Willie Mays' running, over-the-shoulder catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series at New York's Polo Grounds is considered one of the greatest defensive plays in baseball history. Here is what experts -- including Mays himself -- had to say about it:
WILLIE MAYS: "I made many catches like that in the course of a season. ... I was a guy that never could believe that a guy would hit a ball over my head. I was playing very shallow, and when you look at the films, you'll see how far I had to run to catch the ball. Now as I'm running, I'm not worrying about catching the ball. I have no idea I'm going to catch this ball. My biggest problem was, how am I going to get this ball back into the infield. If you see the film again, see how quickly I stop. And how quickly I threw the ball. I never looked.
"The key in the Polo Grounds is to get the ball back into the infield. Regardless of how you get it back. Just throw it back, somebody's going to cut off. If you look at another thing, there never was a cutoff man to come out there. Just think about what I'm saying now. No cutoff man; all four infielders are in the infield. Nobody came out because they knew that if I caught the ball, I'd get it back into the infield very quickly. Now the reason I was worried, if I didn't catch the ball, the guy on second is going to score. The guy on third is going to score. And the guy might get an inside-the-park home run. As it was, and I was told later, Doby had went around third, halfway to home. He had to go back to third, touch third, go back to second, and then go back to third. Al Rosen, which was on first, had to go from first to third. Now he had to go back to first. Only (one) guy advanced. And to me, that's the key to the whole catch now.
"I don't have time to be thinking. I'm thinking as I'm running. And people will say, 'Well, how can you do all that?' Well, I don't know; I just do it. I realize what's happening before it happens. I learned that when I was about 17, 18 -- think about what you are going to do before the ball ever is hit to you. You can't worry about it when the ball is on the way. You've got to make your plan before the ball ever gets pitched or hit. What I do with the ball if the ball is hit to me? I knew what I was going to do, as I'm running."
NICK ACOCELLA (baseball author): "Everybody talks about the great, the great 1954 World Series catch, and Willie claims ... that wasn't his greatest catch. His greatest catch came in a regular-season game. I don't even believe there's any tape of it. It may not have been on television, but they were at Forbes Field, which ... was cavernous. I mean, you could ... just run forever and catch the ball. And one of these big, lumbering right-handed hitters that the Pirates have always had rocks one to left center field. And Willie is running with his back to the plate. And he's got a bead on the ball. He's going to catch the ball over his shoulder, and the ball hits a wind pocket and dips down and to the right. And Willie doesn't even break stride and reaches out with his bare hand and catches the ball.
"(Giants manager Leo) Durocher went berserk. He told everybody in the dugout, 'Don't say a word. Freeze him out.' Willie comes back to the dugout; nobody says anything. He walks over to Leo and says, 'Mr. Leo, you don't have to tell me that was a great catch. I know that was a great catch.' And Branch Rickey, who was the general manager of the Pirates at the time, sent a note down to the dugout saying, 'Young man, that is the greatest catch I have ever seen, or the greatest catch I'm ever likely to see.' "
ELIOT ASINOF (baseball author): "There's that marvelous story of the famous catch of Vic Wertz, deep into center field when (Mays) ran, ran, ran, made the great catch, and then spun and throw, and threw the man out, trying to advance a base. And everybody said what great instincts he had. And Willie tells the story years later saying that wasn't instinct. He says, 'All the time I was running, I was thinking about making the catch and then turning and throwing' because that's exactly what he knew he had to do. And (it was) not an instinctive act. It was Willie Mays playing at the ultimate power that he had. Marvelous ball player."
JOE BLACK (Dodgers pitcher): "Willie had the self-confidence that if they ball was in the ballpark he could catch it. He had the uncanny knack that he was moving in the direction of the sound. Now I don't know if that's something that God gave him, but he was moving in that direction and he would take a glimpse at the ball and he would run and run and his mind had told him what spot to look up. Now, everybody talks about that catch, I think his greatest catch was against the Dodgers in Ebbets Field, the last game he played before he went in to the services."
JACK BRICKHOUSE (1954 World Series broadcaster): "The pitcher was Don Little, a little lefty from downstate Illinois. The batter, of course, was Vic Wertz. The situation was important, and there was Mays out in center field. And now Wertz hits that ball, left-handed hitter, and bango, it's gone. This is so deep. And Mays had so much area to run in -- way, way out there. And I forget the exact words of my call, but I do know this -- I know that, seeing Mays run out from under his cap, make that running catch with his back to the infield ... and then turn around and make that throw to second base, force those runners back ...
