The date was August 15, 1951. The New York Giants, who trailed the Brooklyn Dodgers by 11 ½ games, were in the midst of what would become a 16 game winning streak. The greatest rivals in baseball history were playing the second game of a crucial three game series at the Polo Grounds. The score was 1-1 in the top of the eighth inning.
The Giants Played Furillo to Pull to Left
With one out Billy Cox, a fairly fast runner at that point in his career, was on third for Brooklyn, while pitcher Ralph Branca was on first. There was only one out. Carl Furillo, one of baseball’s most underrated players, was facing New York’s big righthander, Jim Hearn. The New York outfield was playing Furillo to pull, with left fielder Monte Irvin shaded toward the left field line, right fielder Don Mueller playing well off the line in right, and Willie Howard Mays Jr. almost in left center field.
Furillo Hit the Ball to Right Center Field
Jim Hearn went into the stretch, checked the runners at first and third, and delivered. Furillo hit a fly ball to right center field that everyone thought would be deep enough to score Cox with the lead run. Everyone was wrong.
Mays Made a Fine Catch
Mays broke to his left and running at full speed, made the catch, a play that most good center fielders would make, but Mays had to run towards the right field foul line, so he was moving away from home plate. If he stopped running to set for the throw home, there would be no chance to throw out Cox.
Mays’ Incredible Throw
Mays didn’t break stride. He planted his left foot, made a complete whirling pivot on the dead run as if he were a discus thrower, and fired a guided missile home. As the throw came flying toward the plate. first baseman Whitey Lockman, the cut off man, let it go through. Catcher Wes Westrum caught the throw belt high and tagged out the incredulous Cox.
The Fans Were Shocked
The crowd’s initial reaction was silence. No one believed what he saw. Then reality set in and there was a tremendous roar. It was one of the greatest plays of all time. It wasn’t one of the greatest CATCHES of all times. It was one of the greatest PLAYS of all time. Hundreds of outfielders could have caught the ball, but only Willie Mays could catch the ball and throw out the runner.
The Greatest Play
The headlines in the papers next day called the throw “incredible,” and “brilliant.” After the game, players on both teams continued express amazement at the play. Giants’ traveling secretary Eddie Brannick called it the greatest play he had ever seen.” Whitey Lockman, who let the throw go throw commented, “It wasn’t a throw, it was a pitch.”
All that Carl Furillo, who was a great competitor and the victim of the catch could say was, ” “He’ll never make another throw like that one, the lucky slob. Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen said he couldn’t comment “…because he’ll have to do it again before I’ll believe it.” Billy Cox’ reaction was, “Oh, shit, no.”
Great Willie Mays
Willie Mays did things others could only imagine. Ruth was a better home run hitter, Cobb and Williams were far better hitters, Henderson, Brock and Cobb could steal more bases, maybe Jackie Robinson had better instincts as a base runner, maybe Jimmy Piersall, Paul Blair or Dom DiMaggio were better center fielders and maybe they weren’t, but statistics will never reveal what it meant when Willie Mays was on the field and he was on your side.
If Willie Mays wasn’t the greatest player to ever play the game, and he wasn’t, he certainly was the greatest player in the history of the New York Giants and he certainly was the greatest player to ever wear the uniform of the San Francisco Giants. Say-Hey Barry.
By JOSEPH M. SHEEHAN, The New York Times. (1951, August 16). MAYS HELPS HEARN TOPPLE BROOKS, 3-1 :BOBBY THOMSON HAULING IN GIL HODGES’ FOUL. New York Times (1857-Current file),38. Retrieved June 18, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 94085700).
Linge, Mary Kay. “Willie Mays: A Biography. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group. 2005.
Willie Mays’ Great Play