Willie Mays - "The Catch"
December 9, 2008
by William Szczepanek
Willie Mays is one of the greatest hitters of all time and one of the greatest baserunners of all time. His baseball cards do him justice in these areas. Willie Mays is the greatest center fielder of all time with the best throwing arm. His fielding accomplishments are well known, but not depicted much on his baseball cards. Everyone over 60 has their own favorite Willie Mays catch that they have seen ― catches that are not on YouTube or in archives. There were barehanded catches that he could not have reached with his glove. There were simultaneous catches of his hat and the ball as his hat had the habit of flying off in the middle of an acrobatic move.
The 1959 Topps #464 Baseball Thrills card shows the sequence of Mays making “The Catch” ― the most famous baseball catch of all time. It occurred in game #1 of the 1954 World Series and, thanks to television, it is available for all to see. Was this really Mays’ best catch? Many say that they have seen better.
On August 14, 1951 the Giants trailed the Dodgers by 12 ½ games before the two teams met for a 3-game series. The Giants took the first game of the series 4-2, to pull within 11 ½ games of the Dodgers. The 1951 National League pennant race culminated with the dramatic home run by Bobby Thomson in the bottom of the ninth on the last day of the season, but what about all the games that occurred between these games that had the same importance in the standings, but are overshadowed by the glare of the pennant race spotlight?
August 15, 1951 was one of those days and Willie Mays made a catch that the ghosts of the Polo Grounds still talk about on warm August evenings. The play was integral in bringing the pennant to the Giants. There were more than 21,000 fans in the stands on this afternoon. Ironically, Ralph Branca was on the mound for the Giants as he was when Thomson hit his homer. Jim Hearn toiled for the Giants.
The score was tied 1-1 in the eighth with one out when Carl Furillo came to bat with the lead run on third in the name of Billy Cox. Carl slammed one of Hearn’s pitches into the gap in right center for what looked like a sure base hit that would easily score Cox. Mays was shading the righthanded Furillo to left field and was off with the crack of the bat.
When Mays ran the bases it appeared that centrifugal force would carry him out of the baselines. When Mays tracked a fly ball, he glided through the air. On this drive by Furillo he turned on the jets and lunged for the catch. What happened then was not only unexpected, but impossible. Cox tagged up and headed home with a sure run. Mays, running full speed into right center, spun 270 degrees, throwing across his body with all the force he had. The ball flew over Whitey Lockman, the cutoff man, and nestled into catcher Wes Westrum’s glove to cut down Cox at the plate. The Dodgers were out. The only negative comment came from Furillo who said, “He’ll never make another throw like that one, the lucky slob.”
Mays singled and scored the go ahead run in the bottom of the eighth. The Dodgers’ lead was cut to 10 ½ games and the rest is history.
Willie Mays' stats can be viewed at baseball-reference.com.