His Lips Were Sealed. . . .

Last week I caught the tail-end of a radio interview with Ralph Branca. If I had heard his name before, I didn’t remember it. I do, however, know the name of Bobby Thomson. . . the man used his bat in 1951 to help the Giants win the pennant with the legendary home run known simply as “The Shot Heard Round the World.” Branca has the notorious distinction of being “the goat” who served up the pitch Thomson hit. If you haven’t seen the amazing footage of the moment, you can watch it here. . . and see where it’s rated in terms of amazing baseball plays. It’s at #1.

For 50 years – since that day in October 1951 – nobody knew what was really going on. Thanks to a Wall Street Journal reporter named Joshua Harris Prager, the truth about the hit and the Giants amazing comeback to win the pennant was finally revealed in 2001. It seems that about halfway through the season, the Giants had developed an elaborate scheme for stealing signs that not only turned their season around, but elevated stats for many of the players on the team, including Bobby Thomson. When they were playing at home, the Giants employed a high-powered pair of military binoculars hidden behind a window in a darkened room in the team’s center field clubhouse. After seeing the catcher’s sign, an elaborate series of wires and buzzers sent info to both the Giants’ bullpen and dugout. From the bullpen, a towel was used to signal the batter. From the dugout, players yelled code words to the batter to let him known what pitch was coming. If the batter missed one signal, he could rely on the other. When the Giant’s were playing away, the team found ways to employ the system from the outfield bleachers. It turned their season around. Bobby Thomson knew a fastball was coming. In that game as in so many other Giants’ games that year, the team cheated.

Three years after serving up the pitch that ended the dreams of so many Brooklyn Dodger fans, Branca was told the truth. It was verified several times both immediately and over the years. Branca’s friends and family encouraged him to blow the lid off the story, but he refused. He didn’t want to be a cry-baby or sore loser. So, he remained dignified in his silence. Then, Harris broke the story and Branca was free to talk.

Yesterday I read Branca’s brand new book about that day – A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace. The book was stirring, challenging, and thought-provoking in some amazing ways. There’s something deeply Godly about maintaining your integrity, showing grace, and keeping your lips sealed when speaking up would only serve to clear your name and reputation. We know that the Lord has said, “Vengeance is mine.”

At the end of his book, Branca says that he has yet to forgive those who conjured up the scheme, but he’s working on it. Ralph Branca is now 85-years-old. His story is one we need to hear and tell.

4 thoughts on “His Lips Were Sealed. . . .

  1. Great story. I had heard about it and was reminded of it on Wednesday which was the greatest last day of baseball season in some time with the Wild-card drams. I hope nobody cheated this year!

  2. I never knew this Walt. I never even heard the rumor. I will never be able to feel the same about this great historic baseball moment. Is nothing sacred?

  3. Walt, let me give you my “differing aspect” before Stephanie does.

    “There’s something deeply Godly about maintaining your integrity, showing grace, and keeping your lips sealed when speaking up would only serve to clear your name and reputation.” you say.

    Are you kidding? Unfortunately this is not the case Walt. Ralph Branca allowed cheaters to get away with their cheating – the very antithesis of “integrity” and “grace”.

    It would not have “ONLY served to clear his name and reputation.” Revealing his secret would have greatly served to decrease the probability of this and similar unethical and illegal acts in the future. “Speaking up” would have been “something deeply Godly”, not keeping his “lips sealed”. Many were detrimentally affected by his silence.

    There is no such thing as one committing a “one and done” con game, bribe, theft, or wife-slap. The very success of the first unethical/illegal act emboldens the perpetrator and increases the chance of the same act occurring again. The success of a minor indiscretion also increases the chance of the indiscretion increasing in severity. Often the severity of the future acts grow exponentially. An unpunished act of stealing a catcher’s pitch signs could lead to faking injuries, to accepting a bribe for throwing a game, to extortion of umpires, to physical assaults on opposing team’s star players, ala Tanya Harding.

    Would you sternly instruct your child not to take a cookie out of the cookie jar without permission, and then look askance when seeing him/her doing so? See any repercussions there? Do you think the child may then be more likely to steal a cookie out of a fellow student’s lunchbox (if there is still such a thing)? Could the success of that act perhaps lead to stealing a cookie off the local store shelf? Ralph Branca looked askance.

    In law it is a well-known fact that it is the degree of “certainty” of being caught committing a crime, and not the “severity” of the punishment upon being caught, that deters criminal or unethical behavior. The only reason the President has not been assassinated is the extremely high certainty of being apprehended, NOT the life sentence or death penalty attached to such a crime.

    During the 1700’s in London England, they would hold public hangings in the town square. Among the crimes that were determined to be “hang-worthy” was pick-pocketing. Unbeknownst to many in the crowd, they were having their pockets picked. Again, it is the certainty of being caught committing a crime or unethical act, and not the severity of the punishment upon being caught, that deters the unwanted behavior. Ralph Branca’s silence contributed to increasing the cheaters uncertainty of being caught, emboldened the cheaters belief that future actions would go undetected, thus increasing the probability of future malfeasant acts.

    The unpunished success of this stealing of signs adversely affected each and every player on that team as they saw it go unpunished. Who knows what other unethical/illegal acts were entertained or acted upon after experiencing this unpunished behavior?

    As far as “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord”, would you refuse your patriotic duty to serve on a jury?

  4. A partial transcript of an article published on Oct.18, 2011.

    “Cities Rethink How to Combat Crime”
    By Mike Chalmers, USA TODAY.

    The High Point strategy is one of many theories of “focused deterrence” that police are using to combat crime. The idea is to make a credible threat of swift and certain punishment, even if the penalty isn’t severe.
    Under Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), judges impose immediate but short prison terms, typically a couple of days, on people who violate their probation. Started in 2004, HOPE cut positive drug tests by 86% and arrests for new crimes 50%, according to a study by Pepperdine University.

    “The variable that’s important is the certainty of detection, not the size of the hammer you’re going to use,” said Angela Hawken, Pepperdine public policy professor.

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