Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca has just given up a devastating three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth, the “shot heard ’round the world “, to New York Giants Bobby Thompson at the Polo Grounds in Harlem, upper Manhattan, which won the pennant for the Giants, 5-4 , seventy years ago on October 3rd , 1951.
The clubhouses at the Polo Grounds were out in the far, far reaches of a cavernous Center Field.
The picture shows the scene: the Giants are celebrating; Bobby Thompson, mobbed by Giants, stepping on Home Plate. Journalists and photographers run onto the field. Ralph Branca stands alone, head down, as he begins his long, painful walk to the clubhouse. The Giants fans in the field seats have their eyes on him and his now stunning ignominy.
But ….. there is Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play in the Major League, by himself, his hands on his hips, standing soldierly near second base, not running away to the clubhouse, away from Branca, but making sure Thompson touched every base and Home Plate. It’s only Robinson and Branca. The two of them.
Afterwards in the clubhouse, Jackie Robinson was the only Dodger to talk to an inconsolable Branca, telling him to hold his head up, that without him they never would have made it as far as they had that season. Branca had been the most welcoming, embracing, accepting of the Dodgers when Robinson joined the team in 1947 and Jackie didn’t forget that and was there for him that heartbreaking afternoon in the Polo Grounds in 1951. Goodness begets goodness.
Jackie Robinson’s presence of mind — his loyalty and decency for a deeply shattered friend and teammate , shines a light on that “ born – of – the – spirit “ kind of character, courage, and compassion which is, when all is said and done, America’s final refuge, best hope …. our saving grace.
Bernard “Bernie” Kenny is the former 33rd District State Senator from Hoboken.