Another Edition of Baseball’s Forgotten Stars: Vic Wertz

 Another Edition of Baseball’s Forgotten Stars: Vic Wertz

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Vic Wertz and the 1954 World Series Photo Gallery
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 Another Edition of Baseball’s Forgotten Stars: Vic Wertz 

“Well, I got my man!” – Comment made by Don Liddle, the pitcher who threw the ball Vic Wertz hit 450 feet and on which Willie Mays made one of the most famous catches in baseball history.

“It would have been a home run in any other park…including Yellowstone!” That’s how one sportswriter characterized Vic Wertz’s long blast to center in the cavernous Polo Grounds made famous by Willie Mays’ sensational catch. It came 63 years ago this week in Game One of the 1954 World Series between the Giants and the Indians, September 29, 1954.

The great Willie Mays got a lot of deserved acclamation for that fabulous catch, but the guy who hit the ball has long been overlooked. So let’s shine the spotlight for a brief moment on a fine ball player who later became a well-respected and dedicated humanitarian, Vic Wertz.

Over his 17-year career (1943-1963), the 6’0,” 186 lb. York, Pennsylvania native played for the Tigers, Browns/Orioles, Indians, Red Sox, and Twins. A four-time All-Star, he hit .277, with 289 doubles, 266 home runs, 1178 RBIs, a .364 on-base percentage, and a .469 slugging average. His career OPS+ of 121 places him well above the average of his major league contemporaries (100 being the major league average). Wertz finished in the Top 15 in MVP voting five times; and was in the American League Top 10 in home runs seven times, finishing second in the American League in 1956 with 32. He hit for the cycle on September 14, 1947 while in his rookie season with the Tigers.

Since only a few of us “old-timers” ever saw Vic Wertz play, we can use Baseball Reference’s “Similarity Scores” feature to compare him to players we’re more familiar with. Wertz’s career numbers compare favorably with such modern players as Greg Luzinski, Ryan Klesko, Kent Hrbek, and Aubrey Huff.

In the featured photo below, we see the powerful Vic Wertz towering over Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.

Hopelessly overshadowed by the excitement generated by Mays’ famous catch, Wertz actually had a great series, his only post-season appearance. He hit .500, with eight hits in 16 at-bats, one home run, and three RBIs in the Giants’ four-game sweep over the heavily-favored Indians.

Here’s a description of the famous play:

In the top of the 8th inning with the score tied 2–2, Giants pitcher Sal Maglie walked Larry Doby. Al Rosen singled, putting runners on first and second. Giants’ manager Leo Durocher summoned lefty Don Liddle to pitch to Wertz, who hit Liddle’s fourth pitch approximately 450 feet to deep center field. Mays, playing shallow, made a sensational on-the-run, over-the-shoulder catch at the warning track. He then immediately spun and threw the ball back to the infield. Doby, the runner on second, could have scored the go-ahead run had he tagged at the moment the ball was caught. But he ran on contact, and then had to scramble back to retag. Mays’ throw went to second base, holding Cleveland to runners at first and third with one out. Marv Grissom then relieved Liddle and walked pinch hitter Dale Mitchell to load the bases. He struck out Dave Pop, and got catcher Jim Hegan to fly out, ending the inning with no runs scored.

A World War II veteran, Wertz was well liked during his career by both teammates and fans due to his outgoing, winning personality. After his career, he retired to Mt. Clemens, Michigan, and worked in the beer distribution business. He later formed the “Wertz Warriors,” a group of sportsmen who raised millions for the Special Olympics Winter Games.

Humanitarian Wertz was also a major contributor to the Easter Seals, March of Dimes, and Boys and Girls Clubs, and many other charitable organizations. He founded of the Macomb to Mackinac 900 Mile snowmobile endurance test, run each year to benefit the Special Olympics.

Vic Wertz died during heart surgery on July 7, 1983, aged 58.

 

Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All from Google search

Information: Excerpts edited from the Vic Wertz Wikipedia page.

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I’m a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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