The Braves acquired left-hander Jaime García from the Cardinals on Thursday for three prospects.
Atlanta is sending right-handers Chris Ellis and John Gant, and infielder Luke Dykstra to St. Louis.
 
Braves acquire Jaime Garcia from Cardinals for prospects
 
All three were part of MLBPipeline.com's list of Atlanta's Top 30 Prospects, with Ellis ranked 17th, Gant 21st and Dykstra 29th.
Garcia, 30, was 10-13 with a 4.67 ERA in 32 games (30 starts) for St. Louis in 2016. He is 62-45 with a 3.57 ERA in eight Major League seasons, all with the Cardinals.
García is under contract though next season, during which he is owed $12 million.
Cash Kruth/ MLB.com
 
According to reports from Yonhap News’ Jeeho Yoo and Korean outlet Naver, Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang has been charged with leaving the scene of a DUI crash in Seoul. It’s Friday in South Korea, and Kang was reportedly arrested at 2:48 a.m. local time with a blood alcohol level of 0.084 percent. Jung-Ho Kang charged with DUI, leaving the scene in South KoreaThat’s a shade over the legal limit in the United States, but it’s well above the 0.05 percent limit in South Korea.According to Naver, Kang ran into a guardrail then left the scene of the crash on foot. A translated comment from a police official indicates that nobody was hurt.  We reached out to the Pirates for comment who told us that they were “looking into it” and would comment on it later tonight. We’ll update this post when they do. Meanwhile, Chicago police were investigating Kang this summer for an alleged sexual assault that supposedly took place in June. As of September, no charges had been filed, but police were still looking into the case.   Patrick Redford/Deadspin
 
IRVING, Texas -- Major League Baseball's players and owners reached a tentative five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement through the 2021 season on Wednesday night. The parties will follow up today with a formal document, which then must be ratified by representatives of both sides. 
At 8:40 p.m. ET, an assortment of happy players, owners, lawyers and staffers poured from meeting rooms to exchange handshakes and hugs. That's how quickly 36 hours of round-the-clock negotiations ended, nearly four hours before today's deadline of 12:01 a.m. ET to reach a deal. Short of an agreement, the sport was faced with the best-case scenario of an extension or owners could have imposed a lockout.
 
MLB and Players Association agree to new labor deal
 
Players and owners negotiated until 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, took a few hours off, then went back to the bargaining table. Suddenly, negotiations that had moved with a crawl for months picked up intensity as the end of the current agreement approached.
Now, both parties are expected to speak at a news conference when the deal is formally announced.
Baseball has enjoyed 21 years of labor peace, during which time the sport has had astronomical growth in attendance, revenues and competitive balance. The new agreement means there will be no work stoppage for more than a quarter of a century.
The immediate impact is that free-agent negotiations and trade talks continue without any specter of interruption.
Most of the changes were regarding issues that had been discussed for weeks, but one surprising twist is that home-field advantage in the World Series will no longer be tied to the All-Star Game, as first reported by The Associated Press. Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will get home-field advantage in the Fall Classic.
In the end, this new agreement looks a lot like the one that was set to expire. However, there are changes to the luxury-tax threshold, international bonus pools and Draft-pick compensation, among other things.
Here's a breakdown based on unofficial word, and details will be clarified when terms of the agreement are announced:
Free-agent compensation Specifics on Draft-pick compensation are still being discussed. That said, qualifying offers -- which will still be calculated based on the average of the top 125 salaries -- can still be extended to free agents, but no more than once per player in his career. A player must still be on his club for the entire season to receive a qualifying offer.
Teams losing a free agent who received a qualifying offer will get a Draft pick only if the player signs a contract worth at least $50 million. After that, the pick depends on a team's market size, according to MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal.
Beginning in the 2017-18 offseason, teams will not lose first-round Draft picks for signing a premier free agent. However, teams exceeding the luxury-tax threshold would lose a second-rounder, fifth-rounder and $1 million in international pool money.
If a club hasn't exceeded the luxury-tax threshold, it will lose a third-round pick.
Luxury tax threshold Incremental increases from the current $189 million of 2014-16 to:
2017: $195 million 2018: $197 million 2019: $206 million 2020: $209 million 2021: $210 million
Tax rates for teams exceeding the threshold will rise from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first-time instances, remain at 30 percent for second instances and increase from 40 to 50 percent for third-time instances.
There's a new 12 percent surtax for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 40 percent for first instances more than $40 million above the threshold and 42.5 percent for teams $40 million above the threshold a second time, according to The Associated Press.
International Draft Rather than an international Draft, which owners had sought, the two sides agreed to a bonus pool system, with a hard cap on how much each team can spend. That pool is expected to be $5 million to $6 million per team. Under the previous CBA, the bonus pools were scaled based on record the previous year, with the worst teams getting a little more than $5 million and the club with the best record getting a bonus pool in the $2 million range. It was also a "soft" cap, meaning teams could exceed it, but had to pay penalties for doing so.
Cuban-born players who are at least 25 years old, with six-plus years of experience in Serie Nacional, will maintain exemption from the international bonus pool, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.
Roster size No change. Teams will have 25-man rosters for the regular season, expanding to 40 in September. An expansion to 26-man rosters for April through August had been discussed in exchange for a smaller roster expansion in September, but that did not materialize.
Other items of note
• Beginning in 2018, the regular season will begin in mid-week to create additional off-days during the schedule.
• According to the New York Post, incoming Major Leaguers will be banned from using smokeless tobacco, but current players will be "grandfathered in" and still be permitted.
Richard Justice/MLB.com
 
