Ralph Branca recalls friendship with Jackie Robinson - KMSP-TV

Ralph Branca recalls friendship with Jackie Robinson

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NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

The new movie "42" tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke baseball's color barrier, to whole new generation.

Ralph Branca, 87, was a three-time All-Star pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers team that Robinson joined. He is the only surviving member of that team.

"We were friends, we played together," Branca said. "I didn't care about the color of his skin. I looked at him when I met him, he came into the locker room. I said 'I hope he can help us win. He looks like he can."

When Robinson made his debut in 1947, Branca stood next to him when players on the opposing team refused to take the field.

Branca recalled this conversation: "My older brother John said… 'Are you crazy?' I said 'What are you talking about?' He said 'You stood next to Jackie.' I said 'So what?' He said 'Suppose a guy tried to shoot him and was a lousy marksman and missed by three feet.' I said 'I would've died a hero."

It was a tumultuous year for Robinson and the team. On the road the racism was never far away.

He's feisty, he's fiery, he's a competitor," Branca said. "And he had to turn the other cheek."

Branca remembers when team captain Pee Wee Reese took a stand against fans and other players. He said Reese put his arm around Robinson and pointed to the word "Brooklyn" on his chest, saying that Robinson was his teammate.

Branca knows how important Robinson not just to baseball but to society. He said Robinson made it easier for Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

"Made it easier for [Parks] to have the guts to say 'I'm sitting in this seat, period,'" he said.

Branca has seen the movie and said it captures the time period well, especially Robinson and the man who had the gut to sign him: Branch Rickey.

He said Robinson didn't just change baseball; he changed the country and the world.

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