York Town Square reader: ‘I thought Vic Wertz had some connection to York?’
New York Giants center fielder Willie Mays hauls a 450-foot fly ball in the Polo Grounds’ cavernous center field off the bat of Cleveland’s – and York, Pa.’s – Vic Wertz during the first game of the 1954 World Series. The Giants won a 5-2 victory, thanks, in part, to Mays’ handiwork. Background posts: Old York lefty remembered young Brooks Robinson and The Tuleyas: A love story, not baseballs and hand grenades and Adding to York baseball timeline: Revs ready for ‘second helping’.
York Town Square viewer Bill Landes raised a good question in a comment about a recent post of major leaguer from York/Adams.
“I thought Vic Wertz had some connection to York?”
The York native played outfield and first base for 17 seasons with six teams – the Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins… .
He played between 1947 and 1963.
Of course, he’s always linked to Willie Mays’ sensational over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series. Wertz launched the long fly that Mays hauled down.
“The Catch” in the cavernous Polo Grounds caused the oft-repeated quip from a sportswriter: “It would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone.”
Mays – and thus Wertz – were back in the news on the 50th anniversary of that catch in 2004.
York Daily Record/Sunday News columnist Al Gregson was at the Polo Grounds that day and “called” in a Sept. 26, 2004, column:
Then came the eighth. Doby, whose 32 homers and 126 RBIs led the American League that year, coaxed a leadoff walk from the tiring Maglie, and Rosen singled to left, with Doby stopping at second.
That brought up Wertz, but Durocher had seen enough of the Wertz-Maglie matchup and summoned lefty Don Liddle from the bullpen.
After a few pitches, Liddle was behind in the count. The entire ballpark knew he would have to come in with his next offering or the bases would be loaded.
Watching the game through binoculars from more than 500 feet from home plate, I could see the ball hit long before I heard the crack of the bat. When Wertz swung, I could tell it was a frighteningly long drive headed in my direction.
I dropped the binoculars and looked for Mays. The Giants’ center fielder raced back toward where the ball would fall to earth.
I watched the ball, then Mays as my brain tried to calculate if the straight line of Mays’ run would intersect the parabola of Wertz’s blast.
I’ll never forget the awe I felt next. The ball was descending, and the fleet Mays was slowing down.
Willie was actually slowing his pace as he took the ball over his left shoulder, like a football player running under a pass.
Perhaps only one other player on the field thought the ball would be caught. Doby, a center fielder himself, drifted back toward second to tag up. If the ball fell safely, he would score easily. With none out, if the ball were caught, he could make it to third and perhaps even score, so far away was the center-field cavern.
But Mays whirled, losing his cap only at that point, and made a strong and accurate throw back to the infield to limit Doby to third.
Marv Grissom relieved Liddle and walked pinch hitter Hank Majeski. With the bases loaded, he struck out pinch hitter Dave Pope looking and then got the dangerous Jim Hegan, the Cleveland catcher on a fly ball caught by left fielder Monte Irvin with his back pressed against the wall at the 360-foot sign.
Mays walked with one out in the 10th and stole second. Lemon intentionally walked Thompson.
Then, Durocher called on a left-handed hitter to bat for right-hander Monte Irvin. James Lamar Rhodes, known as “Dusty,” was a .253 lifetime hitter, but in 1954 he inexplicably batted .341 and had knocked in the winning runs in a dozen Giants victories.
Lemon made a good pitch, but Rhodes struck a looping fly ball down the right-field line. Avila, the second baseman, hurried back for a possible play, but right fielder Pope was looking up.
Rhodes had hit a 265-foot, three-run home run into the lower deck for the Giants win, the first of four straight over the heavily favored Indians.
It’s easy to overlook Mays’ steal of second in the 10th. It set up the entire inning, with Willie scoring the winning run in the Giants’ 5-2 victory.
But no one can overlook Mays’ catch.
There have been better ones, by other outfielders past and present, and even by Mays himself.
But for sheer drama in the white-hot cauldron of World Series competition, no catch before or since has surpassed Willie Mays’ brilliant grab off Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series.
Those who witnessed it 50 years ago will never forget it.