MIAMI -- A week before the start of the Winter Meetings, the Marlins took a major step toward solidifying their rotation by coming to terms on a two-year deal with durable free-agent right-hander Edinson Volquez.
Multiple sources confirmed to MLB.com the contract is worth $22 million, and it's pending completion of a physical. The Marlins have not confirmed the agreement.
 
Edinson Volquez agrees to 2-year, $22M deal with Marlins
 
The deal was first reported by the Miami Herald. Locking up Volquez, 33, sends a signal that the Marlins plan to compete for a playoff spot in 2017. In the aftermath of Jose Fernandez's death in a boating accident on Sept. 25, there had been speculation Miami could possibly take steps toward breaking up its core and rebuilding. Publicly, the Marlins have stated they hope to retain their core position players. But a lack of organizational depth, and the fact they are short on pitching, had raised concerns over which direction the club should go. The Marlins recognize no one player can replace Fernandez, a two-time All-Star, but they plan on acquiring as much overall starting depth as possible. Volquez has a track record for logging innings, having thrown at least 170 1/3 innings in each of his past five seasons. The native of the Dominican Republic spent the past two seasons with the Royals, where he was part of their '15 World Series championship team. In '16, he was 10-11 with a 5.37 ERA in 34 starts and 189 1/3 innings.
 
A sinkerball pitcher, Volquez showed good velocity in 2016. According toStatcast™, his sinker averaged 93.53 mph, above the MLB average of 91.78. The spin rate of that pitch is 2,291, compared to a league average of 2,111. Pitching to contact, Volquez averaged 6.61 strikeouts per nine innings. Volquez had a 1.77 ground ball/fly ball rate and a 51.2 ground ball percentage. The fact the Marlins have a strong infield defense should benefit the veteran right-hander. The Marlins remain in the market for at least one more veteran starter, as well as bullpen depth. Volquez joins a rotation that already includes lefties Adam Conley andWei-Yin Chen and right-hander Tom Koehler. In his career, which started in '05, Volquez is 89-79 with a 4.44 ERA.
Joe Frisaro /MLB.com 
 
MILWAUKEE -- In one of the most out-of-the-box signings in recent baseball history, the Brewers on Tuesday finalized a three-year contract with Eric Thames, a 30-year-old going on five years since his last at-bat in the big leagues and who spent the past three seasons putting up monster numbers in Korea.
 
