Ralph Branca and his parents (New York Times)

JEWISH BASEBALL NEWS — As far as he knew, Ralph Branca was 100% Catholic.

A three-time All-Star with the Brooklyn Dodgers perhaps best known for giving up New York Giants 3B Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning home run in 1951 (see video and box score), Ralph Theodore Joseph Branca was confirmed and baptized. He often attended Mass with his Hungarian-born mother, Katherine.

But according to an article in today’s New York Times, reporter Joshua Prager recently threw Branca, now 85, a life-changing curveball, informing him that Katherine, formerly known as Kati Berger, was raised Jewish and had a number of close relatives perish in the Holocaust.

Prager’s beautifully-written and carefully-researched article will almost certainly inspire debate among Jewish baseball fans and historians about whether to include Branca in the all-time list of Jewish ballplayers. Though Branca and his 16 siblings (yes, 16) would undoubtedly be considered Jewish under religious law, the fact that he is a lifelong Catholic would disqualify him from the more secularized player lists maintained by groups like Jewish Baseball News.

Former New York Mets C/1B Greg Goossen, for example, had a Jewish mother but doesn’t appear on most lists of Jewish ballplayers because he was raised Catholic and continued in the faith through his death earlier this year.

Even more intriguing (and vexing) for Jewish baseball fans is the larger question raised by Prager’s discovery: how many of the roughly 17,000 men who have played in the MLB never revealed their Jewish parentage, or never knew about it?

Prager, who wrote about Branca in his 2008 book The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World, says the Mount Vernon, N.Y., native had just penned his autobiography (A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace) when he learned about Katherine Branca’s heritage.

According to Prager, Branca reopened the draft, inserting two sentences about his Jewish lineage.

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