"And I said to some people watching this ... it might even be an optical illusion. When you have a call like this, you say to yourself, 'God, I hope I said the right thing.' I hope I didn't say something silly or foolish or incorrect. But the words were out of my mouth by now; that was it. And fortunately, I guess I got away with it.
I forget what the pitch was; I think it was an inside fastball. 'That's hit. Back she goes -- back, back, back, back, way back there. It's way, way out there. Willie Mays is on his bicycle, he's running as hard as he can, can he catch up with this? He caught it! He caught it! Willie Mays made the catch on that crazy ball out there. To some people it had to be an optical illusion, but he caught it.' "
BOB FELLER (Hall of Fame pitcher of the '54 Indians): "Yeah, we'd have scored some runs, but any center fielder -- any decent center fielder -- could have caught the ball. Willie put the act on pretty good. He could have caught the ball easy. And did, really. But Willie always did. He always wore his hat a little big too big or too small so it would fall off. Ball hit right at him, he'd run over here and come back and dive for it. The ball was not all that tough. It hit into a little wind. It brought the ball straight down, like a popup over the infield. Over the catcher. And we knew he was going to catch the ball.
"Willie whirls around, throws the ball, his hat falls off. Greatest act I think since P.T. Barnum (laughs). But Willie had the ball all the way. We knew it. We knew he was going to catch it. ... I'm not taking anything away from Willie. But it was a good catch. It was a fine catch and they caught it on television. If the ball had dropped in, if it hadn't have been for the wind, the ball would have been in the bleachers. It would have been a home run."
PETER GAMMONS (ESPN reporter): "When I say 'artist,' I mean I think (Mays is) like Dr. J, or somebody like that, where he comes along and does for the first time things that other people later make routine. That he actually changed the way the game was played in a way."
DUKE SNIDER (Hall of Fame outfielder): "The greatest thing I ever saw Willie Mays do? He made a catch one night in Ebbets Field, in left center field. He's a right-handed thrower so he was going to his right. Couldn't extend his arm far enough to catch the ball so he reached out with his bare hand and caught the ball about three feet off the ground as he dove for it. And to me, that was so much better a catch than he made against Vic Wertz. This was an outstanding catch and, it was very exciting to see that happen. I never tried it. It was probably the greatest catch I've ever seen."
MONTE IRVIN (Mays' teammate): "It was one of the greatest catches that I've ever seen. Number one, Mays was playing over in left center because Don Little was the pitcher. He didn't think that Vic Wertz would pull the ball, so when Wertz hit the ball to right center, that meant that he had to really hurry over to right center to catch the ball. Now he caught the ball and had the presence of mind to wheel and throw to second base to keep (Larry) Doby from scoring from second base."
JERRY IZENBERG (journalist): "When people think of Willie Mays, they think of that tremendous ball in the '54 World Series that Vic Wertz hit, and Willie had his back turned, and Willie ran like a pass receiver heading for the ball. And nobody thought he was going to catch the ball. Nobody. Years later I thought maybe Willie didn't think he was going to catch it. But he got there. And it was the most incredible catch. And that catch was the defining moment of the 1954 Giants; it was the defining moment of the 1954 World Series because everything turned around from that moment on, and it was the defining moment of Willie Mays publicly as an outfielder -- not that he needed defining, everyone knew -- but now they had a reference point to say, 'Do you remember when?' "
JOE MORGAN (Hall of Fame second baseman/ESPN baseball analyst): "Everything he did was probably better than everyone else. He made some plays that were just unbelievable. The one where he caught Vic Wertz drive over his shoulder -- he tells me that's about the 10th-best catch he ever made. I would agree with him. I mean, I've seen him make a catch off me that I thought was better than that."
BILL RIGNEY (Mays' teammate 1951-53): "I was sitting with (Hall of Fame pitcher) Carl Hubbell. He was then the farm director for the Giants. When (Wertz) hit it, it looked like there was no way. But he hit it in dead center field. And that was Mays' domain. He knew where he was out there. There was plenty of room to run. And Willie had one little habit of when he knew he was gonna catch it, one time he'd hit the glove."
As he's running for this, and he's looking over his head, Hubb said, 'He hit the glove; he's got it.' And he reached out and caught it. Not only was it a good play, but he made a great throw back into the infield to keep everybody in place. ... He says it wasn't his best. And he and I agree to a point. Because I saw him make two other plays that were just as good. But this one was at a World Series when it meant more."