Brewers sign Eric Thames to a three-year deal
 
"As we came into the offseason, we noted our desire to pursue a left-handed presence in our lineup -- a presence that could help balance out our current roster construction, and we're certainly pleased and believe Eric is a very nice start to that goal," Brewers GM David Stearns said during a news conference.
The intent is for Thames to play first base and provide some left-handed thump to a righty-leaning Brewers lineup. The club will spend the rest of this week trying to trade incumbent Chris Carter before Friday's non-tender deadline. Carter's salary could jump to $10 million to $11 million next season in arbitration, according to the Brewers' internal projections, after he hit 41 home runs in 2016.
Thames' contract, which includes a club option for a fourth year, guarantees just north of $15 million, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, who wrote earlier this month about Thames' bid to return to MLB. Brewers officials believe his upside and more modest salary give him a better chance than the costly Carter to be a contributor for the team when it reaches the other side of its rebuilding project.
"It's really a situation where we're excited to bring someone like Eric into the organization," said Stearns. "As we talked about a lot, we're building something where we want to establish a core of players that will lead us to the next group of competitive teams. As we evaluated the market this year, the areas we could add players, we quickly noted Eric could be one of those players."
It's a significant gamble. The Brewers do not have a permanent scouting presence in Asia, so their background work on Thames consisted of video study of every one of his at-bats and defensive plays over the past three years. In that time, Thames hit .348/.450/.720 with 124 home runs, 379 RBIs and 64 stolen bases in 388 games. His home run totals in those seasons were 37, 47 and 40. Thames won the Korea Baseball Organization's gold glove award at first base in 2015, when he became the first player in league history with 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in the same season.
"He's very aggressive at the plate and on the field, too, for that matter," a Far East scout for a Major League club told ESPN.com this month. "He's a first-ball fastball hacker, boy. He's trying to hit the ball hard. Sometimes you see guys who are happy to make contact and put the ball in play. That's not him. He's going to hurt somebody someday."
The KBO is generally considered a step below the competition in Japan, and comparable to Triple-A baseball in North America. The top player to move to the Major Leagues from KBO, infielder Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates, has said the biggest transition was adjusting to the increased fastball velocity in the big leagues.
"I'm so honored to be here," said Thames. "Last year, two years, three years ago, I had no idea what the future had in store for me and I'm very fortunate that David and the Brewers' organization looked at me with hope and believe in me and believe in my talent set."
Thames has not played stateside since 2013, when he was released by the Astros' organization and subsequently signed to play in Korea. He has not played in the Major Leagues since 2012, when he split the season between Toronto and Seattle, putting up a .232/.273/.399 slash line in 86 games as a 25-year-old.
"The biggest thing is just getting the reps in," said Thames. "I know guys are nastier now. It's crazy being gone, all these rookies here, I never [faced them in the Minors]. I have a lot of studying to do."
Adam McCalvy /MLB.com
 
NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes is staying in New York. The Mets have reached a four-year, $110 million deal with the outfielder pending a physical, according to multiple sources. The deal's average annual value of $27.5 million is not only the largest in Mets history, but also the highest for any big league outfielder, and it is tied for the highest for a free-agent position player.
 
Yoenis Cespedes agrees to 4-year, $110M deal with Mets
 
The deal also includes a full no-trade clause for Cespedes, who originally came to the Mets in a blockbuster July 2015 Trade Deadline deal. The Mets have not confirmed the new deal, which has Cespedes earning $22.5 million in 2017, $29 million in '18, $29 million in '19 and $29.5 million in '20, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman.
Numbers aside, the Mets have re-signed the most important position player on their roster. Cespedes, 31, hit .280/.354/.530 with 31 home runs and 86 RBIs in 132 games for the Mets last season, despite battling nagging hip, wrist and quad injuries. Along the way, he created a superstar persona, standing out from the crowd with his clutch home runs, luxury car collection and other headline-generating acts.
Though the Mets signed Cespedes to a three-year, $75 million contract last offseason, the outfielder opted out of the final two seasons and $47.5 million of that deal. Combined with his $100,000 signing bonus from his old contract, Cespedes is now guaranteed $137.6 million over five full seasons with the Mets.
The contract's annual average value of $27.5 million is tied with Alex Rodriguez's deal with the Yankees. It's the second-highest average annual value for a position player after Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
The Mets must decide how to configure the rest of their roster, which features a surplus of slugging corner outfielders. In addition to Cespedes, the Mets have three left-handed-hitting outfielders under contract -- Jay BruceCurtis Granderson and Michael Conforto -- as well as Cespedes and righty-hitting center fielder Juan Lagares. The Mets may now look to trade Bruce as part of an offseason plan that should also include some investment in their bullpen.
With 48 long balls in 189 games with the Mets, Cespedes has found his comfort zone in the Big Apple. The Cuban certainly could have picked a more favorable home venue from a pure fantasy perspective -- Citi Field is relatively tough on right-handed bats -- but he will nonetheless command an early-round pick in 2017 drafts on the expectation of a 35-homer, 95-RBI campaign.
With a surplus of formidable options, the Mets may not be done configuring their 2017 outfield. In addition to Cespedes, the Mets have three talented left-handed-hitting outfielders under contract -- Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto -- as well as righty-hitting center fielder Juan Lagares, who is arguably best-suited for a platoon.
Anthony DiComo/MLB.com
 
The Oakland Athletics and outfielder Matt Joyce have agreed on a contract, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported Wednesday morning. The club has not yet confirmed the report.
 
