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Baseball Fever Policy

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Willie's Glove

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  • Willie's Glove

    I was doing some research and came across this article authored by George Vescey of the New York Times.

    September 29, 2004


    Hazy Sunshine, Vivid Memory


    FIFTY years ago today, Willie Mays made one of the great catches in the history of the World Series, tracking down a rocket hit by Vic Wertz to deepest right-center field of an eccentric oval known as the Polo Grounds.

    Mays followed it up by making one of the great throws in the history of the World Series, a scorching missile directly to second base that minimized damage on the basepaths.

    It is hard to imagine the World Series being held in the sweet hazy sunshine of late September rather than the sour night air of late October, but that is precisely what has transpired in baseball over the past 50 years, a deterioration from light to darkness.

    The catch was not witnessed by Don Liddle, the left-handed relief pitcher who had been brought in to subdue Wertz. After throwing exactly one pitch, Liddle was scrambling to a defensive no-man's-land, midway between third base and home.

    The catch was also not witnessed by Liddle's 6-year-old son, Craig, who was in the family's rented home in Westchester County. Craig Liddle, however, gets to provide the delightful little coda to this story, down below.

    Fortunately, the catch was witnessed by Arnold Hano, an accomplished freelance writer and Giants fan, who had gotten up that morning in New York and decided to attend the game. Hano started off merely jotting down hieroglyphics on his scorecard, but he became so fascinated (long before Mays's catch) that he began scribbling notes in the margins of his New York Times.

    After Mays's eighth-inning catch, the New York Giants went on to defeat the Cleveland Indians, 5-2, on Dusty Rhodes's three-run homer in the 10th inning. Hano went back to his apartment and began typing while the Giants beat Cleveland in four straight, the last game on Oct. 2, 1954.

    The result was a book - ''A Day in the Bleachers" - first published in 1955, recently reissued by Da Capo Press of Cambridge, Mass.

    The slim paperback (192 pages) is as delightful as a World Series game in the sweet hazy sunshine of late September.

    "Then I looked at Willie, and alarm raced through me, peril flaring against my heart," Hano writes, recalling his perch, more than 500 feet from home plate.

    "To my utter astonishment, the young Giant center fielder - the inimitable Mays, most skilled of outfielders, unique for his ability to scent the length and direction of any drive and then turn and move to the final destination of the ball - Mays was turned full around, head down, running as hard as he could, straight toward the runway between the two bleacher sections.

    "I knew then that I had underestimated - badly underestimated - the length of Wertz's blow." The writing remains urgent, 50 years later.

    After a dignified career as a writer, Hano, along with his wife, Bonnie, volunteered for the Peace Corps and helped rebuild a schoolhouse in rural Costa Rica. They now live in Laguna Beach, Calif.

    The new edition catches us up on the lives (and deaths) of the key New York and Cleveland players. It also informs us that the glove used by 23-year-old Willie Mays is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., courtesy of the Liddle family.

    In a telephone interview, Craig Liddle, a science teacher in Salem, Ill., told me more about Willie's glove. The next summer, 1955, the two Liddles were sitting on the Giants' charter flight. The son was doing what he thought was normal for any young boy - pestering Mays and Ruben Gomez in the seats in front of him.

    To distract him, the father reminded the son that he would soon be playing Little League baseball. The boy chimed in that he needed a glove. The father told him not to worry, that he would get a glove.

    A few days later, the Giants were in St. Louis. Willie Mays went up to Craig Liddle and said, "You're going to need this," and he handed the boy a man-sized, well-worn glove. Mays said he had used it the previous season but had now broken in a new gamer.

    "Take good care of this, and it will take care of you," Mays told the boy.

    After a few years of Little League ("and leaving it out in the rain"), Craig Liddle and his father remembered that this was the glove that had caught Vic Wertz's booming drive. "It went into the closet," Liddle said. Ten years ago, the family lent it to the Hall, because "that was where we all believe it should be," the son said the other day. Don Liddle died of cancer in 2000, at age 75.

    "My dad and Willie stayed in touch," Craig Liddle said. "They would send Christmas cards, call each other." He said that Giants team was close, the way baseball used to be. He reveres Mays, Whitey Lockman, Don Mueller, Monte Irvin and other living teammates of his dad.

    One aspect of that World Series game still bothers Craig Liddle. Legend has it that his father, after being replaced in the basic lefty-righty switch after the Wertz drive, walked into the dugout and proclaimed, "I got my man." Never happened that way.

    "Not in front of Leo the Lip," the son said of Leo Durocher, the hard-boiled Giants manager. "My dad heard people tell this story on television. You would never say something like that while the game was still on."

    The son added, however, that after Rhodes's home run sent them all to the clubhouse, Durocher did walk over to shake the hand of his bubbly protégé for the extraordinary catch and throw. Don Liddle, the 29-year-old journeyman, who dressed in the locker next to Mays, spotted Leo the Lip's extended hand and shook it.

    "My dad told Leo, 'I got my guy,' " the son said. "But this was after the game, not during it."

    Craig Liddle respects his father's game so much that the family never thought of selling the glove Willie Mays gave him. In a world of mercenaries who flail kayak paddles to get to Barry Bonds's home run balls, Craig Liddle is a throwback to a sweet time, when the World Series was played in the afternoon haze of late September.

  • #2
    The last time I was at the Hall of Fame, I saw the glove. When I saw it, I cried- but they were tears of joy because such a precious artifact was there for all to see. I was almost like a carnival barker leading people over to it. Although the glove was well-worn, I could still make out the "Rawlings HH" on it.
    I'm glad that Craig Liddle and his family loaned the glove to the Hall of Fame- it contributed to a play that people will still be talking about fifty or a hundred years from now.

    "Frank- You're not a Lutheran?"


    • #3
      My Teacher

      Mr. Liddle is my science teacher... This is his last year of teaching but he has been fun... We had heard that his dad had been a former baseball player. We looked it up a little and Mr. Liddle walked by and said "That's my dad.". I don't think he cares for baseball as much as he used to. He never talks about it...


      • #4
        6th grade

        By the way, he teaches 6th grade science class.


        • #5
          I too saw the glove at the HOF, and was surprised how small it was. About the size of a modern third baseman's glove Maybe 11 3/4 inch.... 12 at the most. Modern outfielders gloves are 12 3/4 ofter 12 or more....

          Great story about little Liddel. I had heard it before, and was just as pleased reading it a second time around.
          "Herman Franks to Sal Yvars to Bobby Thomson. Ralph Branca to Bobby Thomson to Helen Rita... cue Russ Hodges."


          • #6
            Pretty small glove for a man with hands the size of Mays. I remember meeting him many years ago in San Francisco and shaking hands with him. His hand swallowed up mine- he had huge hands and arms for someone who was only 5'10" tall and 170-175 pounds in his prime.

            I thought his hands were so big THEY should have had "Rawlings HH" stamped on them, but I thought better about saying that to him.