Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'The Catch,' 55 Years Later

Unless you are at least in your 60s, you have no memory of Willie Mays' over–the–shoulder catch of Vic Wertz's drive to deep center field at New York's Polo Grounds in the first game of the 1954 World Series.

It happened on this date, which may seem strange to modern baseball fans. It has been decades since a World Series game was played in September. And the game was played during the day, which became increasingly rare after the first night–time game was played in 1971.

And, as iconic as "The Catch" has become, the chances of it being duplicated have been rendered virtually nil, given that the dimensions of modern ballparks have shrunk dramatically in comparison to those of the past. Actually, in most of the ballparks in existence at the time, Wertz's shot would have been a home run. But the Polo Grounds (which was demolished about 10 years later) was cavernous, and the ball remained in play.

Mays' catch is widely credited with propelling the New York Giants to a sweep of the Cleveland Indians. It was the last time the Giants (who moved to San Francisco a few years later) won a World Series — and it looks like they won't have the opportunity to end their drought this year. Mathematically, they are still in the race — but just barely — for the National League's wild card berth.

By the way, baseball's playoffs begin next week, and the playoff field has begun to take shape.

In the American League, the Yankees and the Angels already have won their divisions. Detroit and Minnesota meet in a four–game series this week that should go a long way toward deciding which team will represent the AL Central in the playoffs. And the Boston Red Sox appear all but certain to be the AL's wild card team.

In the National League, the Cardinals and Dodgers are on their way to the playoffs. St. Louis has clinched its division. The Dodgers probably will represent the NL West, but, at the moment, the only thing Los Angeles is assured of is a playoff spot. It is still possible that the Dodgers will be overtaken by the Colorado Rockies, who are 4½ games out with six games to play. Likewise, Philadelphia leads the NL East but could lose it to Atlanta, which has won seven in a row.

Unless something truly unexpected occurs, it seems likely the NL's wild card team will be either Colorado or Atlanta.

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