Matt Joyce agrees to a two-year, $11M deal with A's
 
The deal is worth $11 million over two years, according to Rosenthal, and is pending a physical.
Joyce, 32, hit .242 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs for the Pirates in 2016.
Oliver Macklin/MLB.com
 
With incumbent center fielder Dexter Fowler weighing his options in free agency, the Cubs on Tuesday plucked another player off the open market, agreeing with veteran Jon Jay on a one-year contract that reportedly will pay $8 million.
Jay, 32 in March and coming off a season with the Padres shortened by a broken right arm, gives the Cubs yet another versatile defender in a deep outfield corps.
 
Cubs sign Jon Jay to a 1-year, $8M deal
 
At the moment, the Cubs have Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber available for left field, Gold Glover Jason Heyward in right, Jorge Soler and Ben Zobrist for either corner spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jay in center.
It marks the second straight offseason that the Cubs have signed a former Cardinals outfielder in an apparent parting of ways with Fowler. But the Heyward splash last winter did not spell the end of Fowler's Cubs career; instead, he returned to the team during Spring Training on a surprise one-year contract, and went on to post a .393 on-base percentage that ranked sixth in the National League.
 Jay, meanwhile, spent 2016 with the Padres after the Cardinals traded him following six seasons in St. Louis. Jay was hitting .296/.345/.407 for San Diego before suffering a fractured right forearm on a hit-by-pitch on June 28, and did not return until September.
In his seven Major League seasons, Jay is a .287/.352/.384 hitter. He can play all three outfield positions and is considered an above-average defensive center fielder, with a .995 fielding percentage overall that tiesJacoby Ellsbury for the best mark among active outfielders.
Jay is a left-handed hitter. Almora, the 22-year-old former first-round Draft pick who reached the Major Leagues for the first time in 2016, bats right-handed, opening the possibility of a platoon.
The Cubs did not confirm financial terms of the agreement, which were reported by the Chicago Tribune.
Adam McCalvy /MLB.com
 
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the new front office led by Derek Falvey and Thad Levine was officially introduced in early November, both men talked about the importance of bringing back former players to the organization.
The Twins did just that on Monday, hiring former Minnesota stars Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer as special assistants to baseball operations.Twins hire former stars Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer as special assistants
 
 
 
All three players, who retired after the 2015 season, will be resources for the front office, coaching staff and players. They'll also report to Spring Training as instructors, which is a role that Hunter and Hawkins filled last year. They'll also visit Minor League affiliates throughout the year.
Falvey said it's a step toward creating a mix of analytics and the human element in the front office, as all three recently retired from long and productive careers and were a major part of Minnesota's resurgence in the 2000s. "It's an exciting moment for us in the organization," Falvey said. "Both Thad and I have had a chance to talk to these guys and get to know them. What they mean to this franchise not only as players, but as people, stood out across the board. … This was as close to a no-brainer as it gets." Hunter, 41, played 19 seasons in the Majors, including 12 with the Twins. The five-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove Award winner spent his last season with Minnesota in 2015, and he is familiar with the roster and manager Paul Molitor. Hunter, known as a clubhouse leader throughout his career, will have a focus on helping with the organizational and clubhouse culture. He'll also assist with the amateur Draft process, scouting, Minor Leagues and Trade Deadline preparation. "Everything I learned in the game in baseball pretty much came from the Minnesota Twins," said Hunter, who met with Levine over lunch last week before taking the position. "I want to give back to the young guys some of the wisdom I learned along the way. So it's an honor to come back to the organization where I was raised. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are standup guys." Hawkins, 44, was a big leaguer for 21 seasons, including nine with Minnesota. Hawkins, who pitched in more than 1,000 career games, will be a resource for the pitching staff. He'll assist in contributing to the club's organizational pitching philosophies and will also help with amateur scouting and with the Trade Deadline. He said he's willing to do whatever is asked of him, as he's always been intrigued by working in a front office, even dating back to his playing days. "Being able to come back to the organization where it started, I don't take this opportunity lightly," Hawkins said. "I've been a lot of places but my heart has always been in Minnesota. I want to give back to the young kids." Cuddyer, 37, played 15 seasons in the Majors, including 11 with the Twins. The two-time All-Star will focus more on transition programs to help teach players about the mental side of being a Major Leaguer. Like Hunter and Hawkins, he'll also assist with the Draft and Trade Deadline. "The Twins have always been in my heart," Cuddyer said. "I was fortunate to come up with guys like Torii and LaTroy leading the way, teaching me about not only baseball, but life in general. I feel like to give my appreciation to guys like Torii and LaTroy is to do this thing for the organization and for younger players."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com
 
