Willie Mays and the Legend of “The Catch”

On this day in 1954, New York Giants center-fielder Willie Mays makes an amazing over-the-shoulder play on a fly ball, forever after known simply as “The Catch.” The fly ball sent by Cleveland Indians first baseman Vic Wertz in the first game of the World Series could have been lethal, but instead resulted in an out and a legend.

So, for the lesson herein, play-by-play; it’s Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. In the top of the 8th inning with the score tied 2–2, Giants starting pitcher Sal Maglie walked Indians lead off hitter Larry Doby. Al Rosen singled, putting runners on first and second, and New York manager Leo Durocher summoned left-handed relief pitcher Don Liddle to pitch to Cleveland’s Wertz, a left-handed batter.

Wertz worked the count to two balls and one strike before hitting Liddle’s fourth pitch approximately 420 feet to deep center field. In many stadiums the ball would have been a home run, which would have given the Indians a 5–2 lead. However, the Polo Grounds was larger than average, and Mays, who was playing in shallow center field, made an on-the-run, over-the-shoulder catch at the warning track for the out.

Having caught the ball, Mays immediately spun and threw. Doby, the runner on second, might have been able to score the go-ahead run had he tagged at the moment the ball was caught; as it was, he ran when the ball was hit, then had to scramble back to re-tag. Mays’ throw went to second base, holding Cleveland to runners at first and third with one out.

The Giants and their future Hall of Famer won the game 5-2 in 10 innings, and went on to sweep the Indians and the series. This is the type of history that makes guys like Frank P. Bonnette and Rick Polanco weep openly, and it is here the lesson endeth.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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