Starting Nine: Vic Wertz's fly ball
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From his seat right behind home plate, Joe DiMaggio had a perfect view of Vic Wertz’s eighth-inning blast to center field in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.
“I’m something of an expert on World Series catches,” DiMaggio wrote in a syndicated column that appeared in newspapers the next day, “because in 1947 little Al Gionfriddo of the Dodgers went practically out of Yankee Stadium to take a home run away from me.
“Mays made one of the finest catches I ever saw.”
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In what became an instant classic, the Giants’ Willie Mays robbed Wertz of extra bases and RBI – and likely the game from Wertz’s Cleveland Indians – when he hauled in a ball hit to the deepest part of center field at the Polo Grounds.
With Larry Doby on second, Al Rosen on first and no one out in a 2-2 game, lefty reliever Don Liddle – called on specifically to face the left-handed hitting Wertz – served up a pitch that Wertz drove high and deep to center field.
Mays sprinted after the ball with his back to home plate, with Liddle turning to watch and then running to back up third base. Doby headed back to the bag at first then hesitated, standing about three steps off the base while watching Mays chase the ball.
Tracking it all the way, Mays caught the ball over his left shoulder, then turned and fired the ball back toward the infield. Doby was able to tag up and advance to third base, but Mays had kept the game tied.
Giants manager Leo Durocher then replaced Liddle with Marv Grissom, who walked Dale Mitchell to load the bases. But Grissom struck out pinch hitter Dave Pope and got Jim Hegan to fly out to left field to end the inning.
Grissom put two runners on base in both the ninth and the 10th but escaped without damage. Then in the bottom of the 10th, pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes homered down the short right field line at the Polo Grounds, scoring Mays and Hank Thompson to give the Giants a 5-2 victory.
DiMaggio – and the rest of the baseball world – believed they had just witnessed the impossible.
“As remarkable as the ground Willie had to cover to make the catch – and he did just get to the ball – was the judgment he showed in not letting the fence scare him off,” DiMaggio wrote. “All summer long, I wondered how the Giants managed to stay on top in the National League. Yesterday at the Polo Grounds, I found out.”
Throughout the subsequent years, some have stated that Mays’ catch in the 1954 World Series was not the best of his career.
Even Durocher said after Game 1 that Mays had made a better grab that summer off the bat of the Pirates’ Bob Skinner.
For Mays, it was all part of a day’s work at the ballpark.
“I had a good lead on it all the way,” Mays told the United Press. “So I just ran until I got it. Anyway, any ball that is hit that high ought to be caught.”
The glove Mays used to make “The Catch” is displayed in the Autumn Glory exhibit at the Hall of Fame.
Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
The Hall of Fame's Starting Nine is a lineup of must-see artifacts from our vast collection containing tens of thousands of pieces that preserve the magical moments and memorable stories of our National Pastime. Our curators have spent countless hours hand-picking special objects from every major league team to create a lineup of pieces you simply won’t believe we have!