Baseball has lost one of the game's enduring gentlemen, who lived for more than 60 years with a most conspicuous yet somewhat unwarranted smudge on his pitching reputation. Ralph Branca, the losing pitcher in one of baseball's most famous games, is dead at age 90. The game -- no, American society -- is diminished by the loss of a man of such integrity, heart and strength.
 
Ralph Branca, who gave up "Shot Heard 'Round the World", dies
 
We haven't often seen the likes of Branca since the day that labeled but didn't change him, nor are we likely to see many of his kind again.
Former big league manager Bobby Valentine, Branca's son-in-law, shared the news Wednesday morning on Twitter.
He threw the pitch that resonated throughout the land; therefore, he is forever connected to the man who hit it from Coogan's Bluff into the consciousness of all generations of baseball loyalists and to a time when baseball was, in every way, the national pastime, if not the country's sports obsession. The pitch was the focal point of Branca's life as the public sees it, the scarlet letter that didn't necessarily fade in the years that followed. But neither the pitch nor the profound loss it prompted in 1951 became the theme of his life.
Branca lived a prosperous, comfortable and content life, rising above the narrow identity the world would have affixed to him. He handled the circumstances in such a way that he developed a reputation as a caring, forgiving and tolerant man of charm and grace and emerged as something of a hero in the epic baseball episode, "The Shot Heard 'Round the World."
Because of the home run, Branca, the Brooklyn Dodger, and Bobby Thomson, the New York Giant, are linked as strongly as peanut butter and jelly, Hope and Crosby and gin and tonic. A most casual observer aware of one undoubtedly is equally familiar with the other. Even now, after both have passed, they remain two sides of one unique and conspicuous coin.
In the years that followed Thomson's three-run home run, by which the Giants completed a four-run comeback to beat the Dodgers and win the National League pennant -- "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" -- the pitcher and hitter developed a friendship that withstood time, rumors, speculation, and finally, an unsettling truth. The Giants had stolen the Dodgers' signs during the three-game playoff and Thomson might have benefited from the electronic surveillance when he pulled Branca's high inside fastball over the left-field fence in the Polo Grounds for the most famous final-pitch home run.
Nonetheless, the two remained friends until Thomson's death in 2010.
Nine years earlier, Branca gained unwanted confirmation about the circumstances that led to the home run, that espionage was, in fact, a part of the Giants' strategy. And he learned he had some unfinished griping in him, too. But his friendship with Thomson remained steadfast. Branca had come to know and like his one-time adversary after the fact. A man with so big a heart and so genuine and warm a smile was incapable of developing, much less holding, a grudge.
"When I got to meet Thomson -- I'd met him a few times, at the golf course, charity events, award dinners in the city; you know, sports awards," Branca said in 2011, "we started doing card shows together. I didn't do a card show until late 1984. Bobby had been doing them earlier, and one of the promoters got both of us together where we signed together. And while we waited for the place to open we'd talk. I realized he was a decent guy, he had pretty decent ideas about life, had his priorities correct."
Branca came to see Thomson as "only the private," explaining, "The generals made the decision. Horace Stoneham, the owner, and the Giants front office -- they agreed to the deal. They hired an electrician to hook up a buzzer system from [manager] Leo Durocher's office in center field to the bullpen in right-center to the dugout on the first-base side. Leo and his first lieutenant, Herman Franks, concocted the deal and presented it to Stoneham, and Stoneham [approved] it. They were the generals who made the decision.
"The two leading ballplayers on the team were Eddie Stanky and Alvin Dark, they were ... the guys who talked people into it. I roomed with Stanky when he was in Brooklyn, and he was a very devout Catholic, went to church every week, said his prayers at night. I'd see him. I blame them, for that, because Bobby, as I said, he was just a foot soldier, taking the orders and doing what they said."
Branca was a bright and sincere man whose kinship others treasured. "As good and decent a man as God ever put on this earth," Thomson said in 2002, months after the two had marked the 50th anniversary of their shared moment.
They had made scores of public appearances over the years as an entry, beginning with their starring in a skit at the annual winter dinner staged by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in January 1952. Each stood behind a cardboard image of himself. Branca began singing "Because of You" with appropriately revised lyrics. Thomson followed with different customized lyrics. Then Branca strangled the Thomson cutout.
The playful strangling, without the cutouts, was repeated dozens of time over the years.
A week after their debut as an act, the two reprised the song for a national audience on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and in 2001 they returned to the writers' dinner and performed again. "It's always been easier for me than it's been for Ralph," Thomson said that night. But Branca, who loved to sing and sang quite well, gave no public indication of being bruised, angry or offended. He smiled throughout and hugged his partner.
Branca never allowed the smudge to matter much in a lifetime he characterized years later as happy. "Life has been good," he said early in 2013. "I'm healthy outside of walking slowly. My brain works, and in January I finished my 87th year. That's how the Italians put it. The Italians have it right."
As much as the home run he allowed, it was Branca's ability to overcome, heal and enjoy rich and fulfilling decades with an abiding sense of grace that distinguished him in his big league afterlife. Any telling of Branca's life requires prominent mention of Thomson, of course. But other than the home run, Branca's legacy is mostly unmarred, borderline pristine. He turned the page and lived happily ever after.
"One of the finest men in the game," the late Bob Mandt said of Branca in the early 1990s after sharing his box at Shea Stadium with Branca for a Mets game. Mandt was the head of stadium operations, a member of Mensa and a fine man himself. He admired Branca's intelligence. Branca was the best kind of know-it-all. His mind was quick; in 1963, he won 17 straight games on the TV show "Concentration," which challenged memory.
Mandt knew so many people, he enjoyed the good ones and considered Branca one of the best. "Is there a more decent man?" he asked ... and not rhetorically.
It wasn't that Branca learned to live with the fallout of Oct. 3, 1951, he had the proper perspective before he was summoned from the bullpen to replace Don Newcombe in the ninth inning that afternoon. The pitch Thomson hit into the left-field stands at the Polo Grounds ruined only his day, not his life. Anyone who stayed in touch with Branca over the years recognized that truth.
