pennant, but it was another painful loss for Brooklyn. And an especially ignominious moment for the pitcher who delivered the ball to the plate.
As the Giants celebrated, the Dodgers agonized. There is a famous picture of Branca, sitting on steps somewhere in the Polo Grounds, head down, completely disheveled, as anyone could imagine. That’s the unfortunate truth about great moments in sports – when somebody wins, someone else has to lose. The story goes on – Branca waited until hours after the game had ended to leave. His future wife, Ann, called on her cousin, Father Pat Rowley, to meet with Branca as he left the ball park. As he cried out, “Why me?”, the priest pointed out, as recounted in a 2011 article in the New York Times by Joshua Prager: “God had chosen him to yield the home run because God knew his faith was strong enough to sustain him through what would follow. ‘Yes it was’, thought Branca.”
And, since then, he has used his notoriety to be an encouragement to others who’ve gone through similar situations. He has also raised money for charities over many years, because of his significant interaction with baseball history. Most baseball fans know who Ralph Branca is (as of this writing, he’s still active at 89). But few know (or care) who led the National League in wins in 1951 (Larry Jansen and Sal Maglie, both of the Giants, won 23 that year, in case you’re interested). He recites this every day to the Lord: “Make me worthy of your love; make my love worthy of you.”
That’s how we should look at things in this life. God is sovereign in every way. He is in control of the things that happen to us. When what we see around us seems beyond what we can handle, remember: He knows we can take it.
What happened to Ralph Branca reminds us of what happened to Job. People in our world often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people (remember, no mere human is “good” in the sight of God; we are all sinners, but, relatively speaking, some people are more righteous than others). Isn’t it interesting: most scholars agree that Job was the first book actually written; Job apparently was a contemporary of Abraham, who lived about 600 years before Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. God dealt with this question, then, right up front.
So, to recount what happened to Job: God allowed Job, one of the most well-respected men of his day, to be tested by Satan. God allowed Satan to take all his possessions and his children, then allowed him to touch Job’s body. Then, as Job agonized, a group of “friends” – Job calls them “worthless physicians” in Job 13: 4 (ESV) – come around and suggest, with several lines of arguments, that Job deserves what he’s getting because he must be a sinner. In that day, as it is for a lot of people today, it was assumed that those who suffered were evil, and those who were blessed were good. Even Jesus’ disciples, in John 9, questioned Jesus about a blind man – who sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born blind? Job starts Chapter 13 by saying: “I know what you know… but that’s not the case this time!” He accuses his friends of lying and risking the rebuke of God.
In verses 13 and 14, Job declares that he is not afraid of losing his life – he’s not trying to defend his life from God. Then, in verse 15, he makes the ultimate statement on this topic: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him…” (ESV) Even if God were to do the ultimate – take Job’s life – Job was going to still put his hope in God. That’s an amazing attitude – and a tough one for us to face in trying times. But, again, we see the humanity of Job (and his realistic response): “yet I will argue my ways to his face.” (ESV) Job’s agony was not diminished, and he still wanted to know from God “Why me?”
Job goes on to declare the justice of God – that he trusted that he would get a right verdict from the Lord. At the end, he’s pleading with God to tell him why all this is happening: “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin.” ( Job 13: 23 ESV) And you know – at the end of the book, God never tells him what was going on. But He does bless Job even more than before, after this trial is over.
Ralph Branca learned from Job – we don’t always know why we suffer. But, even in the midst of our trial, even if God takes our life, we still need to put our trust in Him. There is, in fact, no other place to go. God allowed Job to go through it all because God knew he could handle it. Yes, it was painful, a horrible experience. But God never abandoned him. Was it fun to take all the criticism over the years that throwing that pitch cost Branca? Not at all – it was painful. But, like Ralph, we can deal with it and use it to bring God glory.
Thought: Remember who is in charge of your trial, and trust Him.