For close to 50 years, Ralph Branca had played the part of affable straight man. He had his suspicions, sure, because everyone in baseball had heard the rumors and the rumblings. For years — for decades — there had been whispers that the Giants’ famous comeback from 13 ½ games behind the Dodgers during the fabled summer of 1951 had been artificially aided.
As the century turned, so did the story. Old men started to talk. A scheme was uncovered: A powerful telescope had been set up in center field at the old Polo Grounds, lasered in on the opposing team’s catcher. Once the signals were figured out, the information was relayed — by buzzer, of all things — to the Giants’ bullpen.
And from the bullpen would come, via body language, what pitch was coming. The Giants won 16 games in a row. They caught the Dodgers in six weeks. They beat them in a three-game playoff.
As that story gained more and more traction in the summer of 2001, as the golden anniversary of the most famous home run in baseball history approached — Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” that finally won the pennant for the Giants on Oct. 3, 1951 — I called Branca and asked him…