Sal Yvars, a catcher with the Giants in 1951 and 40 years later the source of old news that rekindled a sign-stealing controversy, told Branca: "Ralph, you should be proud; you were the right man for the job." It was Yvars' acknowledgement that a lesser man would have slouched under the burden of failure.
A different man might have blamed superstition.
You see, Branca wore uniform No. 13. But triskaidekaphobia be damned. Thirteen was merely a number to him. He could have worn 33 or 41 or 58. He had chosen 12 as his numerical identity as a freshman basketball player at New York University. When he joined the Dodgers in 1944, at age 18, he requested 13. "I just liked to be contrary then," he said years later. Kirby Higbe, another Dodgers pitcher had worn No. 13. But he had gone to war.
Branca slipped his valuable right arm into the No. 13 uniform sleeve, and after nearly eight full seasons, one of them particularly successful, he slipped into history. Or was he pushed?
The Dodgers-Giants rivalry was unlike all others in professional sports -- genuine enmity prevailed. Some Dodgers acknowledged having no regard for Halloween because its orange-and-black color scheme matched that of the Giants. The Yankees and Red Sox of the late 20th century and early 21st merely thought they disliked each other. The animosity that developed between the Dodgers and Giants was conspicuously more intense. The Yankees and Red Sox were in the same division. The Dodgers and Giants were in the same city, the same league, the same cauldron.
The story of the 1951 season warrants only superficial review here. The first-place Dodgers led the Giants by 13 1/2 games after the first game of a Brooklyn doubleheader on Aug.11. Branca was the winning pitcher. The Giants stormed back and pulled into a first-place tie on the final scheduled day of the regular season causing a three-game playoff. Thomson's home run produced the final three runs in a four-run, ninth-inning rally that determined the outcome of the decisive game. It hit the borough of Brooklyn like an asteroid.
As Yvars recalled it, the Giants had begun, in late July, using World War II binoculars and/or a telescope positioned in center field to read the signs of their opponents' catchers during home games. A buzzer system alerted the bullpen; the information was forwarded to the dugout and then relayed to the batter.
The dastardly system was well-planned and remarkably well-executed. Dark and Stanky went so far as to make outs on pitches they knew were coming so they wouldn't overplay the team's hand and raise eyebrows.
Yvars eventually confessed the evil doing, not that the Dodgers hadn't developed some suspicions.
Before his questions were publicly answered, Branca had wondered how Thomson, a right-handed hitter he had handled successfully for years, could have hit the final pitch of the National League season -- a high, inside fastball -- with such authority. How could Thomson have anticipated that location?
Is it telling that Thomson said this years after the swing? "I've never hit a ball like that before or since. I thought it was headed for the upper deck, but I'd gotten on top of it, and it started to sink. When I saw it sink, I didn't think it would be a home run. I thought it might hit the fence."
"I knew the pitch was good," Branca told retired Newsday columnist Steve Jacobson in 2012. "He had no right to swing other than knowing what was coming. He'd stepped in like he knew what was coming."
Truth be told, Thomson hit two other home runs against Branca in the previous 32 days -- Sept. 1 at the Polo Grounds and Oct. 1 at Ebbets Field, the latter a two-run home run in the fourth inning that provided the decisive runs in a 3-1 Giants victory in the first game of the playoff series. He hit one other home run against Branca in his career.
And there is this: The Giants presumably used their system in the second game of the series, also played in Manhattan. They lost, 10-0. Thomson had the only extra-base hit they managed in nine innings against Clem Labine. So who knows? Perhaps Thomson was neither prescient or particularly prepared. Maybe he was just hot.
But it was Thomson hitting a high, inside pitch that perplexed Branca.
Branca recalled being consoled by one teammate immediately after the game -- Jackie Robinson. Baseball history identifies Branca as one of the few Dodgers who welcomed Robinson to the Dodgers clubhouse in 1947, when Robinson became the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues. Sometimes what goes and comes around is positive and uplifting.
A camera caught Branca sobbing near the clubhouse after the game. Understandable. Yes, the Dodgers had lost the pennant; worse, the despised Giants had won it. Thomson had the opposite reaction, but it was, in a way, similar. "To us, at first," he said, "the big thing was that we beat the Dodgers." For a few moments, securing a place in the World Series was secondary.
Branca told Jacobson he and his fiancée Ann Mulvey and Dodgers catcher Rube Walker and his wife Millie went to dinner in the Bronx that night. They were greeted with a standing ovation. How cruel! "They must have been Giants fans," Branca said.
Ann's cousin, a priest at Fordham University, briefly joined the group. Branca sought his guidance. He asked, "Why me?" The priest's response was that God had chosen Branca because his faith and constitution were strong enough to bear the unbearable. "That struck home," Branca said years later. "It was my salvation. I realized that I had done the best I could. The guy just hit a home run. He was better than I was this day. Life goes on. You don't go through it undefeated."
"Why me?" may have been asked by Branca when he was interviewed by newsmen in the clubhouse after the game, too. But there is no known recording from immediately after the game.
Weeks later, Branca was at Toots Shor's, the popular saloon hangout for Jackie Gleason, Broadway stage folks and the highest-profile entertainers and athletes in New York. There Branca was asked to re-enact his horror and sadness. "Why me?" he said repeatedly for posterity. "Why me? Whyme?" Though he had accepted the priest's reasoning.
That is the sound bite -- though there were no "sound bites" in the early 1950s -- that has been broadcast hundreds of times since.
The home run had a rippling effect the following spring. Dodgers equipment manager John Griffin gave Branca uniform No. 12, upsetting the pitcher. Dodgers publicity director Harold Parrott had made the change for a photo opportunity. Branca was pictured wearing 12 and discarding 13. "Harold had no right without asking me," he said. "I'm still angry at him."
He resumed wearing No. 13 in 1953.
A few days after the switch to 12, Branca and his new wife were playing Monopoly with two other couples. His chair collapsed and he landed on a soda bottle, injuring his back. It was the beginning of the end of his career. The fall tilted his pelvis and prevented him from throwing as hard as he had. "I blame Parrott," he said. "You can't mess with triskaidekaphobia."
 
