Monday, October 25, 2010

The Catch - Circa 1954

 

The last time the Giants, representing either New York or San Francisco, won the World Series was in 1954. In game one against the Cleveland Indians, slugger Vic Wertz hit what was surely a hit, that is until Willie Mays made an incredible catch. Here is an article celebrating the 50th anniversary of that catch.


Catching up with Vic Wertz's 1954 World Series Drive: Willie Mays' catch of Cleveland slugger's deep fly was outstanding regardless of how far the ball actually traveled

Baseball Digest, Oct, 2005 by Bill Deane

FIFTY YEARS AGO LAST FALL occurred the most famous defensive play in World Series history--one so ingrained in the game's history and lore, it is referred to simply as "The Catch." But time and hype have blurred some of the facts.

It happened on September 29, 1954, in Game 1 of that year's Fall Classic. Giants' budding superstar Willie Mays made the catch on a drive hit by Indians' slugger Vic Wertz. The ball was driven anywhere from 450 to 480 feet, depending on which source you believe.

Trust this source: the ball traveled about 415 feet.

The heavily-favored Cleveland Indians--whose .721 winning percentage (111-43) still stands as the American League record--were locked in a 2-2 tie with the New York Giants. The game was played at New York's Polo Grounds, where the wall in dead center field was listed at 483 feet from home plate (in other years, the distance was listed at anywhere from 475 to 505 feet, with no explanation for the changes). In the top of the eighth inning, Cleveland's first two batters, Larry Doby and Al Rosen, reached base, bringing up the hot-hitting Wertz. The Indians' first baseman would finish the day 4-for-5, including a double and a triple. The three-bagger had hit the right field wall and brought home both of Cleveland's runs in the first inning.

This time, Wertz blasted a ball toward deep center field, threatening to break the game wide open. But Mays, the 23-year-old phenom, was off with the crack of the bat. After a long run, Mays hauled the ball in with a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in front of the fence, then spun and threw the ball back to the infield. Doby tagged and advanced to third (a forgotten fact), but Rosen held at first, and they were stranded there. The Giants went on to win the game in extra innings, then complete a stunning upset by sweeping the demoralized Indians in four games.

Virtually every published source claimed Wertz's drive went at least 450 feet. "The ball had traveled 460 feet," according to The Sporting News, while New York's Newsday described it as "a 470-foot poke." As time has gone on, descriptions of the fly ball have gone as high as 480 feet, presumably based on the posted center field distance.

Mays caught the ball a little in front of the wall, but it was not the 483-foot wall at the deepest part of the park. Rather, it was the wall to the right of the center field enclosure, at the corner of the bleachers. According to Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals, the bleacher corners measured 425 feet from home plate, though that distance--like all of the Polo Grounds' published dimensions--are subject to question (New York sportswriter Leonard Koppett told one researcher that the correct unmarked distance was 435 feet). Either way, the ball traveled less than 425 feet before settling in Mays' glove. We have to allow for the three braking steps he took before wheeling and throwing the ball from the warning track, which was about six feet wide.

Center fielder Willie Mays makes 'The Catch',
a spectacular over-the-shoulder grab, robbing
Vic Wertz of an extra hit. The Giants, thanks
to pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes' home run, beat the
Indians 5-2 in Game 1 of the World Series.

John Pastier, an architecture critic and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, has studied this issue for decades. His methodology has included studies of photographs and park diagrams, and application of architectural calculation methods. "I'm not yet positive about the correct distance," Pastier says, but "I've never seen a published estimate of the distance that wasn't wildly overstated. I'd give the range for the catch as 405' to 420'."

Ron Selter, another SABR member and a ballpark student, has also invested considerable time into this subject. Selter's research indicates the bleacher corners were actually about 432 feet from home, and he convinced Lowry to revise his book accordingly. Selter estimates the distance of Wertz's fly ball "in the range of 415-420 feet."

The ball would have been a home run in almost any other big league park. It would have been a triple against almost any other outfielder. The situation and the play itself warrant its label as the greatest World Series catch ever. We needn't hyperbolize it by adding 65 feet to the distance.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Century Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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