What's in a name?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

What's in a name?

There are certain iconic moments in the history of every sport that are identified by a brief, otherwise generic name.

Examples abound, but two of the most famous come from the NFL:

  • "The Block" was thrown on Dallas Cow­boys' defensive tackle Jethro Pugh by Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer which allowed Bart Starr to score on a quarterback sneak with 16 seconds left in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, popularly known as the "Ice Bowl."
  • "The Catch" was made by San Francis­co's Dwight Clark1 off a Joe Montana pass for the winning touchdown in the final minute of the 1982 NFC Champi­onship Game between the Cowboys and the 49ers.

But in baseball, "The Catch" might lead to an argument as to the reference: Willie Mays in '54 or Sandy Amorós in '55.

Not surprisingly, as an inveterate Dodgers fan, I'll always opt for the latter... it was game seven of the World Serious and it put an ice pick into the heart of the Damn'd Yankees all-too familiar rally, and led to Brooklyn's first, and only, world championship!

But I'll grudgingly acknowledge that were a survey undertaken, "Say Hey" Willie's robbery of Vic Wertz' tremendous drive in the 8th inning of the first game with two Cleveland runners on base and the score tied 2-2, would be the overwhelming choice.

And deservedly so, damnit!

"The Catch" by Willie Mays (lower right) of Vic Wertz' screaming line drive 460 feet from home plate - September 29, 1954.

It snuffed out the likely game-winning hit and broke the spirit of the Indians as the New York Giants swept mighty Cleveland in four games.

(The Indians had won 111 regular season games, an American League record .721 winning percentage which still stands.)

I saw both catches as they were telecast live, and in truth I didn't realize how great a play... his turn and throw was an integral part of it... Mays had made 'til the next day when every­one was talking about it.

Willard Mullin cartoon from an alternate universe

The catch by Amorós seemed at the time the more remarkable and indisputably more important... without it, there would have been a familiarly-themed Willard Mullin cartoon in the New York World-Telegram and Sun, and kids and adults all over Flatbush would have spent the Winter of 1955-56 bemoaning the Dodgers' sixth straight World Serious loss2 to the hated Yankees, and the cry of "Wait'll next year!" would've again be heard throughout the bor­ough of Brooklyn.

Young left-hander Johnny Podres took a gutsy start into the 6th inning with a 2-0 lead which the Dodgers had scratched out in an unlikely "small-ball" fashion. But the Yankees had their first two batters on base when the always dan­gerous Yogi Berra3, who had already doubled two innings earlier, stroked an outside pitch high and deep down the left field line, and my stomach constricted.

Amorós was playing the left-handed Berra well into left-center field, and had to make a long run to even retrieve the ball and try to keep the runner on first base, Gil McDougal, from scoring and tying the game with none out, and Hank Bauer, Moose Skowron and Bob Cerv due up next.

(Mickey Mantle, who didn't start, was available to pinch hit, and did so the next inning.)

The moment of "The Catch"

Amorós got on his horse, raced toward the left field foul pole, stuck out his right arm and somehow made the catch.

(The phlegmatic Berra later noted: "If he wasn't left handed, he'd have never caught it!")

Lead baserunner Billy Martin has an "uh oh" moment as Amorós prepares to turn and throw back to cut-off man Reese.

The speedy Cubaño's reaching grab was bril­liant, but his sudden braking move, turn and on-target throw to cut-off man Pee Wee Reese, was the "ice pick" coup de grâce, for McDougal wasn't ready for the play that had unfolded in front of him.

Reese turned and relayed the ball to first base­man Gil Hodges, and the potential game-tying hit became a rally-snuffing double play.

Twice in that final game4 the threatening Yankees had failed to score, and after the Amorós play, Podres settled down and finished off his 2-0 shut-out, and "next year" was suddenly "now" for Brooklyn.

I watched every moment of it on a small TV screen in Wallingford, Connecticut... my stomach in a knot the entire nine innings.

What seemed like the unimaginable had finally happened.

  1. Before anyone cites the "Immaculate Reception" by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Franco Harris for the come-from-behind win over the Oakland Raiders as time expired in a 1972 AFC divisional playoff game, the "Immaculate" part removes it from the realm of the generic.
  2. Following losses in the 1941, '47, '49. '52 and '53 Fall Classics.
  3. Berra was three-times American League MVP in the years before Mantle's legs were totally shot.
  4. The Yankees had two runners on with two out in the 3rd when McDougald chopped a difficult ball down the third base line which struck a sliding Phil Rizzuto. The Yankees shortstop was automatically out, and the inning was over. The score card read "5-U" (with an unassisted putout credited to starting third baseman Don Hoak, but Rizzuto said the notation should read "WW" for "Wasn't Watching."


1. Hampton West said...

I re-call the Mays catch after it happened - and I probably did see it on TV but I didn't realize its importance until after the game was over.

I do re-call the Sandy Amorós catch when it happened; even at that young age I remember it as quite amazing. I think we had either an Admiral or Dumont TV.

What really was amazing, was that from 1949 through 1956, the World Serious was won by one of the three New York teams!

2. Hampton West said...

The '57 Braves ended that run; I saw them a number of times at the Polo Grounds that Summer, usually winning - amazing the caliber of players on that club.

What was the best ball team you personally saw? I saw the 1961 Yanks - solid solid club - the '63 Dodgers - another powerhouse, The '75-'76 "Big Red Machine," a number of other solid Oriole clubs with great pitching, but my mind comes back to that '57 Braves club! Got an all time favorite? (Notice no Giant clubs here; as good as they were the Dodgers were always better in the 1960s.)

The Dodgers of '53 (five regulars batted over .300 and drove in 92 or more runs) and the NL expansion year of '62 (with Wills, Frank Howard and the Davis', Drysdale, Koufax, Podres, Stan Williams, Perranoski and Larry Sherry), and the '61 (the AL expansion year) Tigers... Norm Cash, Colavito and Kaline, with Frank Lary, Jim Bunning, Don Mossi and Paul Foytack on the mound.

The Detoits were one game out starting a three game series in Yankee Stadium the first weekend in September. Mossi pitched the game of his life and lost to Ford (and Arroyo, of course), 1-0. But Bombers-killer Lary started against Ralph Terry in the second game and was beaten up 7-2 as Maris hit numbers 52 and 53. Bunning didn't fare well in the final game as Elston Howard hit a walk-ff 3-run homer in the 9th. All that was left of that season was whether Maris would lose all his hair from the pressure of breaking Ruth's record. That Detroit team was great... but the New Yorkers had the pin-stripe sign on them!

3. Hampton West said...

Some memory!!! - I actually remember that series - we were rooting for the Tigers as we couldn't stand the Yanks continual domination.

Everyone hated the Yankees back then... except the Yanks fans, of course.

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