Around 420 ft.
On September 29, 1954 Willie Mays made possibly the most iconic catch in the history of baseball. It was Game 1 of the World Series, and Mays raced back to make an incredible over-the-shoulder catch in front of the centre field wall. It’s so famous that most fans simply call it The Catch. But did you know that that play would have been a home run in almost any other ballpark?
At the time some accounts of the play reported the distance in a somewhat exaggerated manner.
Virtually every published source claimed Wertz’s drive went at least 450 feet. “The ball had traveled 460 feet,” according to The Sporting News, while New York’s Newsday described it as “a 470-foot poke.” As time has gone on, descriptions of the fly ball have gone as high as 480 feet, presumably based on the posted center field distance.
There’s no reliable estimate of how far Mays ran to catch the ball, but reports suggested that he was playing in shallow center field. Mays’ quick throw from that distance prevented runners on 1st and 2nd base from advancing more than a single base. Neither runner scored to preserve a 2-2 tie, and the NY Giants defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 10th inning to take Game 1, going on to win the series in 4 games.
How is that even possible?
From 1891-1957, The New York Giants played their home games at the Polo Grounds, one of the weirdest baseball stadiums used by an MLB team. It underwent several reconstructions through the years, and only the first version of the stadium was used to play polo. Despite becoming a baseball field, its dimensions never really fit those of a traditional MLB stadium.
To call this stadium quirky would be an understatement, as the ballpark was one big quirk. The distances down the foul lines were obscenely short yet there were no tall fences to prevent easy home runs, which should have made this a hitter’s dream, but at the same time the fences went straight back to a maximum distance of 483 feet to the center field clubhouse. The clubhouse itself, at 515 feet from home plate and 60 feet high, had no home run line on it and it was unclear as to whether a batted ball hitting the roof would have been a home run.
The outfield wall was ~270 ft. from home plate down the foul lines (30-40 ft. shorter than any current ballpark), but the upper deck of seats overhung the left field fence, so home runs could be even shorter. The distance of 483 ft. to dead centre is over 60 ft. farther than the current farthest – center field at Comerica Park in Detroit at 420ft.
Here are those quirky dimensions.
Both bullpens were in play, in left-centre and right-centre field. They were joined by a staircase in the centre-field nook that’s visible in many photos of The Catch.