Last weekend, I finished 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book, going into it. I don’t consider myself a religious individual, and the thought of a book — even one about baseball — trying to shove faith down its readers’ throats was not an appealing possibility. But I’m glad I gave the book a shot in spite of my hesitation, because it really didn’t do that at all. Yes, it talked about religion quite a bit, but more from an objective, this-is-how-religion-factored-into-these-events kind of approach.
This book isn’t just about Jackie Robinson, but just as much about Branch Rickey and about the rest of the Brooklyn Dodgers team during Robinson’s time with them. It serves a biographical purpose when it comes to the lives of both Robinson and Rickey, while also, of course, highlighting the role of religion and faith for both men, both in their everyday lives and in the steps they took in breaking baseball’s color barrier.
His religious convictions, Henry writes, are a big part of what prompted Branch Rickey in his determination to bring a black player into the big leagues. Based on his research, Henry insists that Rickey was not as certain about his decision to break the color barrier as history now suggests, but rather his faith provided him with the resolve to move forward with the undertaking. And it was Robinson’s faith that sustained him through the slings and arrows flung at him on the diamond, even as he kept his promise to Rickey not to fight back.
The scope of the book doesn’t stop with these two men. Most notably, Henry also takes a long look at Ralph Branca, a devout Catholic and good friend to Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers team. Branca, fans might recall, also happens to be the pitcher who gave up the “Shot Heard Round to the World” to Bobby Thomson in the 1951 National League pennant race. Ed Henry delves into the role Branca’s religious beliefs played in his friendship with Robinson and in how he responded to the aftermath of the 1951 pennant race.
Ed Henry references Robinson’s unpublished memoirs to a great extent in this book. In his research, he also drew from previously uncovered sermons and traveled to perform interviews with Robinson’s and Rickey’s family and friends. Overall, I’d say this book is worth the read. True, it is another Jackie Robinson book in an already-large collection of Jackie Robinson books, but I think that Ed Henry does a great job looking at this story from a different angle, even talking about faith and religion without getting preachy.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning at the Polo Grounds in New York on 3 October 1951. The Giants trailed the Dodgers 4-1. Alvin Dark and Don Mueller each got on base with singles to start the inning. Monte Irvin fouled out. Whitey Lockman hit a double to drive in Dark and send Mueller to third. Mueller, however, hurt his ankle sliding into the base and was replaced by a pinch runner, Clint Hartung. With two runners in scoring position, only one out in the inning, and the scoreboard now reading 4-2, Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen decides to replace pitcher Don Newcombe with Ralph Branca.
The rivalry between the Giants and the Dodgers had been an intense battle for the hearts of the fans of New York. It was also a rivalry that had been broadcast across the country, through television and radio. The Giants had trailed the Dodgers by 13.5 games in August, and yet managed to tie them on the last day of the season by going 37-7 in their remaining games. The tie resulted in the three-game playoff that would determine who would advance to the World Series. The teams split the first two games of the series, 1-1. It all came down to Game 3.
Outfielder Bobby Thomson now stepped up to the plate for the Giants. If Branca could close out the game, the Dodgers would be World Series bound, and the Giants’ miracle comeback season would come to an end…
This dramatic play-by-play by radio announcer Russ Hodges pretty much secured the moment’s legacy as one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history. Thomson described the experience, “I can remember feeling as if time was just frozen. It was a delirious, delicious moment.”
It is a moment that would also live forever in the memory of pitcher Ralph Branca:
“I wanted to say it was a cheap Polo Grounds home run. I wanted to say that in any other ballpark it’d be an easy out. I wanted to believe that I was dreaming. I didn’t want to believe that it was really happening. I wanted the pitch back.
“But the ball was gone and the game was over. The series was over. The pennant was lost.
“There was pandemonium. There was hysteria. There was Thomson rounding the bases. There was Durocher jumping up and down from the third-base coach’s box like a crazy child. There was confetti flying.”
Unfortunately for the Giants, the magic wouldn’t be enough to sustain them through the World Series. They would lose the championship to the New York Yankees in six games.
Nevertheless, “the shot heard ’round the world” is a moment that remains embedded in the heart of American culture. In 1999, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp celebrating Thomson’s homer. In ESPN’s SportsCentury, the moment ranked #2 in the list of the Ten Greatest Games of the 20th Century (behind the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants).
“Now it is done,” wrote Red Smith in The New York Herald Tribune. “Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”
Branca, Ralph. A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace. New York: Scribner, 2011.
Goldstein, Richard. “Bobby Thomson Dies at 86; Hit Epic Home Run.” New York Times 18 August 2010, New York ed.: A16.
MacCambridge, Michael, ed. ESPN SportsCentury. New York: Hyperion ESPN Books, 1999.
“Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Baseball Reference. Sports Reference LLC, 26 January 2013. Web. Accessed 30 April 2013. http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Shot_Heard_’Round_the_World