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Jewish Journal

Parallel universe: A Jewish what if

by George Karp

September 21, 2012 | 3:01 pm

Ralph Branca in 1953. Photo by Bowman Gum

Ralph Branca in 1953. Photo by Bowman Gum

In 1901, a sixteen year old Jewish girl from Hungary, Kati Berger, along with several brothers and sisters, arrived at Ellis Island in New York.  A brother and sister who remained in Europe, eventually both perished in a Nazi death camp in 1942.

Young Kati settled in Mount Vernon, New York, and subsequently met and married a young trolley car conductor , a devout Catholic from Italy, John Branca.  The Brancas ultimately  became  the proud parents of  sixteen  children, but Kati secretly kept her Jewish heritage to herself, never telling her children that by Jewish law, they indeed were Jewish.  Their children all grew up to be observant Catholics.

A son, Ralph, born in 1926, grew to be a great athlete and in 1943, signed a major league baseball contract to pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Ralph won 21 games for the Dodgers in 1947, and was selected for three All-Star games.

In 1951, Ralph went from being famous to infamous, because of one pitch that he threw.  That year, the Dodgers and the New York Giants finished the season tied for first place, with identical records, and so a three game playoff  was scheduled to determine who would play the New York Yankees in the World Series.  On Monday, October 1, Ralph Branca started and lost game one.  Game two saw Brooklyn win big, and so game three would determine who would win the National League title.

In one of the greatest baseball  games ever played, the Dodgers held a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.  Don Newcombe, the Dodger ace, pitched brilliantly but became exhausted, giving up a run with two runners on base, when the Dodger manager elected to go to the bullpen.  Ralph Branca was brought in to relieve Newcombe, and to face the Giant's Bobby Thomson.

On Branca's second pitch, Thomson hit the "shot heard round the world", a three run homer that won the game, won the pennant and broke the heart of Brooklyn!  Branca was traumatized and at age twenty five, his once stellar career was basically over.

What's the point of retelling a baseball story that has been rehashed for 60 years?  Well, what if Kati had  told her children that indeed she was Jewish and what if her children grew up as observant Jews?  The point is that Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year started at sundown on Sunday, September 30 and into Monday, October 1.  What if Ralph Branca, as an observant Jew, said he would not pitch the first playoff game on Monday.  The Dodgers had a deep pitching staff and certainly another pitcher had a strong chance of winning game one.  Since they easily won game two, then game three would not have been necessary.  Bobby Thomson would not be famous, and Ralph Branca would not be infamous.

What if Kati had served blintzes and borscht, instead of lasagna and linguini, then the Dodgers might have won the pennant!

George Karp was born 5699 in Brooklyn, and Bar Mitzvahed at Hebrew Alliance in Brighton Beach.  He has just returned from Jerusalem and finalized this article on his flight back home.  George has 10 grandchildren all eating blintzes and carrying on our tradition.   George Karp is a Certified Financial Planner in Boca Raton, Florida, helping families with life insurance, estate planning, and  legacy issues..

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