WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE; TWO-HANDED SET SHOT? FOR THAT MATTER, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE ONE-HANDED HANDSHAKE? IN THE PAST 20 YEARS, A SPAN OF TIME THAT COINCIDES WITH THE HISTORY OF SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, SPORT HAS UNDERGONE VAST CHANGE-NEW LEAGUES, PLASTIC GRASS, THE EMERGENCE OF BLACKS, WOMEN AND LONELY ENDS, INSTANT REPLAY, DOMED STADIUMS, HOWARD COSELL. A LOOK AT WHERE WE'VE BEEN/AND WHERE WE'RE GOING.
I had never been in greater haste to leave a place. The documents releasing me from two years of undistinguished Army service were in hand as I burst into the company recreation room to tender some swift farewells.
Then, out of the corner of an eye, I saw the familiar, compelling glimmer. It was shed by an 11-inch television screen, around which were clustered the usual dozen or more transfixed young soldiers. Now this was a time in my life when I could not pass a television screen without pausing to stare hopelessly at it, be the fare Playhouse 90 or Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. So even in my headlong flight from the colors, I stopped to see what was on. It was Sept. 29, 1954, my last day in the Army, Independence Day.
Mine was not a television generation. Radio was our opium. TV had arrived too late to hold us in thrall as, say, Fibber McGee and Molly had. It was a curiosity, although there was no arguing its hypnotic powers, its capacity for clouding men's minds. If the set was on, you watched, whether the program was a wrestling match or a cooking lesson.
What was on this day was the opening game of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians. It was the eighth inning when I stopped to watch, drawn irresistibly to the shimmering eye.
And, of course, it was the World Series. Don Liddle—"Little Don Liddle"—was pitching for the Giants with Vic Wertz batting. Two men were on base; the score was 2-2. Wertz was a power hitter, capable of winning the game right then. I could not leave. Besides, after two years of defending Western civilization, as we know it, against the Asiatic Communist hordes from behind a typewriter in West Germany, what could a few more minutes matter?
On the next pitch, Wertz slugged the ball into the boundless reaches of center field in the Polo Grounds. Willie Mays, the Giants' young centerfielder, turned his back to home plate and set off in what was obviously futile pursuit. Mays' best hope, it seemed, was to prevent an inside-the-park home run with a quick recovery and accurate throw.
On the small, flickering screen, Mays was running, running, as if there were no walls to contain him, as if he would track down the ball even if it should descend in a Harlem alley. The ball appeared as a feathery blur, fluttering like a homing pigeon toward the running man. Mays did not even seem to look up as it nestled into his reaching glove.
The audience in the rec room exploded in celebration. We shouted, stomped our feet and punched each other in the arm, that being a popular means of expressing emotion in those days. We did not embrace, for even in our excitement we were, above all else, "cool." Mostly, we just shouted, "Way to go, Willie. Way to go!"
Broadcaster Russ Hodges advised us that we had just witnessed one of the great catches in World Series history. We could hardly dispute that judgment, since most of us had not seen so much as a routine catch in World Series history. We saw it "live," if but once, instant replay being some 10 years away. It was a good moment.