[Get Exclusive Tips on our Patreon, Ad-Free]
The catch was an iconic defensive play in baseball by former New York Giants’ player Willie Mays in game one of the World Series in 1954 against the Cleveland Indians. The Catch, which happened on September 29, 1954, is among the most memorable plays in baseball history in North America and it was instrumental in the Giants’ eventual win in the World Series.
Background to The Catch
Coming into the game, the Indians were heavily favored to win the series against the Giants who were looking to win their first World Series since 1933. The Indians had won a record 111 games in the AL regular season. The then 23-year old Willie Mays had already made a name for himself alongside the leading offensive players in the league and had some of the best statistics in the league (.345, 41 HRs 110 RBIs) that season.
Cleveland registered first as Al Smith’s pitch was singled by Bobby Avila and then Vic Wertz brought both home with a triple to the right. The Giants would draw level with singles from Whitey Lockman and Alvin Dark as well as a walk to Willie Mays and another single for Hank Thompson. Going into the eighth inning of the game, the game was tied 2-2 and there were players on 1st and 2nd base with one out.
Giants’ coach replaced Sal Maglie with relief pitcher Don Liddle, pitching to left-handed Cleveland pitcher Vic Wertz. Wertz pushed the count to 2 balls and 1 strike and then hit Liddle’s pitch perfectly, sending it 420 feet intocenter field. Mays, who was positioned in center field chased the hit and made a catch over the shoulder and on the run and immediately spun around before throwing the ball back into the park.
Had Larry Doby, the Indians’ runner on second base not run when the ball was hit, he might have managed to score the run and put his team in front. Wertz pushed the count to 1 strike and 2 balls and then hit Liddle’s pitch perfectly, sending it 420 feet into center field. Mays, who was positioned near the periphery of the center field chased the hit and made acatch over the shoulder and on the run and immediately spun around before throwing the ball back into the park.
Had Larry Doby, the Indians’ runner on second base not run when the ball was hit, he might have managed to score the run and put his team in front. However, he found himself having to scramble and retag but only managed to get to third base. The larger than standard size of the Polo Grounds which hosted the memorable showpiece definitely had a lot to do with Mays’ ability to execute the remarkable play. In most stadiums the pitch would easily have been a homerun and the Indians would have gone ahead for a 5-2 advantage. The extra running space gave Mays an opportunity to catch up with the ball’s dip in trajectory.
The Aftermath of The Catch
The Catch kept Cleveland from going ahead and the Giants eventually won the game in the 10th inning, their one and only series sweep and the Indians’ first time to be swept. The Giants would then sweep the series, winning the next three games. The execution of the play as well as the stage on which it was perpetrated contributed immensely to the Catch’s status alongside the greatest plays in baseball.
Many equally complex plays have been seen in the game but because they came in regular season has diminished their significance to a large degree. Some people also argue that The Catch is special because it was made by a New Yorker for a New York City team. Mays himself believes he made other more impressive defensive plays. In a 2007 interview, Mays cited a bare-handed catch he made on the run at the Forbes Field in 1951 as his most important play.
He also expressed pride for a catch he made at Ebbets Field. With the center field wall coming up fast, Mays had to scurry back so fast that he did not have time to turn around. The glove that Mays used to catch the ball for that famous play is today a relished relic at the Hall of Fame. The Giants would move west to San Francisco and were renamed to San Francisco Giants but aside from aWorld Series win in 2010, success has largely evaded the team.