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All that swirled around Branca after Thomson's home run still obscures how effective a pitcher he had been. In 1947, at age 21, he produced a 21-13 record and 2.67 ERA in 280 innings. He led the NL in starts with 36, placed 11th in the balloting for MVP -- the Cy Young Award wasn't introduced until 1956 -- and was an All-Star for the first of three times. He started the All-Star Game in 1948.
"When I was healthy, I was one of the best pitchers in both leagues," Branca said.
His record was 12-6 soon after that All-Star Game start when another freak injury undermined his career. Branca recalled a pre-game warmup when "a couple of idiot teammates" were intentionally throwing short hops to each other. One was thrown so hard that when it skipped past the man with a glove and struck Branca in the shin, it knocked him out. Two weeks later, Branca was hospitalized with a bone infection. He won two of five decisions thereafter that season.
He won 13 games in 1949 and again in 1951. But his career was essentially over in 1954 when, at age 28, he made five second-half appearances for the Yankees. He returned to the Dodgers in September 1956 for a two-inning appearance, then turned his attention to supporting his family via different means, working in the insurance business. He did well in that role, too.
A native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., on the Bronx border, Ralph Theodore Joseph Branca was the 15th of 17 children born to Kati (née Berger), who had immigrated from Hungary, and John Branca, a trolley-car conductor with Italian roots. He was raised Catholic but learned late in life that his mother was Jewish. Two of her relatives had died in Nazi concentration camps.
He played basketball and baseball and rooted for the Giants as an adolescent. His marriage to Ann began 17 days after the "Shot Heard 'Round the World." For years, when the calendar reached Oct. 3, she wished her husband a happy anniversary.
Ann Mulvey was the daughter of a 25-percent owner of the Dodgers. Their daughter Mary married former Rangers, Mets and Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.
Branca produced an 88-68 record and 3.79 ERA with 829 strikeouts in 1,484 innings in 12 seasons, numbers that are quite incidental in a review of his career.
Marty Noble / MLB.com
 
