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The Suburbanite
  • FRANK WEAVER, JR: Wertz, Maglie, Feller, Mays and the "Catch"

  • WITH BASEBALL season now over for the Tribe, we can truly look forward to next year with much hope. This year, the Tribe surpassed all expectations. All they need to do now is strengthen their offense with some good hitters and then find a decent closer. If you've read this column for any length of time you'll know how much I love Major League baseball and, particularly, the Cleveland Indians.

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  • WITH BASEBALL season now over for the Tribe, we can truly look forward to next year with much hope. This year, the Tribe surpassed all expectations. All they need to do now is strengthen their offense with some good hitters and then find a decent closer. If you've read this column for any length of time you'll know how much I love Major League baseball and, particularly, the Cleveland Indians.
    The Cleveland Browns football team has its "Fumble" and the city's basketball team has its "Decision." But Major League baseball – all of it, not just one team – has the best cliché and the best story behind that cliché of any.
    It's “The Catch" and it happened in the top of the eighth inning of game one between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series.
    I was just a young lad of 13, but I remember it well. The Franciscan nuns who taught us had a television in their teachers' lounge and those of us who had to wait for our parents for an after-school ride were allowed to watch the game.
    Whenever the Brooklyn Dodgers played – as they seemed to do almost every year – the nuns rooted for Brooklyn's Bums because, as they said, there were more Catholics playing for the Dodgers. How did they know? Simply by counting the number of players who blessed themselves with the sign of the cross before stepping into the batter's box. Few Yankees ever did that. Well, naturally, since we wanted to continue watching the games, we declared our support for the Dodgers, too.
    In 1954, however, their reasoning had changed. Regardless of the number of Catholics on either team, they rooted for the Indians because Vic Wertz played for them.
    And who was Vic Wertz?
    He was a local boy who made good. The York, Pa. native was the first local to play professional baseball since southpaw pitcher Ken Raffensberger did the same for the Philadelphia Phillies in the mid-1940s. And since my Dad also rooted for the Tribe, not just because of Wertz, but because Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Bob Feller pitched for the Indians, I decided they could use the support of a 13-year-old. Thus began my long time fan admiration and support for my beloved Tribe.
    To say the least, the 1954 World Series was a memorable one. It featured, “The Catch." That was the term writers and fans used to solidify the baseball career of New York Giant Willie Mays, the "Say-Hey Kid" to baseball immortality.
    Picture it: On Sept. 29, 1954, at the start of the World Series, the Indians were prohibitive favorites. After playing an unorthodox 156 games that year in a 154 regular game schedule, they set a major league mark of 111-53-2.
    Page 2 of 3 - In the first game of the 1954 Fall Classic it looked as if the Tribe would continue its domination over opponents, regardless of who they were. In the top of that first inning, Cleveland first baseman Vic Wertz sent a fly ball off the right field wall of the Polo Grounds for a triple, driving in two Tribe runs for a 2-0 lead. The Giants tied the game in the bottom of the third and the race was on.
    Lemon, a Hall of Fame pitcher, held the Giants scoreless through seven innings. Sal "The Barber" Maglie of the Giants did much the same against the Tribe.
    In the top of the eighth, with Cleveland and New York locked in a 2-2 tie, Larry Doby hugged second base and Al Rosen was perched on first. With no outs, Wertz, approached the plate.
    Manager Leo Durocher called for time, slowly moseyed to the mound and then, holding out his right hand for the ball, immediately raised his left hand to signal the bullpen. In doing so, southpaw relief pitcher Don Liddle was called upon.
    Specifically, Liddle's job was to face left-hand hitting Wertz who had already gone 3-for-3 for the day.
    Liddle allowed Wertz to work the count to 2-1. Wertz crushed Liddle's next pitch approximately 420 feet to deep, deep straightaway center field.
    Had this game been played in many of the other stadiums, Wertz's eighth-inning smash would have been a home run and would've given the Indians a 5-3 lead.
    But at the old Polo Grounds, center field seemed to go on forever.
    Nevertheless, the Giants center fielder Mays was playing Wertz in shallow center. At the crack of the bat, Mays, sensing the power behind the hit, turned and ran as fast as his legs could carry him toward to deepest part of the ballpark. With his back toward home plate, Mays reached up at the very last moment and – to the astonishment of thousands in seats at the Polo Grounds and millions more watching the game on television – snatched immortality from mid-air. He made an absolutely, unbelievable, on-the-run, over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track.  
    Here's how one radio announcer described what had happened that historic day at the Polo Grounds.
    "There's a long drive waaay back in center field … waaay baaack, baaack, it is … caaaaaught by Wil-lie Mays! …Willie Mays just brought this crowd to its feet  … with a catch  … which must have been an optical illusion to a lot of people."
    Doby, thinking there was no way anyone could possibly catch that ball, lit out for third at the crack of the bat. When he saw the catch, he had to back track to second base, tag up and try to score again.
    Page 3 of 3 - Immediately after the catch, Mays swiftly wheeled and threw the ball to the infielder to contain Doby and, in the process, lost his cap. Instead of scoring, Doby only reached third base.
    With his job done, Liddle was relieved by Marv Grissom. As he handed the ball over, Liddle was said to have muttered with tongue in cheek, "Well, I got my man!"
     Grissom walked his first batter, loading the bases. But with one out, the next two batters were retired to end the inning and thus preserve the tie, along with what eventually turned out to be any chances of the Tribe winning the '54 World Series.
    In the bottom of the 10th inning, pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes ended the game with a three-run homer. It barely cleared the fence, just 258 feet down the right-field line and the Giants won the game on their way to sweeping that memorable World Series four game to none.
    “The Catch," as it's called, is considered by many baseball pundits to be one of the best and most memorable plays in the history of the game, mainly because of the difficulty of the play and the importance of the game itself.
    That was the year Mays didn't need to be hailed as a baseball hero with his bat. He did it with his glove and his throw.
    About 12 years ago, when the Tribe still held their spring training camp in Florida, I spent a week there and met the late, great, Bob Feller. We chatted and I said, "My Dad, who was a big Indian fan, often wondered why Al Lopez, the Tribe manager in 1954, didn't use you to start any of the games.
    Feller looked me straight in the eyes – as if I had just opened an old wound. On his face long ago memories seem to be surfacing. He continued his far away look and I could see the wheels in his mind gradually turning. This childhood hero of yesteryear perhaps was struggling in his search of the right words as he slowly answered.
    "You tell your dad,” Feller said, “I often wondered the same.”
    Comments may be emailed to: Frankweaverjr@aol.com