Willie Mays makes an appearance every fall on Spear Street to honor the September 29 anniversary of one of the greatest plays in baseball history.    


The Catch

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Thursday September 28, 2017

When I was growing up in a small New Jersey town, my Aunt Helen often took me to New York City to attend baseball games at Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, and the Polo Grounds. I loved watching stars like Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, and Willie Mays hit towering home runs and make marvelous catches. It was my introduction to a world where wondrous things sometimes happened, and it inspired me to try my best.

I remember 1954 quite well. Although the Cleveland Indians didn’t win 22 games in a row that year, they did rack up 111 victories. Even more significantly, they ended my beloved New York Yankees’ astonishing streak of five straight World Series championships. The Indians smugly headed to the Polo Grounds on September 29, hoping to trounce the New York Giants in the first game of the 1954 World Series.

In the top of the eighth inning of that first game, with the score tied at 2-2, Cleveland got its chance. With two runners on base, Vic Wertz walloped a ball to deep center field. The Giants’ Willie Mays, playing in shallow center, turned around and sprinted to make an amazing on-the-run, over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track, over 400 feet away. After catching the ball, Mays spun around and fired it to the infield. “The Catch,” as it came to be known, had prevented the Indians from scoring and seemed to take the heart out of the once-confident Cleveland team. The Indians lost that game and were ignominiously swept by the Giants in the four game series.

Decades later, avid baseball fan Rich Tarrant, Jr. wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “The Catch.” He asked Thom Ross, an artist friend, to recreate the event with five Willie Mays cutouts, and they reverently displayed the sculptures in iconic areas of New York like Times Square and Central Park. Although the Polo Grounds had long ago been demolished and replaced by a housing project, Tarrant and Ross sought a location as close as possible to the spot where “The Catch” actually took place, and they positioned the cutouts there on September 29, 2004, half a century after the fantastic feat.

Tarrant says that they received enthusiastic reactions from everyone. The kids, who only knew Mays as a baseball legend, and the septuagenarians, who had personally attended games at the old ballpark, were united in their admiration of the sculpture.

Ross gave the five-part sculpture to Tarrant a few years ago, and Tarrant has been displaying it on his front lawn on Spear Street every September since then. He has received many positive and emotional responses. Tarrant says that one elderly woman, “with a tear in her eye,” told him that the sculpture brought back memories of sitting on her mother’s lap at Giants’ games. Another person showed his appreciation by presenting Tarrant with four books on Willie Mays. A child viewed the sculpture as an instrument that forecasts the weather, because Tarrant doesn’t put it out on rainy days.

On September 29, I’ll drive over to the sculpture, park across the way, and watch Willie Mays make “The Catch” all over again. And, of course, I’ll think of my Aunt Helen.

 

SOURCE: William Wargo, Contributor