For some families, holiday traditions include food, games, or old stand by stories. But for the Braves, it's about player maneuvers.
Atlanta has reportedly added Sean Rodriguez on a two-year deal, a move first reported by FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal on Thanksgiving afternoon. This comes after the 2014 Christmas Eve leak -- at a Honey Baked Ham, no less -- that the team was bringing in catcher A.J. Pierzynski, or last New Year's Eve when the Braves announced it had inked pitcher Kyle Kendrick.
 
Sean Rodriguez agrees to 2-year, $11M deal with Braves
 
Rodriguez, who will be 32 in April, hit .270/.349/.510 last season with the Pirates, which included a career-high 18 home runs in 342 plate appearances. He played in 140 games in 2016, also a career high.
He's played first base, second, shortstop, third and all three outfield spots at the major league level, but spent most of last season in Pittsburgh at shortstop (177 2/3 innings) and first (174 1/3).
The Braves don't have an immediate opening for Rodriguez, though he may slide into a super utility role that Jace Peterson has often been discussed for.
Or speaking of Peterson, the right-handed Rodriguez could platoon there with the lefty Peterson as prized prospect Ozzie Albies' arrival date in the majors is unclear after he suffered a fractured elbow.
A similar situation could develop at third with incumbent Adonis Garcia seeing drops in his slugging (.406) and OPS+ (91) after those numbers sat at .497 and 115, respectively, during his abbreviated 2015 in Atlanta.
One of Rodriguez's most memorable on-field moments came at the expense of a Gatorade cooler, which he lit into during the 2015 Wild Card Game against the Cubs. To his credit,Rodriguez issued an apology to the cooler the next day.
A career .234/.303/.390 hitter with 67 homers, 112 doubles, 13 doubles and 259 RBI, Rodriguez's nine-year career has included stops with the Rays, Angels and Pirates. He was originally drafted by the Angels in the third round in 2003 out of Miami's Braddock High School.
Cory McCartneyFOX Sports South