McMurray: Even today, Willie Mays remains a giant in baseball history

From SABR member John McMurray at Smithsonian Magazine on June 5, 2018:

The most quickly-recalled memory of Willie Mays is of a catch, where the catch somehow was not the most impressive part of the play.

With the score tied in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, Mays, with his back to home plate and racing at full speed toward the center field wall at New York’s Polo Grounds, caught a prodigious drive from Cleveland’s Vic Wertz over his shoulder, more than 450 feet from home plate. A hit would have put Cleveland ahead of Mays’ New York Giants in the top of the eighth inning.

As soon as he caught the ball, Mays turned abruptly and threw it back to the infield in one motion, tumbling to the ground with his cap flying off.

Without Mays’ quick thinking and skill, Larry Doby—the runner on second base—might have been able to advance two bases on this ball hit to deep center field and give Cleveland the lead late in the game. Mays’ throw kept Doby at third base and also prevented the runner on first base from advancing. Cleveland did not score in that inning, and New York won the game in extra innings before going on to win the World Series in a sweep. ‘The Catch’ offered a snapshot of Mays’ style in one play: beautiful, sleek, powerful, efficient, elegant and brilliant.


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Originally published: June 5, 2018. Last Updated: June 5, 2018.