Why Willie Mays' 'The Catch' remains one of the most legendary baseball plays of all-time

why willie mays' 'the catch' remains one of the most legendary baseball plays of all-time

Why Willie Mays' 'The Catch' remains one of the most legendary baseball plays of all-time

Willie Mays, one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, passed away peacefully Tuesday afternoon. He was 93. Mays was a longtime New York/San Francisco Giant and briefly a New York Met, and a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 1979. The 'Say Hey Kid' retired with a .301/.384/.557 batting line and is sixth all-time in home runs (660) and 13th all-time in hits (3,292).

Mays was one of the most gifted all-around players ever and his signature play -- and one of the most iconic plays in baseball history -- was "The Catch." In Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, Mays took extra bases away from Cleveland first baseman Vic Wertz. I'm certain you've seen this highlight before, but you might as well watch it again:

On its own, the catch is incredible. Mays was running full speed and reached out to catch the ball with his back turned to home plate. Anyone who makes a similar catch these days would be shown on highlight videos the rest of the season, and likely beyond.

Context is needed to appreciate the true greatness of The Catch. First and foremost, the game was played at the Polo Grounds in New York, and it was approximately 450 feet to that part of center field. It was 483 feet to the deepest part of center, the cutout to the left of where Mays the catch. Yes, 483 feet. It was "only" 450 feet or so where Mays made the catch.

For reference, the deepest center field in the game today is 415 feet at Coors Field. Mays made the catch at a point approximately 35 feet beyond that. He made the catch running at full speed and only a few steps in front of the center field wall. The center field wall that was, again, 450 feet or so away from home plate. Mays went a long, long way to make that catch.

Furthermore, Mays made The Catch in the World Series, so right away that ratchets up the importance. It was also the eighth inning of a 2-2 game, and Cleveland had runners on first and second with no outs. If Mays doesn't make that catch, one run scores and very likely two come across. Instead, an out was recorded, and Cleveland did not score in the inning.

The Giants went on to win Game 1 when Dusty Rhodes hit a walk-off three-run home run off Bob Lemon in the 10th inning. Mays had walked earlier in the frame to begin the rally. The final score was 5-2. Mays made what was quite literally a game-saving catch in the eighth inning, then set up the winning rally in the 10th.

Mays and the Giants won Game 1 and went on to sweep Cleveland in the four-game series. It was the seventh World Series title in franchise history and the last one the Giants won in New York before moving to San Francisco in 1958.

Truth be told, Mays did not hit well in his 21 career World Series games: .230/.305/.270 with zero home runs. Despite that, MLB renamed the World Series MVP Award the Willie Mays World Series MVP Award in 2017. The Catch is that memorable.

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