Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Ralph Branca customs: 1954 Tigers, 1955 Yankees

Wow, that was quite a coincidence.

For the past two weekends I've been putting together a pair of custom cards of Ralph Branca from his post-Dodgers days.

On Saturday my wife and I watched the movie Parental Guidance (2012) that we had recorded during a recent HBO free weekend.

A plot line in the movie concerns one of the kid stars using Russ Hodges' call of the 1951 Bobby Thomson playoff home run as a way to overcome his stutter. The scene takes place at a young musicians' audition where his sister was to perform.

When the camera scans the four or five judges at a table, I thought that one of them looked familiar. When the boy was recreating the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" call there was a quick closeup of the judge and I said, "That looks like Ralph Branca." It was.

Maybe I remembered Branca's face from the days when he and Thomson made autograph appearances together on the card show circuit. 

I recently read that after appearing together for a number of years, Branca became disillusioned when he discovered that Thomson had apparently been tipped to the pitch that he hit to give the Giants the 1951 pennant.

It is said that coach Herman Franks was sitting in the Giants clubhouse out past center field with a telescope to read the catcher's signs, then using a buzzer to relay the pitch to the bullpen where it was flashed to the batter. 

My decision to create a couple of later-career Ralph Branca custom cards had been made when I found some pictures of him as a Tiger and a Yankee and realized that he had no major career-contemporary baseball cards after 1953 Bowman black-and-white. Branca had also been in Bowman's sets 1950-52, and in Topps' 1951 Blue Backs and 1952.

He's been on quite a few card company and collectors' issues since the 1970s. Topps created two 1953-style cards, one showing him as a Tiger in the 1991 Archives set, and one using the same photo in a Brooklyn cap in the 1995 Dodgers Archives set.

Branca hurt his back in a spring training clubhouse accident in 1952 and appeared in only 126 games that season. In July, 1953, he was waived out of the National League and signed by the Detroit Tigers. He was 4-7 for Detroit the remainder of 1953, and was 3-3 in early July 1954, when he was released.

He signed on with the Yankees as a batting practice pitcher and was activated late in July, going 1-0 in five appearances before September callups of prospects forced him to the bench as the Yankees fell apart the last month of the season and finished in second place.

Branca spent the 1955 season in the minor leagues with Minneapolis, a top farm team of the Giants, but arm weakness limited his effectiveness and he was released with a 3-3 record over 25 appearances. 

At an Old Timers' game at Yankee Stadium in 1956, Branca's arm showed enough life that the Dodgers signed him for the last month of the season, took him on their post-season exhibition tour of Japan and invited him to spring training. There he realized it was really over and he retired at just 31 years of age.

My 1954 and 1955 Topps-style custom cards give a look at those later stages of Branca's career. 

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to know how you make these cards! I've done a couple myself, and they are modest variations on existing card formats that took me forever to do after much tedious moving around of pixels.


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